Announces Alexa-Powered Echo Show

Posted on May 9, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Mobile, Smart Home with 13 Comments Announces Alexa-Powered Echo Show

Like Microsoft, came too late to the smartphone market. But unlike the software giant, Amazon has already found its Next Big Thing. And today, the online retailer unveiled its latest voice-activated, Alexa-powered appliance, the Echo Show. The differentiator? This one has a screen.

“Echo Show brings you everything you love about Alexa, and now she can show you things,” Amazon explains. “Watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more. All hands-free—just ask.”

Now available for pre-order, the Echo Show retails for $230 and will begin shipping on June 28, 2017. It is the latest in a growing family of Alexa-powered personal digital assistant appliances, but unlike previous Echos, this one has a screen.

That screen ties together various Amazon experiences, some of which will likely be quite unfamiliar to most customers. That is, while many are aware that Amazon makes voice-activated Echo appliances, fewer are probably aware that the firm has brought those capabilities to smartphones via an Alexa app. And even fewer probably know that Amazon already has powerful, cloud-based audio and video calling services. Which are now integrated into the Echo Show.

On that note, this new appliance can make voice and video calls, with the important caveat that it only works with other Alexa-powered products. So your friends and family will need an Echo device or the Alexa app on their phones.

This is an important capability, and it better positions the Alexa platform, already the digital assistant market leader, to compete with rivals such as Apple Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana. Each of those companies already offers popular voice and video calling services: Facetime, Hangouts, and Skype, respectively.

It’s a smart move for a company that, so far, has dominated the nascent market for personal digital assistants. And by making Alexa, and Echo devices, more of a central component of people’s homes, the retailer is helping to ensure that the fast-moving train of third-party Alexa “skills”—which improve on the Echo devices’ capabilities—continues.

Following Microsoft as I do, I am, I think, understandably concerned that the software giant is about to miss another major personal technology market. Microsoft’s Cortana is well-designed and is improving all the time. But the firm is late to the appliance game—the first such device, the Harmon Kardon Invoke, was just announced, three years after Echo—and it will have trouble making inroads in the home, and on smartphones, two markets in which it does not compete effectively.

So we’ll see what happens. But this new Echo device looks very interesting. And should help drive continued success for the platform that already controls this market.


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Comments (13)

13 responses to “ Announces Alexa-Powered Echo Show”

  1. prjman

    Sorry. Creep factor is WAY too high on all of these always listening, always watching devices. I might consider one from Apple, or possibly Microsoft. But Amazon, or even worse, Google, I can't do it.

  2. VancouverNinja

    This market is nascent. Microsoft is not too late at all. I actually think this Echo device is cool but Amazon suffers from not being on the PC, this device introduces yet another Skype like system but doesn't use Skype and you need to have another unit to use the feature or an app. For me, and most likely a ton of other people this is a mess. And now Amazon wants devs to make apps for this MS will have them easily. In my sphere of influence I know of one family using Echo and it is due to me telling them to buy it when it launched for $99. I do not dispute their sales or user base but it is not pervasive enough to claim they are close winning the market. Any home with a PC may be better served with a Cortana device.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to VancouverNinja:

      I agree. I'd love to have something like this, but I want it to integrate with the rest of my stuff in at least some way. Alexa... does not. Sure there's an Alexa app on Android and iOS, but... so what? It integrates about as well as Cortana does. But Cortana works on my four Windows 10 devices, so...

      ... Y'know.

  3. Tony Barrett

    I'd be way concerned about having always on devices - listening and now watching - in my home, but I understand this is the future. it's very early days though, and it's obvious these things will get *much* more intelligent and capable.

    At this stage, once again though, it looks like Microsoft's boat has sailed. For the generic user, Microsoft barely raises any interest - Amazon and Google probably have the larger market between them. Apple will be late to the party, but as they have an almost religious following, whatever they release will sell in large numbers - but likely only to hardcore Apple fans. Microsoft will really struggle to break out of the confines of the PC. They tried taking over the lounge years ago, failed, then gave the market to smarter companies.

    Whatever, these are not 'must have' purchases - not yet at least.

    • PincasX

      In reply to Tony Barrett:

      I would be inclined to agree with you but Amazon Echo is only in three countries at the present and the Echo Show is only in the U.S. Google Home is in two contires. The market is really wide open to anyone that ships one of these globally and supports more than two languages. So, Microsoft or Apple could easily be competative by enterting the market with all the languages that Cortana and Siri currenlty support. That is assuming there is a viable market for these things.

  4. LemonJoose

    Personally, I'm still leery of these kinds of devices, but I can see where they may have their uses if adequate attention is paid to security and privacy.  I would never use one that in any way connects or reports data back to Google, Facebook or Amazon, or that injects advertising into its interface or output -- I would rather do without the dubious conveniences these things offer.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to LemonJoose: "I would never use one that in any way connects or reports data back to Google, Facebook or Amazon..." Microsoft OK? The reality is you will never use one then. They all send your request to the mother ship for voice recognition to provide the most consistently accurate response. Nothing is processed on the device, except the initial recognition that it is being 'invoked'. There are some pretty decent speech recognition engines that run locally on a PC, but add to that all the machine learning, and third party device interface capabilities, and you aren't fitting it into a hockey puck. They require cloud support.

  5. Brandon Mills

    Your concerns are well placed. This is the battle to be the standard in the smart home of the future. MS needs to bring out the big guns or just concede the battle altogether.

  6. Thayios

    Unfortunately, Thumbs Down.

