Amazon’s new Echo Show is a really big deal

Adding video to the Amazon Echo makes the Alexa voice assistant much more powerful

Amazon’s new Echo Show is a really big deal

I’d like to think that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is taking my advice about how to improve his company’s Echo smart speaker and Alexa voice assistant—but he probably isn’t. More likely, the new Echo Show device the company announced yesterday is just another logical step in the evolution of voice recognition and smart assistants.

Still, the new device, due to ship on June 28 for $229 ($50 more than a standard Echo) seems eerily close to taking some of the advice I shared earlier this year for improving Alexa. More specifically, the Echo Show uses the switch from a column shape to a wedge configuration to incorporate a 7-in. touchscreen that expands Alexa’s capabilities in significant ways. At the same, Amazon announced new Alexa capabilities, including Alexa Calling, which lets Alexa devices and apps make voice and video calls and send messages to each other.

+ Also on Network World: 8 ways to make Amazon’s Alexa even more awesome +

Let me get right to the point. Alexa’s first-class voice recognition is remarkably powerful, but just because it does a really good job of communicating via voice doesn’t mean talking is always the best way to interact with your smart devices.

Adding a visual interface gives the Echo Show the ability to engage with users in the way best suited to the task at hand. In addition to video calling and showing video from YouTube and home security cameras, Amazon’s developer blog post lays out some obvious examples of how existing Amazon “skills” have already been enhanced with video:

  • Allrecipes shows customers recipe photographs and videos to help them prepare a meal, along with recipe search and filtering.
  • Jeopardy! engages players by enabling them to view the clues and answers on Echo Show.
  • Uber introduces trip details on the screen.
  • OpenTable gives customers a visual confirmation of their reservation, including table size and time.
  • CNN allows customers to watch CNN video briefings that are updated every hour.
  • Ring and Arlo offer compatible cameras that can show you the front door or monitor the baby’s room.

There’s clearly a lot more that can be done to integrate video and images into Alexa, especially on Alexa apps running on smartphones (Amazon also just updated the Alexa iOS app) or computers. But this is an important step toward eliminating a basic limitation in existing Echo devices.

More innovation still needed

Of course, there’s lots more Amazon should, can and probably will do to boost Alexa’s capabilities. In my earlier post, for example, I also suggested that Alexa be able to send and receive emails and other non-Alexa-proprietary communications. And that’s only the beginning.

Now that there’s an Echo with a screen, there’s a real opportunity to come up with new Alexa “skills” that integrate video and images with voice recognition. Eventually, it would be great to see Alexa—and its competitors from Apple, Microsoft and others—support a complete, seamless integration of all methods of human/machine interactions, voice, touch, image, text, video, gesture and even virtual reality. My guess is we’ll get there sooner than we think.

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