Amazon unveils Alexa-powered, touchscreen-equipped Echo Show home speaker

Displaying movie showtimes and other lists on a screen, as the Echo Show can, is more convenient for users than Alexa reading them.

The Echo Show has two 2-inch Dolby stereo speakers and eight microphones on top of the device near the on/off and volume buttons. Alexa also includes native "assistant" functionality for reminders, timers, music playback, calendar appointments, and so on.

What's more, Amazon is also bringing audio calling to existing Echo and Echo Dot speakers with a firmware update.

And while Amazon's hardware chief Dave Limp confirmed to Wired that "there's no reason" services like Netflix or Hulu couldn't build skills to work with the Echo Show, it doesn't seem like you'll be able to do that out of the box. Like Apple's iMessage, the feature uses an internet connection instead of the minutes or texts included in your cell or home phone plan.

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. If you'd prefer to just send a message without making a call in the first place, you can do that too.

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Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research said the new device adds additional features to the Alexa family by giving consumers a screen option.

Users can also set their device to automatically allow trusted contacts to "drop in", which automatically launches the video feed of the caller on the receiving device as a kind of preview - similar to the "knock knock" feature that Google introduced with its Duo video calling app previous year. It's hard to imagine that Amazon hasn't designed Echo Show to always be beckoning in some way.

Even so, Amazon has some hurdles to clear. You can then tell the company's Alexa digital assistant to answer or ignore it. Alexa is smart, but unlike Google Home and Microsoft Cortana, there is no giant knowledge graph backing it. It would compete directly with Amazon's Echo speakers, although Apple hasn't publicly commented on the device nor suggested how it could be marketed.

All of this is a turnabout for Amazon from a few years ago.

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