Amazon Rolls Out Alexa Device Messaging and Calling to U.K. and Germany

Amazon is updating its Alexa app today to add support for messaging and calling on Alexa-powered smart devices in the U.K., Germany, and Austria (via The Verge).

The second-generation Echo in Charcoal Fabric

The Alexa voice calling feature will work on standard Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers, allowing the devices to call each other free of charge. iPhone and Android owners can also use the Alexa app to call the Alexa-powered devices directly.

Amazon's second-generation Echo devices hit Europe on October 31 and support the feature as standard, while video calling is limited to the display-based Echo Show device, which is set to become available in the U.K. and Germany next month.


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Google is Prepping a Tabletop Smart Screen Device to Rival Amazon’s Echo Show

Google is working on a tabletop smart screen for video calling and more that will go up against Amazon's Echo Show, according to sources who spoke to TechCrunch.

The Google device is internally codenamed "Manhattan" and will have a screen size similar to the 7-inch Echo Show, said two sources, one of whom reportedly received information directly from a Google employee. The device is said to run a version of Android, meaning it could be capable of running third-party apps, with Netflix being mooted as a possibility.

Amazon's Echo Show device.

Both sources claim the device will offer access to Google Assistant, Google Photos, and YouTube – which goes some ways to explaining why the latter video service was unceremoniously pulled from Amazon's Echo Show on Tuesday.

Google's device will also reportedly work as a smart hub for controlling other connected smart home gadgets and appliances, similar to Amazon's new Echo Plus speaker unveiled earlier this week.

According to TechCrunch's sources, the original target launch date for the Manhattan device was mid-2018, but Google is apparently under intense pressure to get the product out the door before the end of this year, given that the Echo Show is already on the market. Google has a hardware event scheduled for October 4, but it's unclear if the device will make an appearance.

Other rumors floating about suggest the tech giant is readying an upmarket version of its Google Home smart speaker to rival Apple's upcoming $350 HomePod. Known internally as "Google Home Max", the "premium" device is said to feature stereo speakers housed in a high-quality design.

Thanks to leaks, we already know that Google will announce a mini version of its Google Home speaker at its hardware event, alongside new Pixel smartphones and a rebranded Google Pixelbook. But there's also talk of $159 Google-branded Bluetooth earbuds on the way with Google Assistant built-in.

Whatever the exact line-up of products the company drops on October 4, stay tuned to MacRumors for a full summary immediately following the event next week.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Tags: Google, Amazon Echo

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Google Pulls Access to YouTube on Amazon’s Echo Show Smart Speaker

Google pulled access to YouTube through Amazon's display-based Echo Show smart speaker on Tuesday, a move that appears to have angered Amazon and led to conflicting public statements by both companies over the sudden move.

"Currently, Google is not supporting Youtube on Echo Show." That's the message Alexa started giving Echo Show owners yesterday afternoon when they tried to access the video service. An Amazon spokesperson later confirmed to The Verge that YouTube was no longer available on Echo Show devices, and offered a statement implying that Google's decision had been an unwelcome surprise.

Google made a change today around 3 pm. YouTube used to be available to our shared customers on Echo Show. As of this afternoon, Google has chosen to no longer make YouTube available on Echo Show, without explanation and without notification to customers. There is no technical reason for that decision, which is disappointing and hurts both of our customers.
Google issued its own statement to The Verge shorty afterwards, contradicting Amazon's assertion that the move had been made without fair warning.
We've been in negotiations with Amazon for a long time, working towards an agreement that provides great experiences for customers on both platforms. Amazon's implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show violates our terms of service, creating a broken user experience. We hope to be able to reach an agreement and resolve these issues soon.
The move comes as a blow to Amazon's hopes for its Echo Show smart speaker, given that it has been marketed with a heavy emphasis on the device's display, which lets users see details related to their Alexa queries and watch online video – food recipes for instance, which are often hosted on YouTube.

Google's decision to pull access reflects similar moves by the company to protect its vision of how the YouTube service should function and appear to users. Earlier this month, Google forced popular iOS app ProTube off the App Store after serving the developer multiple takedown requests because it said the app violated YouTube's terms of service.


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Amazon Echo Gains Support for Multi-Room Music Playback

Amazon today added a new Alexa feature that allows several Amazon Echo devices to be synchronized and controlled across multiple rooms in a home. Echo owners can now target music to a specific Echo device or play the same music on more than one Echo.

