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ECHOES OF TOMORROW

Amazon may release a new Alexa device later this year that connects you with other people

By Mike Murphy

“Alexa, order me a new you.”

Amazon intends to release at least one new device this year that utilizes the company’s voice-assistant technology, Alexa, according to a report from Recode Friday. One of the biggest changes would be a function that allows people to speak through the device to someone else who also has an Alexa-powered device, like a sort of modern intercom.

Alexa was first sold inside Amazon’s Echo, a $180 wireless streaming and speaker device, which can control a wide array of internet-connected devices and services by speaking to Alexa. The Echo stole the show at this year’s consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, without even having a booth there, Quartz recently declared. It was first made available to Amazon Prime subscribers in late 2014.

Echo’s hardware has remained unchanged since it was first released, but Amazon unveiled a new version called the Echo Dot, without a built-in speaker, in March 2016. (Alexa is also available in the Amazon Tap, a Bluetooth speaker, and Amazon’s newer Fire tablets, and Fire TV streaming devices.) Amazon hasn’t released sales numbers for the Echo, but it’s been called a sleeper hit for the company, with some estimating that over 5 million have been purchased.

Given that the vast majority of interactions with Echoes involve talking to a disembodied voice streamed over the internet, it’s not entirely clear what the new hardware could offer customers. One answer could be  getting to see other parts of your home, or even other people outside the house.

That’s because the new devices would likely also incorporate the ability to make regular phone calls using Alexa, as The Wall Street Journal previously reported (paywall). There have been previous reports that Amazon is exploring building a version of the Echo that has a screen, which could facilitate hands-free video calls. Amazon also recently invested in a startup called Nucleus, which builds video intercoms that can be connected up to Alexa.

Amazon wasn’t immediately available to comment on its hardware plans.

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