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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Apple VP Phil Schiller Implies Voice-Activated Smart Speakers Could Benefit From a Screen

Gadgets 360 published an interview with Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller this week that could shed some light on Apple's plans for a dedicated Siri-based voice-assistant for the home. Rumors have swirled in recent weeks about Apple's plans to unveil an Amazon Echo-like smart connected speaker, possibly as early as WWDC in June, so Schiller's thoughts on the topic could potentially relate to the way Apple is approaching the design of its Echo rival.

During the interview, Schiller demurred when asked what he thought about Amazon's Echo and Google Home, but his comments clearly imply that the two speakers leave a lot to be desired: "My mother used to have a saying that if you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all." More revealingly perhaps, Schiller took pains to distinguish between different usage scenarios for voice assistants: handsfree, such as while driving, when simple voice-activation is convenient – but limited – and most other occasions when the availability of a screen is preferred.

"We think it's important that there are times when it's convenient to simply use your voice when you are not able to use the screen," said Schiller. "For example, if you're driving [and] you want Siri to work for you without having to look at the screen, that's the best thing. Or maybe you're across the room, and you want to ask Siri to change the song you're listening to."

So there's many moments where a voice assistant is really beneficial, but that doesn't mean you'd never want a screen. So the idea of not having a screen, I don't think suits many situations. For example if I'm looking for directions and I'm using Maps, Siri can tell me those directions by voice and that's really convenient but it's even better if I can see that map, and I can see what turns are coming up, and I can see where there is congestion, I understand better my route, and what I'm going to do.
Schiller continued his argument for voice assistants with screens using the example of photography and photo sharing. "With all the social networking apps that are now embracing photos more and more, well, it doesn't work really so great in voice-only assistants," said Schiller. The same goes for games, he said, calling them the "biggest category of all".
I have yet to see any voice-only games that, for me, are nearly as fun as the one that I play on my screen. And so I think voice assistants are incredibly powerful, their intelligence is going to grow, they're gonna do more for us, but the role of the screen is gonna remain very important to all of this.
Schiller ended his comments on the topic by calling the dual role of voice-assistants "an interesting discussion", especially with respect to "when each is appropriate, and what they can do in our lives".

It's unclear how Schiller's comments fit in with the recent uptick in rumors that Apple is working on a Siri-based smart speaker for the home. Often-reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities has said the product will double up as an AirPlay speaker and feature a custom W1 Bluetooth chip for easy pairing, while Sonny Dickson has suggested the device will run a variation of iOS and have a Mac Pro-like concave top with built-in controls. However, none have claimed Apple is working to integrate a screen into the device.

By contrast, recent alleged leaks have suggested Amazon's next-generation Echo could have a built-in touchscreen and camera with the potential to support phone and video calls.

In the Gadgets 360 interview quoted from above, Schiller also spoke about other topics, including Apple's Swift programming language, and the company's app subscription model as it relates to developers and users of the App Store. You can read the full interview here.


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Apple’s Siri-Based Smart Speaker Has ‘Over 50% Chance’ of Debuting at WWDC in June

Apple's widely rumored Siri-based smart speaker and home hub has an "over 50 percent chance" of being announced at WWDC, scheduled for June 5-9, according to often-reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities.

The device is rumored to have a "Mac Pro-like" concave design (Image: iFunnyVlogger)

Kuo said Apple's smart home product will likely launch in the second half of 2017 and cost more than the Amazon Echo, $179. The device will supposedly support AirPlay with "excellent acoustics performance" from one woofer and seven tweeters. Kuo said its performance will be similar to the iPhone 6/6s.

An excerpt from Kuo's research note obtained by MacRumors:
We believe there is an over 50% chance that Apple will announce its first home AI product at WWDC in June and start selling in the ]second half of 2017] in order to compete with the new Amazon Echo models to be launched […]

We expect Apple’s first home AI product will have excellent acoustics performance (one woofer + seven tweeters) and computing power (similar to iPhone 6/6S AP). Therefore the product is likely to be positioned for: (i) the high-end market; (ii) better entertainment experience; and (iii) higher price than Amazon Echo.
Last week, leaker Sonny Dickson likewise said Apple's smart speaker could be announced as early as WWDC. He said the device will run a variation of iOS with unspecified Beats technology, in addition to a Mac Pro-like concave top with built-in controls and speaker meshing covering the majority of its surface.

