According to sources familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Amazon Echo may soon be able to make and receive voice calls. This would position the device as a potential replacement for the home phone. The WSJ says the feature could arrive this year, but federal regulations regarding access to 911 and laws requiring phone companies to allow law enforcement agencies to wiretap calls in real time could complicate the release. Amazon announced Chime, an enterprise conferencing service, earlier this week, so they certainly now have the infrastructure to support voice-over-IP calling. I highly doubt such a feature would be supported on a device like the Fire TV through the microphone on the voice remote, but the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot certainly have the hardware to act as a speakerphone.
A new software update for the Amazon Echo and the Echo Dot seems to be rolling out that adds the option to select “Computer” as the device’s wake word. Instead of using “Alexa,” or one of the alternatives like “Echo” and “Amazon”, you’ll be able to get a little closer to the ultimate dream of having the Star Trek computer in your home. The new option was first spotted by Reddit users as a new feature for software version 4812 on the German Amazon page for Echo software updates. Amazon’s page has since removed the new feature listing, but other redditors are reporting that the option is starting to appear in the wild.
Amazon’s next Alexa-enabled device will likely be a premium speaker with a 7-inch touchscreen, according to Bloomberg. The new product will have an array of always listening microphones, like the Amazon Echo, for hands-free voice functionality. The speakers themselves will be better sounding than the ones in the Echo and the new device will run an optimized version of Fire OS. Read more ›
The Amazon Echo and 1st-gen Echo Dot are starting to receive a new software update, version 4008, that adds the much anticipated Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) feature. ESP is the feature revealed when the Echo Dot 2 was announced, that allows several Echos and Echo Dots within listening range of each other to correctly identify which device is closest to the person interacting with them. This makes it so two devices don’t respond to the same voice request. Read more ›
Amazon Music Unlimited, the new stand-alone music streaming service from Amazon, launched this morning with an enticing $3.99 per month option for Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Amazon Tap owners. The catch though is that the $3.99 plan can only be used from a single device. That doesn’t mean a single device at a time, but rather, it literally means only a single Echo, Echo Dot, or Tap can access the Amazon Music Unlimited library. Read more ›
Along with the all-new second generation Echo Dot, Amazon announced a new feture called Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) that will ship on the new Echo Dot and be arriving via a software update to existing Amazon Echo and first generation Echo Dots soon. When multiple Echos or Echo Dots are within earshot, ESP allows Alexa to respond intelligently from only the device that’s closest to you. With Amazon positioning the Echo Dot as a device for every room, and even selling them in 6 and 12 packs at a discount, this is a much needed feature to prevent multiple instances of Alexa responding at once, or worse, executing a sensitive request, like placing an order, more than once. An exact date for the release of the software update for existing devices has not been announced, but you can expect it to arrive this fall.
The Amazon Echo and the Echo Dot are finally going to be available in the UK and Germany. In the UK, the Echo Dot is £49.99 while the Echo is £149.99, and in Germany the Echo Dot is €59,99 while the Echo is €179,99. Customers in the UK can pre-order either device immediately, but just like when the Echo first arrived in the US, German customers will have to request an invitation to purchase the Echo or Echo Dot. In both regions, Prime members will receive £50/€50 off the price of an Amazon Echo if they pre-order/request an invitation within the next couple days. In the UK, first shipments will arrive on October 20th and Germany’s first orders will arrive a few days later on October 26th.
Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant may soon gain the ability to speak without first being asked to speak, according to The Information. Currently, the only way for Alexa to make any noise without you speaking to it is to alert you of a timer or alarm you’ve set. Developers may soon have the ability to trigger push notifications in Alexa Skills that audibly, through spoken words, and/or visually, through the Amazon Echo’s light ring, notify you of something. This could be a very powerful new feature if executed correctly, or a very annoying feature if abused by developers. The Information hasn’t revealed any details about how the feature will pan out, or whether it will come to all Alexa-enabled devices like the Fire TV or new tablet, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Amazon and Sonos have entered into a “long-term strategic collaboration,” accoriding to Engadget, that essentially makes Alexa the primary voice interface for Sonos’s line of speakers. This integration is much more than a bluetooth connection or Alexa Skill. It allows the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Amazon Tap to find Sonos devices on your home network and communicate in both directions. All of the playback occurs on the Sonos device and Alexa just handles the controls. You’ll be able to select specific songs from specific services supported by Sonos, and of course have access to the usual playback controls. Where this partnership takes things to another level is the ability for Alexa to understand Sono’s speaker placement.
In the video above, Alexa begins playing music on a Sonos speaker in the kitchen, but is then asked to “play in the livingroom” and switches playback to a Sonos Playbar in the livingroom. Amazon’s own speakers, to the disappointment of myself and many Echo fans, are not aware of each other and cannot control one another. Alexa will also be able to tell you what song is playing on a Sonos device, something that can’t be done through a regular bluetooth connection. Since Sonos is much better at making speakers than Amazon, and Amazon is much better at voice control than Sonos, this is a great pairing. As with too many of these Alex announcements, it’s unclear right now if these new Sonos control abilities will be coming to Alexa on the Fire TV or Fire TV Stick. A private beta of this feature will launch later this year, with public access coming in 2017.