ECHO TABLET?

Amazon is reportedly building an Echo with a screen

Alexa is heading to the big screen.

Not the movies, as such, but the digital assistant built into Amazon’s Echo speakers is apparently set to appear in a new, larger device with a screen in early 2017, according to a report from Bloomberg.

The new device will have a 7-inch touchscreen that’s tilted upwards so that it could be easily read from a countertop, according to Bloomberg. Presumably, this would make the future Echo-like device a lot easier to use to access certain types of information. For example, right now, you can ask Alexa to buy items for you off Amazon, but given that the retailer sells countless variations of the same products (for example, there are apparently 680 versions of “Hefty kitchen trash bags” available for purchase on Amazon’s US site), it’s actually quite difficult to know exactly what you’re getting without looking at the item. Similarly, if you ask Alexa a question it doesn’t know the answer to, it performs a web search and tosses the results into the Alexa app on your smartphone. In both cases, being able to display this information visually on the same screen as the device you’re interacting with may prove a lot more useful than having Alexa narrate information to you. It could well be like a more integrated version of the iPad-with-stand setup that many companies are trying to sell for using tablets in the kitchen.

Given that Alexa seems to be far more capable of understanding what people ask of it than Apple’s Siri voice assistant tends to be, an Echo with an integrated screen may well be a more useful device than an iPad currently is to have around the kitchen while working on a recipe and trying to set timers, convert ounces to grams, and look up ingredients.

In recent weeks, Amazon has seen a new contender in the smart-hub space in Google’s Home. Amazon didn’t originally have high hopes for the Echo, which emerged from the company’s skunkworks, Lab126. But the tall cylinders have become somewhat of a sleeper hit, reportedly selling over 5 million units since they were released in late 2014. Amazon has been selling the Echo for $180 (although it momentarily dropped the price to $130 for Black Friday), and a smaller Dot version for $50, but Google’s Home debuted at $120, and pretty much performs all the tasks that the Echo does just as well.

There have been reports that Apple too may be entering this area, and it seems that instead of competing in a race to the bottom on price, Amazon may be more interested in differentiating itself with premium products. According to Bloomberg, the new device with a screen will likely cost more than the current Echo devices available. Amazon declined to comment on its Echo plans.

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