The feature works with a variety of music services, including Amazon Music, TuneIn, iHeartRatio, and Pandora, with support for Spotify and SiriusXM coming soon. To use multi-room support, users will need to use the Alexa app to create groups with two or more Echo devices, giving the group a name like "downstairs." Once the group is enabled, commands like "Alexa, play John Mayer downstairs" will work.

"In just the last few months, we've added dozens of new features to Alexa that enhance your entertainment experience--control of Amazon Fire TV and your home entertainment systems via Echo; music lyrics, Amazon Video, and movie trailers on Echo Show; and activity-based music searches--and we're just getting started," said Toni Reid, Vice President, Amazon Alexa. "Today, we're making Alexa even smarter with an all-new feature that lets you play music synchronized on multiple Echo devices to provide room-filling music throughout your home."
Amazon's move to add support for multiple Echo devices comes as Apple prepares to launch both the HomePod and an AirPlay 2 protocol. Multiple HomePod devices can be used simultaneously, and with AirPlay 2, speakers that support the feature can be paired together for a whole-home music experience.

Multi-room music support is available for the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show in the United States, UK, and Germany starting today. Amazon says it plans to extend the ability allow users to control multi-room music on other connected speakers with just a voice command through a new Multi-Room Music SDK that device makers can build into their speakers. Amazon plans to work with brands like Sonos, Bose, Sound United, and Samsung, and some of these manufacturers are also working to support AirPlay 2 in future devices.

In other Echo-related news, the original Amazon Echo is out of stock on Amazon.com, fueling speculation that a new device launch is imminent. Rumors have suggested Amazon is working on a new version of the Echo that's designed to better compete with Apple's upcoming HomePod. The new Echo device is said to feature improved sound quality, better microphone technology, and a new design.


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Anker’s $35 Smart Speaker With Built-in Alexa Claims Better Audio Than Amazon’s Echo Dot

Popular accessory company Anker launched its own low-cost smart speaker with built-in Alexa on Wednesday called the Eufy Genie. Costing $35, the Genie is a little bigger than Amazon's Echo Dot, which retails at $50, but claims to offer stronger bass and double the volume of Amazon's equivalent device thanks to a 2W speaker.

The Genie's list of features pretty much tally with Echo Dot's abilities, so it can play music, control other smart home devices, order products, answer questions, set calendars, report the weather and news, and more.


According to Anker, it's also possible to use the Amazon Alexa app with the Genie to access over 10,000 skills and services, such as Pandora, Domino's Pizza, Uber, ESPN, NPR News, and more. Future updates from Eufy are said to include the ability directly control Spotify with your voice, and Alexa messaging and calling.

The Genie also links up to other smart products under Anker's Eufy brand, which include a robotic vacuum cleaner, air purifier devices, and a range of domestic lighting. According to The Verge, Anker also plans to introduce a $40 version of the Eufy Genie that includes Bluetooth support, which might let it connect to external speakers for playing music.

The Eufy Genie is available to pre-order off Amazon today but doesn't ship until August 16. Further details on the Genie and Anker's other products under the Eufy brand can be found on the Eufy website.

Note: Amazon is an affiliate of MacRumors and we may benefit from clicked links in this article.


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Facebook Smart Speaker Coming Next Year With 15-inch Touch Panel

Facebook is planning to release its own smart speaker to compete with similar connected devices offered by Amazon, Google, and Apple, a report out of Taiwan claimed on Tuesday.

However, instead of voice recognition functions in the vein of Siri or Alexa, Facebook's speaker will focus more on displaying visual imagery via a 15-inch touch panel, according to sources in the supply chain.

Amazon's Echo Show was the first smart speaker to feature a display

The device will be manufactured by Pegatron for release in the first quarter of 2018 and has already begun small volume pilot production at plants in China, said the sources. The touchscreen is said to be supplied by LG Display using in-cell technology, while the chassis is constructed from a magnesium-aluminum-alloy.

Market watchers predicted high growth for Pegatron going into the second half of the year, with the manufacturer already fulfilling iPhone orders for Apple as well as Surface and Xbox One orders for Microsoft.

Amazon is reportedly working on a successor to its popular flagship Echo speaker for release later this year. The company hopes to steal the spotlight from Apple as it prepares to launch its music-oriented HomePod speaker, costing $350.

Research firm Strategy Analytics claims worldwide smart speaker shipments reached 5.9 million units in 2016, 4.2 million of which were shipped in the fourth quarter of 2016. The smart speaker market is expected to reach $5.5 billion by 2022.

(Via DigiTimes.)

