Echo isn’t just for sound anymore.
Amazon on Tuesday announced Echo Show, a new version of its popular smart speaker that comes with a 7-inch color touchscreen, 5-inch front-facing camera and dual 2-inch Dolby speakers.
The unit is priced at US$230 — or two for $330 — and will start shipping June 28.
Show can do everything Echo does, and more. With its screen, it can show YouTube videos, access home security cameras, display photos and scroll lyrics as you listen to songs from streaming services like Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, iHeartRadio and others.
Show’s Drop In feature makes it easy to video conference with friends and family who have an Echo or the Alexa app.
Virtual Drop In
With Drop In, people can place each other on contact lists for Drop In calls. When you want to drop in on someone, you can tell Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa to perform the task.
Initially your screen will appear as a pane of frosted glass. If the person you’re calling wants to accept the call, the frost will melt away after 10 seconds. They may opt to take the call as a voice-only conversation or reject it.
Drop In users can activate a “Do Not Disturb” mode to ensure they won’t be interrupted. They also can leave voice messages when they can’t reach a Drop In buddy.
While a display may broaden Echo’s features, it may be only a marginal improvement over Echo’s existing interface.
“I think the voice interface is more convenient,” said Kevin Krewell, a principal analyst at Tirias Research and an Echo owner.
“The ability for Echo’s microphones to pick up voices across the room is great,” he told TechNewsWorld.
No Tablet Replacement
For many people, Show would be redundant device, Krewell said.
“Amazon is trying to solve a problem that most people have already found a solution for — it’s called a tablet,” he said.
“I’m skeptical that this is going to be popular,” Krewell added.
While Show adds a range of new ways to retrieve information and control functions, the addition of a display could complicate matters for Echo developers.
“Adding a screen to the Echo compromises its proposition of ‘eyes-off’ functionality,” said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.
“Amazon will have to be careful to manage developers’ assumptions of when the screen is there and when it is not, or it can fragment the platform,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Show’s screen gives Echo users a more comprehensive connection to Amazon’s services, noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
“You can see what it is you are buying, you can read the lyrics of the songs you are playing and sing along, and you can better interact with Amazon’s store — track orders and such,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Show is a logical step for Amazon to take with its voice products, observed Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
“It seems to leverage technologies and lessons learned from other efforts, like the Fire tablets,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The company is also being aggressive in regards to pricing, especially for customers buying multiple units. That’s likely to be highly attractive since the Show is designed to be stationary.”
Defending Its Turf
The addition of a screen also could make Show popular in some vertical markets.
“The combination of screen and calling moves Amazon into delivering a device for elderly care and home monitoring — a market that has long lagged behind technology capabilities due to the lack of major consumer brand support,” said Jonathan Collins, a research director at ABI Research.
“The Echo Show has the potential to really bring the potential of that market to the fore,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Show also will help Amazon defend its turf in the living room.
It allows Amazon to maintain its leadership in the market, Enderle said.
“Currently they are at more than 70 percent, but Google and, more recently, Microsoft are making runs at this segment,” he pointed out, “and Apple is coming. Adding features will help Amazon hold on to that lead.”