Today, Amazon announced a new Echo product — its fifth one, by the way — featuring a screen:
“Echo Show brings you everything you love about Alexa, and now she can show you things. 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,” Amazon notes in its blurb on its product page. You can use the device for video calls and it looks like it will also integrate and enhance skills that you already use on the existing Echo, for example you can now see music lyrics for Amazon Music. It also has Dolby-powered speakers and eight microphones, and lets you use existing Alexa skills that do not have a video component."
Yes, your friendly home speaker just got a screen, but it's a smart play. One of the biggest issues with Amazon Echo, Google Home and even Siri is that people simply don't know what to ask it half of the time, so don't even try.
By adding a screen, Amazon's built an interesting all-in-one device for using natural language with, but making it far more approachable. It becomes the dashboard for your home that just works, and you can just speak to it naturally like it's another person in your home.
Yes, it is gaudy, and the design looks like something out of the past, but I can also see the Echo Show appealing to a particular demographic: my parents.
What was even smarter, and buried in the release was the announcement of Amazon's very own iMessage and FaceTime competitor:
Introducing a new way to be together more with the people who matter most. Make hands-free video calls to friends and family who have an Echo Show or the Alexa App. When you’re busy making dinner, just ask Alexa to place a call from your Echo Show to anyone with a supported Echo device or the Alexa App. You can also enable a new feature called Drop In for the special cases when you want to connect with your closest friends and family. For example, you can drop in to let the family know it’s time for dinner, see the baby’s nursery, or check in with a close relative.
This is significant for a few reasons, but by combining a new video calling and messaging service with a dedicated device for video calls, Amazon might have a winner on its hands.
The Verge wrote that the device is a natural evolution of the phone, simply because it's a zero-hassle, dedicated device for getting on a call with anyone:
FaceTime and similar services have their own limitations: they need a smartphone, tablet, or computer open and available and for the other party to answer the call. A video intercom that’s always on and ready for a call has no such limitations. My two-year-old can just run over to the intercom that’s always set up in the kitchen when she hears my voice without needing my wife to get her iPad and “set up a call with Daddy” as we’ve done in the past.
Amazon does look like it's throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks with Echo, but this messaging strategy might be a winning one. By replacing the home phone with a modern alternative, Amazon might have caught onto something that matters: simplicity, and a sense of presence.
By offering a place in the home -- more than likely the kitchen -- where you can quickly and easily jump on a video call without tapping, swiping or messing around, Amazon is making it an intercom for the world, where people know they can reach you.
I'm not sure that Amazon can convince enough people to buy these things, particularly given the company's intense focus on the US and lack of much influence elsewhere.
But, the Echo Show has a trump card: if it can get you to buy two (which is offered at a discount), then you're even more likely to gift it to someone else, who you're almost certain to be planning to video call using its new service.