Apple's plans for a smart home device and Amazon Echo competitor were first revealed by The Information in May 2016, and Bloomberg reported that the device had entered prototype testing in September.

The latter report said Apple's smart home device would be able to control appliances, locks, lights, and curtains through Siri voice commands. It added that some of the prototypes in testing have facial recognition sensors, in line with a CNET report claiming the device could have a built-in camera.

Kuo said Taiwan-based Inventec will be the exclusive speaker supplier, including both the woofer and tweeters.


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Apple’s Echo-Like Smart Speaker With Siri and AirPlay Could Debut as Early as WWDC

Apple is widely rumored to be working on a Siri-based smart home device with a speaker, and Australian leaker Sonny Dickson has shared new details about its possible design and features on Twitter and with MacRumors.

Apple's smart speaker could take design cues from the Google Home

Dickson said that Apple is currently "finalizing designs" for the Amazon Echo and Google Home competitor, which he expects to be marketed as a Siri and AirPlay device. "It is believed to carry some form of Beats technology," he added, while noting that the device will run a variant of iOS software.

Dickson later told MacRumors that the device, allegedly codenamed B238 internally, will feature a Mac Pro-like concave top with built-in controls. His source, which he told us is "someone inside Apple," described the device as "fat" like the Google Home with speaker mesh covering the majority of the device.

Dickson was told Apple's smart speaker could be unveiled at WWDC 2017 in early June, but as always, the company's plans could change.

In September 2016, Bloomberg reported that Apple's smart home device had entered prototype testing, including both a larger and a smaller model in line with Amazon's current Echo lineup. However, at the time, the report cautioned that Apple's early efforts do not guarantee that a finalized product will be released.

The report said Apple's smart home device would be able to control appliances, locks, lights, and curtains through Siri voice commands. It added that some of the prototypes in testing include facial recognition sensors, backed by an earlier CNET report claiming the device could have a built-in camera for facial recognition.

Dickson is best known for leaking various iPhone and iPad parts from overseas sources, such as these iPhone 5c rear casings in 2013, but his latest information supposedly comes from a source directly within Apple, an area where his track record is less established. His sources have proven incorrect at times.


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Amazon’s New ‘Echo Look’ Camera Has Machine Learning to Help You Make Better Fashion Choices

Amazon today announced the expansion of its popular Echo line with the $200 Amazon Echo Look, a device that packs in all of the typical Echo functionalities and adds on a hands-free camera with built-in LED lighting that can give users an edge on their wardrobe choices. With Echo Look, users can take full-body photos and videos using their voice, and view the content on the connected Amazon iOS and Android apps.

Thanks to the Echo Look's depth-sensing camera, users' outfits pop in the foreground while the background is blurred, making it easier to see what they're wearing. Photos can be saved to an ongoing "look book" that will log what users wear every day so as to not duplicate outfits, and the pics can be shared easily on social networks or through texts. Taking a video allows users to quickly replay the clip on their phone so they can see their outfit from every angle in the moment, making it easier to decide on what to wear.

With Echo Look, you can take full-length photos of your daily look using just your voice. The built-in LED lighting and depth-sensing camera let you blur the background to make your outfits pop, giving you clean, shareable photos.

Get a live view in the Echo Look app or ask Alexa to take a short video so you can see yourself from every angle. View recommendations based on your daily look and use Style Check for a second opinion on what looks best. And, because Alexa is built in the cloud, she’s always getting smarter—and so will Echo Look.
Echo Look also comes equipped with a machine learning feature called Style Check, allowing users to take two pictures of two separate outfits and compare the two in order to make the best choice. Combined with advice from fashion specialists, Style Check gives users a percentage bar of what outfit works better in the moment, and what fits better on each individual user.


