You might want to take a close look at Amazon Echo Show, because it’s about to change everything.
Amazon, which is on a product-release tear, revealed on Tuesday its latest Echo device, the roughly 8 x 8-inch, 2 and a half pound, 7-inch-screen-sporting Echo Show.
Early leaks focused on the product’s somewhat-retro looks and, even today, some are still dragging Amazon for the Show’s arguably inelegant profile. Yet, they’re all missing the point. The Amazon Echo Show is a quantum leap beyond any Alexa-infused product we’ve seen before.
In additional to Amazon’s trademark Echo audio system (this time two speakers) and a microphone array (eight of them!) for hearing you utter, “Alexa” wherever you are in the room, Echo Show features a 7-inch touch screen (larger than an iPhone 7 Plus, yet smaller than an iPad Mini’s), and a camera.
Echo Show and tell
The first Echo proved you can do a lot with your voice. The tubular Amazon Echo has excellent hearing (some would say too good) and parses most voice requests with aplomb, but there are limits. It’s not uncommon for Alexa to point you to your phone screen (and the associated Alexa app) to get a full answer to your question.
It’s not uncommon for Alexa to point you to your phone screen to get a full answer to your question.
In addition, Alexa has hundreds of skills that allow it to work with third-party devices, but the controls are also limited. You can, for instance, check your Nest Thermostat and even change the temperature with your voice, but you can’t easily manage multiple zones and schedules. Similarly, if you have a home security camera or two (Ring, Nest Cam), you can’t monitor anything through a traditional Echo.
Having a screen for your smart-home hub could be a game-changer, especially since most of the competition — Google Home, Invoke featuring Microsoft Cortana, and whatever Apple is working on in this space — are all focused on audio and not video. (Of course, Apple, Google, and Samsung have smart home hubs on their phones and tablets, but you’re probably not going to leave one of those devices propped up on the kitchen counter all day long.)
And then there’s the camera.
Just weeks after testing the waters with Amazon Echo Look, its first Echo device with a camera, Amazon is ready to put cameras in every room of your home (pretty much).
I know: On the face of it, this sounds like a terrible idea, but there’s good reason for this.
The camera on the Echo Show won’t be on all the time — it’s not a security cam, after all. Instead, Amazon is not-so-quietly trying to introduce video conferencing to every room of your home. It’s a pretty smart play, especially because Amazon is not limiting call participants to Echo Look owners — you can call an Echo via the Alexa app on your phone.
Imagine buying one of the $229.99 boxes for your grandparents. You don’t have to get one for your own home, which probably already has an original Echo or Dot; instead, you just load up the free Amazon Alexa app and start a video conference call from there. The grandparents can gather around the boxy little Echo Show while you stay on the move, but still connected, via your phone.
If you use FaceTime, Skype or any other video conferencing platform, this is not a new idea, but it is a significant new front in Amazon’s efforts to own home intelligence and connectivity. And may help push video conferencing into demographics and markets that have thus far ignored it.
One of the other big differences between Echo Show and all other Echo devices is that this one will always be communicating with you. With the original Echo, the device sits silent, waiting for you to say the magic word. Echo Show will always have something on its screen. It could be a weather forecast, your schedule, or a news update. It’s hard to imagine that Amazon hasn’t designed Echo Show to always be beckoning in some way.
A do-it-all device that can quickly switch from video calls to answering simple questions to displaying a recipe you asked about is compelling (maybe some split-screen multi-tasking could come down the road).
Even so, Amazon has some hurdles to clear.
Creepy or brilliant?
First, it must convince people to buy this box that’s sure to clash with the kitchen and living room designs of many homes.
They’ll also have to convince people that having an Amazon camera in the home is a good idea. Even with all the privacy controls Amazon will put in place, many will assume Amazon is watching them or that it’s at least hoping consumers will eventually turn on the camera and invite in the inevitable Amazon personal shopping assistant.
I can see it now. A virtual version of Alexa appears on the 7-inch screen as the camera scans your home to suggest furniture and other home décor updates (considering what Echo Look can already do, this is not a stretch).
Echo Show’s biggest hurdle, though, will be its intelligence. Alexa is smart, but unlike Google Home and Microsoft Cortana, there is no giant knowledge graph backing it. Its conversational intelligence often feels incredibly limited — even more limited than Apple’s Siri, even though neither are backed by an in-house search engine.
If Amazon truly wants to make this as big a hit as other Echo devices (especially the first), it will have to invest more time and money in artificial intelligence.
Considering how fast Amazon is moving these days, I fully expect them to do this, maybe with an AI acquisition and perhaps before the end of this year. With that in place, Amazon’s Echo Show — with its always-listening, always-showing presence in your home — could end up becoming the most disruptive gadget Amazon has ever made.