Amazon Developing High-End Take on Popular Echo Speaker

Although Amazon declined to comment, sources say that the company is readying a premium Echo-like speaker for release in Q1 2017. The form factor is a break with Amazon’s cylindrical devices controlled by digital assistant Alexa. Instead, the new speaker will feature a seven-inch touchscreen that will tilt upwards, so users can see it when they are standing and looking at the speaker on a countertop. Sources add that, “at least one prototype version of the device places the speakers below and behind the screen.”

Bloomberg reports that sources say the device will also feature speakers that are higher-grade than those currently available with Echo, which has gotten some bad reviews for poor audio quality. Noting that, “so-called smart home gadgets are one of the latest computing battlefields fought over by the largest technology companies,” Bloomberg reports that these devices have “so far failed to match the popularity of smartphones and personal computers.”

Amazon_Echo_Tap

Still, Amazon’s Echo (above) has been “a surprise hit,” with Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimating U.S. sales of more than 5 million units since its 2014 debut. Amazon hardware has had its share of flops, with the Fire Phone in 2014 as one example.

Reports suggest the new Amazon speaker will use “an optimized version of Fire OS,” which runs the Fire tablet and Fire TV set-top box. It will continue to respond to verbal commands, like Alexa, but may also sport a feature “that allows users to pin items such as photos on their speaker’s screen akin to physically placing items on a refrigerator door.”

After the launch of the new speakers, Amazon will continue to sell Dot, Tap and Echo speakers, which cost, respectively, $50, $130 and $180. No price has been revealed for the new speakers, but it is likely to be more costly than the Echo.

Amazon’s plans for a new member of the Alexa line takes place as competitors Alphabet pushes its Google Home speaker and Apple has made noises about building a home device based on its Siri digital assistant.

Related:
Hey Amazon, We’re Still Getting Used to Voice-First Devices – Please Don’t Give Echo a Screen, Recode, 11/30/16