Otherwise, Echo Look functions like any other Echo device. Users can set alarms, listen to the news and audiobooks, get traffic alerts, control their smart home devices, check the weather, and more. With the launch of Echo Look, Amazon now sells the Echo in three iterations: the traditional Echo ($179.99), the Echo Dot ($49.99), and the new Echo Look ($199.99). An official release date for the Echo Look has not yet been announced, but users interested can sign up for an invitation on the device's Amazon page.


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Amazon Offers Echo’s Far-Field Voice Recognition Tech to Third Parties

Amazon has fired another salvo in the virtual assistant wars by opening up access to the far-field voice recognition technology found in its Echo smart speakers so that third-party manufacturers can make their own versions (via BBC).

The move comes as Amazon attempts to spread the use of its Alexa virtual assistant across a wide range of connected products and take ownership of a larger portion of the growing smart devices market. Google announced its branded Home smart speaker in November, while Apple is also rumored to be planning a similar Siri-enabled device this year.


The initially invite-only access to the technology via the Alexa Voice Service program will give manufacturers the right to replicate the Echo's seven-microphone array that allows the speakers to hear a voice command from across the room.

The access also means third-party developers can use the proprietary algorithms used for wake-word recognition, which focus the array on the owner's voice and filter out echoes and other noises. Developers will be provided with a reference kit as a starting point for their own designs, and the freedom to source components from a range of parts manufacturers.
"Our vision is for Alexa to be everywhere, and that means making it available to other companies and services to integrate into a wide range of devices," said an Amazon spokesperson.

"We expect Alexa to be in many devices over time, including products that compete with Echo, which is why we're investing in making a wide range of hands-free and far-field reference solutions available to OEMs [original equipment manufacturers]."
Amazon's rollout of Alexa has gained steam ever since CES 2017 in January, when the virtual assistant cropped up in a range of products including third-party smart speakers, cars, TVs, lamps, and even refrigerators.

In February Amazon announced it was extending third-party support for its Alexa Voice Service (AVS) internationally, and last month it added its Siri competitor to the company's iOS app, allowing users to search Amazon, track orders, play music, and start audio books from Audible.


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Burger King TV Ad Highlights Voice Recognition Challenge For Smart Speakers

Burger King made headlines yesterday when it began running a 15-second television ad made to intentionally activate Google Home speakers and Android phones within earshot.

The simple commercial involves someone posing as a Burger King employee who leans into the camera to ask the question "OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?" – a request designed to prompt Google virtual assistants nearby to start reading the burger's Wikipedia entry. To the relief of many, Google quickly moved to prevent its Home speakers from responding to the ad by registering the sound clip and disabling the trigger.


Voices on TV have been inadvertently triggering smart speakers for months now, but the ad represents the first attempt by a company to purposely hijack users' devices for commercial gain. One likely reason Burger King chose to target Google Home rather than iPhones is that unlike Apple's Siri, the virtual assistant cannot be trained to recognize a particular user's voice, which highlights one of the main issues with connected smart speakers currently on the market.

As it stands, Google Home can only be used with a single Google account at a time, and lacks the ability to differentiate users by their voice patterns. Google has said its ultimate goal for Home is to be able to identify different people in the same room – and hints of multi-user functionality have briefly appeared in the Google Home app – suggesting some sort of voice identification feature is likely coming.

Likewise, Amazon is known to be working on a similar system that would allow its Echo range of smart speakers to distinguish between individual users based on the sound of their voices. According to sources, Amazon's feature would work by matching the person speaking to a pre-recorded voice sample, or "voice print", to verify the speaker's identity. Currently, Echo users can set up multiple profiles and jump between them, but the user must say "switch accounts" or use the Alexa app to do so.


Last May it was rumored that Apple will launch an Echo-like speaker with Siri integration, enabling users to play music, get news headlines, and more, without needing to interact with their iPhone.

According to one source, Apple's speaker could process many typical iPhone Siri commands. For example, users may be able to ask the device to read e-mails, send text messages and tweets, and stream content from Apple Music. Apple is even said to have considered integrating map information into the speaker, allowing the device to notify a user when it's time to leave the house for an appointment.