Related Roundup: HomePod
Tags: Facebook, Amazon Echo

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Amazon Working on Echo Successor to Rival Apple’s HomePod

Amazon is reportedly working on a successor to its Echo connected smart speaker for release later this year in a clear attempt to one-up Apple and its HomePod speaker, which is due to launch this December.

Sources who saw a working unit spoke to Engadget, claiming that the new Echo will improve on the first speaker "in every way", being shorter and slimmer than the original, with rounded edges and a cloth-like covering preferred over the current Echo's plastic shell and flat ends.


Perhaps unsurprisingly given Apple's focus on the HomePod music experience, Amazon is aiming to significantly improve the sound quality of the next Echo, according to sources. The company's new flagship smart speaker will feature multiple tweeters as opposed to just one large one (Apple's HomePod packs in seven tweeters).

Amazon is also reportedly enhancing the new Echo's far-field microphone technology, but it's not clear how. The current Echo has a seven-mic array, while the HomePod has six and Google Home has two, although the software running the mics significantly dictates their listening quality.

Pricing remains unknown, but Amazon's new Echo is likely to significantly undercut Apple's HomePod, which will retail at $349 and go up against the likes of Sonos in the premium speaker market. The existing Echo costs $180 as a reference.

First impressions of Apple's HomePod were largely positive following its unveiling in June, with journalists agreeing that the 7-inch tall device easily beats the Sonos Play:3 and 9-inch-tall Amazon Echo in terms of pure music playback quality. The HomePod initializes by playing 360-degree audio and listening back so that it can dynamically adjust sound output to fit environmental acoustics. Apple claimed it honed the technology over many years, so Amazon's next smart speaker has plenty to live up to.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Tag: Amazon Echo

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Amazon Echo Smart Speakers Gain Room-to-Room Intercom Feature

Amazon is releasing a software update for its Echo range of smart speakers that enables households with multiple Echos to use them as room-to-room intercoms (via TechCrunch).

Once the new feature is set up, users are able to select a speaker in a specific room and communicate with it one-to-one - to call the kids to dinner from the kitchen Echo, for example.


To enable the function, users must first give a distinctive name (such as a room) to each Echo in their household and enable the Drop-In feature using the Alexa app.

The intercom system works through household groups created during the setup process, meaning it's not limited to speakers on the same Wi-Fi, so it's possible to communicate with Echo-owning friends or relatives in a different area code, for instance. Users can also use the feature away from home using the Alexa app.

The Drop-In feature first appeared on Amazon's new Echo Show with integrated display, with some reviewers finding the video aspect a little intrusive. Similarly, there doesn't seem to be a way to block the intercom audio on the standard Echo range, so it's worth keeping this in mind before enabling it.

The update is rolling out to the Echo family of speakers this week.


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Amazon Echo Show Reviews: Privacy Concerns, Sound Improvements, and Video Calling as Killer App

Ahead of the launch of the Echo Show this Wednesday, June 28, Amazon has given review units to a few sites so that they can test out the new Echo and see how its 7-inch touch screen adds to the traditional Amazon Echo experience. Amazon revealed the $230 Echo Show earlier in May and bills it as having all of the features of the traditional Echo, with the addition of a display to enhance user interactivity.

According to The Verge, one of the best aspects of Echo Show is that, "you basically never need to tap the screen for anything, unless you really want to." Instead of adding an array of touchscreen-required actions that overcomplicate the interface, the company focused on adapting the abilities of the previous Echo models to work with a touchscreen.


While there were some moments when the touchscreen's "secondary importance" caused UI annoyances, the site largely admired Amazon's decision to keep the voice control focus of the Echo line with Echo Show.
Are there things I don't love about the Echo Show? Of course. I think it's pretty homely and I think that the sound quality could be better for the price. But the improvements over the original Echo are big enough that it's my favorite smart speaker right now.

From nearly any other company, adding a screen would have resulted in feature-itis of the worst kind. By holding back, the Echo Show feels like it does more. Its strength is in its simplicity.
In its review, TechCrunch described Echo Show's video calling feature as the "killer app" for many users, allowing calls between two Echo Show devices, or between an Echo Show and the Alexa smartphone app. After entering a phone number, the Echo Show displays a list of other Echo owners from your own personal contact list, and from there you can directly call their Echo.

