The latest version of Amazon’s Echo will have a seven inch touchscreen that can double up as a videophone.
The addition of a screen on the $230 device fulfils three main roles. The first is to give a visual element to the Alexa assistant while retaining the hands-free convenience. For example, as well as getting audio instructions for a recipe, the idea is you could glance at the screen to see how the prep should look at each step.
While it is a touchscreen, the idea seems to be more about having hands-free as a key component, rather than this simply being a bizarre way to start with a speaker and wind up with a tablet computer. (The Echo Show weighs more than a kilogram, so certainly is not a tablet replacement.)
The second purpose is video calling. The Show can make video calls to other Show devices or to smartphones running the Alexa app, along with voice calls to other Echo speaker devices. It’s not entirely clear what gap that is meant to fill given hardly anyone who drops $200 on a device like this won’t already have access to a service like Skype. However, using the Echo Show for video calling certainly seem much simpler than firing up Skype for the same purpose.
The third role is as a screen for security cameras. As seen in the video below, the device could be used to monitor a sleeping baby or what your kids are doing while playing in the basement.
As with smartphones and apps, the success of the system may well come down to whether third-party developers can come up with genuinely useful “skills” to take advantage of the video features – and whether enough people buy the device for developers to consider that worthwhile.