However, all of these capabilities would require Siri to know exactly who it is interacting with – a feat which, in a communal setting, could pose significant technical challenges for a company high on privacy. In this sense, the appearance of an Apple smart speaker may ride on Apple's ability to make user voice recognition as secure as biometric authentication features like Touch ID.

On the other hand, Apple could bring in biometric features to augment the speaker's user identification system. Indeed, some of Apple's speaker prototypes in testing are said to include technology related to facial recognition, potentially aided by Apple's acquisition of Faceshift and Emotient, which may help the device act based on who is in a room or a person’s emotional state. How secure such systems would be in these scenarios remains unclear, however. According to rumors, Apple's smart speaker-esque device could release later this year.


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Siri and Alexa Battling to Become Go-To Voice Assistants in Hotel Rooms

Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa are being put through their paces in a "tech incubator" hotel chain, in order to determine which voice assistant brings more to the table for guests wanting to order room service, control lights, change TV channels, adjust the temperature, and more (via Bloomberg). The main incubator for the test is happening in Aloft Hotels, which are owned by Marriott.

The Aloft Hotel in Boston is using Amazon Echo devices and a collection of iPhones and iPads to gather information on which voice assistant will ultimately best serve guests in the long run. Marriott hasn't divulged information on who might be the winner as of yet, but the company did say that it expects to decide if it will expand the test to more chains besides Aloft Hotels "as early as mid-year."

Marriott expects to decide whether to adopt the technology for one or more of its chains as early as mid-year, potentially boosting sales for the device of choice. More important, it will increase the winning company’s exposure in the market for voice-activated devices, which are gaining more mainstream traction.

“Those two players are in the game right now,” said Toni Stoeckl, who oversees the Aloft, Element, AC and Moxy chains as global brand leader for lifestyle brands at Marriott. There are almost 130 Aloft hotels in the U.S., and more than 100 additional ones planned.
Carolina Milanesi, a market analyst with Creative Strategies, compared the introduction of voice assistants into hotel rooms to when the hospitality industry began putting iPhone docking stations into rooms so guests could easily charge their phone and listen to their own music. Still, personalization with the voice assistants remains a key question for the new tests. As of now it's unclear whether guests will be able to somehow access their own accounts to use Alexa and Siri, or be treated with a "standard set of skills relevant to a hotel stay," concerning news reports, weather forecasts, and other default commands that might be easier for guests unfamiliar with voice assistant technology.

In regards to the overall voice assistant battle over hotel rooms, Alexa currently appears to be winning. Amazon's assistant and its connected speaker system Echo are now helping out guests in hotels like the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, with Alexa devices installed in 10 of 1,002 rooms and plans to add around 100 more as early as next month. On an even bigger scale, the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas plans to equip all 4,748 rooms with an Echo speaker by this summer.

Although most users agree Siri is inferior to other assistants from Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, Apple isn't out of the running yet in the battle to win hotel rooms, and Siri's advantageous support of multiple languages could give it a leg up over its competition with international travelers. According to Toni Stoeckl, Marriott's global brand leader, the company is searching for which voice assistant can become the "ideal solution" and ultimately turn into "a global platform" with Siri or Alexa installed at multiple of its locations around the world. Stoeckl said that the company should have an indicator of where it's headed by the end of 2017, so "the race is still on."
Marriott’s Stoeckl said his company is “looking for the ideal solution to make this a global platform.” Aloft hotels act as a “tech incubator” for new concepts, and a successful test may determine whether digital assistants -- and which ones -- are installed at other Marriott chains, he said.
Of course that means that neither assistant could win, but the company said it will continue to test both out in its Aloft Hotels, and even plans to add more "concierge-like" services in the future, which hint that more personalized experiences are likely to be introduced. These include the ability to connect with a guest's personal smartphone to fuel actions like setting an automatic wake-up temperature or creating an activation time to open the room's drapes.

Voice assistants continue to be a dominant factor in the smartphone and tablet market, and thanks to devices like the Echo speaker, they're expanding into unique product categories as well. Reports have been scarce lately, but last year Apple was said to be "pressing ahead" into prototype testing for its own standalone Siri speaker. The Cupertino company is also believed to be working on "enhanced Siri" capabilities that should beef up the assistant's presence on iOS devices, likely to begin with this year's "iPhone 8."