  7. SvenJ

    @VancouverNinja Couldn't agree less. I'm a heavy Windows user, up to and including the phone. My Echo Dot(s) have nothing to do with what goes on my PCs, but they can interface with the stuff there, calendars, music, etc. They don't need to know anything Cortana knows about me. Might be useful, but Alexa and Cortana both know me.

    The voice/messaging is new, I expect it will get new features, but it already has some interesting use cases that Skype on my PC in my Den, or my shut down laptop don't have. With some limitations, it works almost like a BT handfree in a car. One dot already sits in the kitchen where answering a call without having to get my hands out of the chicken is usefull. It's not completely seamless, and I could just get a BT handsfree thing, but the dot is already there.

    As far as getting developers to write apps for it you clearly haven't visited the Skills store. They are writing for it. It does, and interfaces with a ton of stuff. More so than Google Home and more than Apple HomeKit (which I assume would be the source of any such Siri appliance). MS, on the other, has not shown much success in getting devs to write for Windows Phone, or for the Windows Store for that matter. MS getting devs to support yet another hardware hobby may be tougher than you think. If my Windows products had half the interface options via Cortana, like talking to Phillips Hue, Insteon, Harmony remotes, etc. that the Echo already does, I be more optimistic about putting Cortana in a tube. She is missing a lot of 'skills' that Echo and Google Home already have.

    "Any home with a PC may be better served with a Cortana device.". Nah, they already have a Cortana device, the PC. She doesn't do a lot of what the others already do. They are more than a search engine in a speaker.

  8. Bats

    I feel bad for Microsoft. Again, they are coming out with outdated technology. It's actually kinda funny, because it's crazy how they are always late. No matter what they do, they can't create technology that effects everyday life. The only thing they can effect is the way we create documents and no one really likes to do that stuff. 

    The Amazon Echo Show will most certainly cause a response from Google and you can surely bet that they will. There is a word for this. It's called progress. Who knows, the near future might actually be androids going by the name Alexa and Google. Watch, this will happen days before Microsoft releases their new cortana device in the form of a screen. LOL.

    LOL...Amazon is not the market leader in digital assistants. Where the heck did Paul Thurrott get that? Perhaps the same people that told him that Microsoft was the leader in augmented reality? 

    It's a safe bet to say that Google is the leader when it comes to digital assistants. Let's not forget that Apple's Siri was the first, then Google Now, the Cortana, then Alexa/Echo. Plus the Google Assistant is tied to the Google account which, in turn, ties into gmail,calendar, maps, playstore,etc.... Amazon does not have that. Google was the first to make their assistant, voice activated. Amazon's Alexa/Echo is the first to make their digital assistant a stand alone product and independent from a computer. Google's assistant is much much better, in terms of getting information, but Amazon's assistant is great because the interaction helps us get actual/physical stuff brought to our doorstep. That's pretty much all Amazon is great for, which is buying stuff without turning on a computer. This should scare MICROSOFT alot, as it makes people even more less dependent using a computer then ever. 

    All in all,both products (Alexa and Home) are great. Not just that, but IMO, owning both devices would be both reasonable and practical.

    Siri and Cortana are practically useless and can't really join this fight. I actually expected Apple to make a standalone display, which they still can and perhaps will sell well. However, because of their lack of infrastructure in terms of managing data and physical goods, it would be hard for them to compete alone, meaning they would need partners. One thing for sure about Apple, if they did make a competing product, it would look much nicer than then the Amazon Echo Show.

    • chrisrut

      In reply to Bats:

      1. Documents - which you so glibly denigrate - are the primary means by which humans organize symbols for communication.

      2. It has been so at least since the Babalonians scratched records on mud tablets with triangular sticks. It will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. It is founded in our genetic makeup.

      3. Look at your smartphone - or your tablet - or look at your screen on ANY computer - even the new Amazon device: rectilenear. Document-like; tt's how we organize visual communications. Ironically, you wrote your comment on such a screen, using such tools.

      4. AI is in its infancy. The current products - ALL of them - are first approximations. They remind me of the PC market at the Apple II stage, when VisiCalc lifted computers out of the "solution in search of a problem" phase; they are already useful, but just hint at what is to come.

      5. Any product manager - a first year intern - could predit that screens will be added to assistant devices. As will every conceivable I/O device by and by. Such improvements are hardly innovations.

      6. Because of the fundamental importance and relevance of documents, Microsoft's products have ALREADY positively impacted the day-to-day lives of BILLIONS of people - and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. There are alternatives to MS in this space, of course. And they were most definitely not first to market.

      7. The primary limitation of non-windowing solutons like smart phones is precisely "only one 'document' at a time." The fundamental advanage of Windows (and other modern OSs) is that they provides simultaneous "windows" I. E. to many documents.

      8. The slow adoption of VR and AR is precisely because we rely on fixed rectilinear representations for information management and flow, and AR/VR currently do nothing to augment or replace this.

      I'm writing this in Austria - far from home and my usual tools. I would love to have a VR headset that would give me two large, virtualized, high-resolution screens to work on right here floating in front of me. Better yet; with as many virtualied "windows" as I need.

      I am not asserting that MS will "win" in the home AI space. But to write them off as a player because of their dominant position in the document processing space is ill-considered at best.

  9. jimchamplin

    I've got a feeling that if MS gets Cortana into a lot of places, and makes sure that people know that she's also in Windows 10 then that creates a bit of a value proposition.

    Get Cortana! In a nice speaker! She does everything that Alexa does, but ALSO integrates with your PC. You can't lose!