Image via The Verge

The site noted that the screen is far too small for long movie sessions (currently only supporting video from Amazon Prime), and described its resolution as "middling," but in video calls the Echo Show's 7-inch touchscreen makes the most sense. Still, both TechCrunch and The Verge did find Echo Show's "Drop In" feature slightly intrusive, as it lets selected friends and family pop into your Echo Show and see your home whenever they feel like it, but it's not activated by default.
It’s a lot easier to use than Skype (though, to be fair, most things in this life are), but it’s currently limited to Show users, which means Amazon is going to sell a lot of these to family members looking for a simple way to keep in touch. There’s also an odd Drop-In option, which takes the whole picking-up-the-phone bit out of the equation, so select friends and family can communicate directly with little warning. I suppose there’s some value for users looking to periodically check in on loved ones, but the whole thing is too intrusive for my tastes.
Wired also referenced worry about Echo Show's always-watching camera, but ultimately sees potential in the device's future, particularly once Amazon begins adding in more "skills" for the Echo Show. The site continued an opinion shared in multiple reviews posted today, which is that the Echo Show's speaker is better than that of the original Echo's, but "it's no Sonos."
Still, I find the Show’s potential fascinating. The Alexa ecosystem has grown big enough that I suspect Netflix and Hulu will soon make video skills, most smart-home manufacturers will support the new device, and games and apps will pop up all over the place. Alexa’s voice recognition works well enough to make all of this work, and developers can access the camera, the screen, the microphone, and the speaker. The Echo Show is basically an always-on, plugged-in smartphone, which could become hugely powerful.
Amazon's Echo Show is the latest in the company's line of smart speaker systems, following the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Look. Apple is gearing up to finally enter the same market, with an announcement at WWDC this year for the "HomePod." Apple said that its speaker is more focused on high-quality music playback than its smart speaker rivals, while also offering Siri-based AI features.

Check out more Echo Show reviews from the following sites:
- Business Insider
- Buzzfeed
- CNET
- Engadget
- TIME
- Bloomberg
- Gizmodo
- USA Today
- SlashGear
- The New York Times


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Amazon Reveals $230 Touchscreen ‘Echo Show’ Launching in June

Amazon today debuted an all-new touchscreen Echo device, which it's calling the "Echo Show," following a report from yesterday that said the company was gearing up to debut the new Echo as soon as today. As was expected, the Echo Show is a smart home speaker system that has all of the features of the basic Echo system with an additional 7-inch touchscreen.

With the addition of a touchscreen, Amazon said that users will be able to watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, check on security cameras, swipe through photos, view weather forecasts, make to-do and shopping lists, and more. Far-field voice recognition, eight microphones, beam-forming technology, and noise cancellation allow users to be heard from anywhere in the room, as well as over loud music coming from the Echo Show itself.


One of the biggest additions with Echo Show is a new video chat experience that allows users to make hands-free calls to friends who also have an Echo Show, or who use the Alexa smartphone app. A Feature called "Drop In" lets users quickly contact or send messages to other Echo Show devices to do things like let someone know it's time for dinner, or check in on a child's nursery.

The Echo Show will connect to smart home products like Hue and Wink, and allow for simple daily tasks like timing food in the kitchen and catching up with the news.
For news and information you can see and hear, just ask Alexa for your video flash briefing from CNN. Curious about the latest movie trailers or a need a how-to video from YouTube? Just ask.

Echo Show helps keep you organized at home. Start a timer in the kitchen and watch as it counts down, or easily see and manage your family’s calendar. Sign in to the Alexa App to take your to-do and shopping lists with you. Just add an item to the list from home, and whoever is out shopping will see it added instantly on their Alexa App.
The Amazon Echo Show is the latest in a long line of Amazon smart home speakers, following the original Echo, Echo Dot, and most recently the Echo Look. While Amazon sits on top of the market for these voice-controlled speakers, more companies are looking to add similar products into their line-ups. This week, Harman Kardon teased the upcoming launch of a speaker with Microsoft's Cortana built in, with an aesthetic very similar to Echo.

Apple has long been rumored to be getting into the smart home speaker market as well, with plans to launch a device that would be visually similar to Google Home and have deep Siri integration, as well as the usual Apple services like Apple Music and iCloud. Rumors about such a device began around this time last year, and Apple is now believed to debut the Siri smart speaker as soon as WWDC in June.

Although a screen on the Siri device has not been mentioned in rumors, Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller recently mentioned that having a screen available suits more user-friendly situations than a device that exclusively uses voice controls. "So there's many moments where a voice assistant is really beneficial, but that doesn't mean you'd never want a screen," Schiller said. "So the idea of not having a screen, I don't think suits many situations."

The Amazon Echo Show is available to pre-order right now in black and white for $229.99 and will begin shipping June 28. Those who purchase two Echo Show devices at once can save $100 off of the order with a special promotion that Amazon is debuting for the launch of the new speaker.


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