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Amazon Developing ‘Voice ID’ Technology for Alexa Assistant

Amazon is building upon the Alexa voice-recognition technology found in its Echo range of speakers so that the virtual assistant can distinguish between individual users based on the sound of their voices.

According to anonymous sources who spoke to TIME, Amazon's feature would work by matching the person speaking to a pre-recorded voice sample, or "voice print", to verify the speaker's identity.


A primary account holder would be able to require a specific voice print to access certain commands. A user would, for example, be able to set it so that a parent's voice would be required to make a credit card purchase or turn on the coffee machine through the Echo.
Amazon has been developing the feature, internally called Voice ID, since at least the summer of 2015, according to people familiar with the company's Alexa strategy. The underlying technology is said to have been completed and just needs integrating into Echo speakers, however it's still unclear when that will happen.

The Voice ID technology would be a first in the smart speaker space and make Echo units easier to share between multiple people under one roof. Currently, Echo users can set up multiple profiles and jump between them, but the user must say "switch accounts" or use the Alexa app to do so. And as for credit card purchases, a four-digit authentication code must be said out loud to confirm them.

It's unknown at this point whether Voice ID will extend to the many Alexa-enabled third-party devices now available, or if it would be limited to Amazon's Echo speakers. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.

Alexa recently became capable of responding to 10,000 skills, according to Amazon. Skills are essentially third-party apps that you can interact with via voice, once they've been enabled. The 10,000th skill was Beat the Intro, a music game that tests users' knowledge and love of music.

AI assistants have become increasingly popular over the past few years, while Apple's Siri has remained largely unchanged over the past few iOS updates. Last May it was rumored that the company would launch an Echo-like speaker with Siri integration, enabling users to play music, get news headlines, and more, without needing to interact with their iPhone, but further details have been scant.


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Amazon and Google Want to Turn Their Smart Home Speakers Into Telephone Replacements

Both Amazon and Google are working on turning their popular AI-based speaker products into replacements for a home telephone, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The Amazon Echo and/or the Google Home could be used to make and receive phone calls, with the two companies planning to add the updated functionality as soon as this year. Smart home products like the Amazon Echo have become a staple in the lives of many people and the ability to make phone calls directly from the device would be a valuable addition.

Google and Amazon are said to be working to overcome concerns about privacy, telecom regulations, and emergency services, plus the "inherent awkwardness" of making phone conversations via a speaker. The two companies are worried consumers won't want to speak on a device that is able to record conversations. Both the Echo and the Home continuously record audio to enable AI responses.


One source that spoke to The Wall Street Journal said that Amazon would only collect metadata from phone calls rather than conversations themselves, and while it's unclear what Google would retain, a Home-based call service would likely resemble Google Voice, which does not record phone calls.
Amazon is considering multiple options for how the phone feature could work, the people said. The Echo could get its own phone number. Call forwarding could enable calls to that number to be answered remotely on a cellphone, and vice versa.

Another option is to sync a user's existing phone number and contacts with the Echo. Incoming calls would ring on the user's cellphone.

Amazon and Google could develop the calling tool themselves, or they could allow external providers such as Skype or Vonage onto their platforms.
The news is of interest to Apple followers because Apple is also rumored to be working on a connected smart home device that would compete with Amazon's Echo and Google's Home. It's reasonable to assume that when and if Apple releases its rumored home hub, it would be on par with already existing products. If the Amazon Echo and Google Home are set to gain calling capabilities, we can perhaps expect the same thing from an Apple product.

Rumors thus far suggest Apple's smart home device will be powered by Siri, Apple's voice-based personal assistant that's already built into iPhones and Macs. It would reportedly be used to control HomeKit-enabled accessories while also offering "advanced microphone and speaker technology." The device, in addition to serving as a hub for smart products, would also be able to respond to typical Siri questions and do things like play music, answer queries, and more.

The device is said to be in the prototype testing phase of development, without an official finalized plan for release. Apple could still decide not to move forward with the project should the testing phase not pan out.


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