A duo of snoops digging through Amazon’s servers say they have unearthed images of what could be the next model of Amazon Echo, the wildly popular connected home appliance featuring its speech-enabled Alexa assistant.
The new device would marry Alexa to a 7-inch screen and upgraded speakers. (The current Echo model lacks a digital display.)
A website called AFTVNews says that it scraped low-resolution images of the purported device from Amazon’s servers; VentureBeat’s Evan Blass later said on Twitter that he found higher-resolution images. Amazon has yet to comment on the matter.
Amazon’s plan to release an Alexa-enabled unit with a screen was reported by Bloomberg in November of last year. Though the Echo's speech-only interface has undoubtedly helped it (and Alexa) become a hit—Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak last year hailed Alexa and the Echo as “the next big platform” in computing—the new device appears to be a more convenient way to interact with calendars, weather, and news, features that tend to be cumbersome in an audio-only format.
According to various earlier reports, the unit is expected to run a version of Amazon’s FireOS operating system.
The new Echo may be related to “Knight,” a project of Amazon’s Lab126 hardware division that was reported to be in development last year. Knight was described as a “tablet-like” Echo device aimed at kitchens, where users could browse recipes by voice to keep their hands free for cooking.
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The proliferation of speech-enabled digital assistants has served as a laboratory for technology companies to experiment with how customers seek to interact with their devices. The addition of a screen suggests that spoken commands may be useful for input but lacking for output. Expect to see Apple (and its Siri assistant), Microsoft (Cortana), and Google (Now) continue to explore how to integrate their artificially intelligent services.
As for Amazon, a touchscreen Echo would add a new, high-end segment to its product line. Early speculation points to a price between $200 and $300; current units range from $49.99 to $179.99.