Meet The Echo Show: Amazon’s New Voice First Device With A Screen And A Camera.


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The Voice First Revolution Accelerates

Today (May 9th, 2017) Amazon released a major upgrade to the wildly popular Voice First Echo platform called Echo Show [0] (for the last 2 years, I called it the Echo “Look” for a lot of reasons) .   This device defines a new category and it is far bigger than most will understand in the first days and weeks of release. Echo Show will cost $229.00 (us) and will be shipping on June 28th, 2017.

 

This is the most costly Echo device thus far, but it is also the most feature packed.  Some may see this as a 7 inch Amazon Fire Tablet slapped onto a slimmed-down Echo speaker system, however it is more than just the sum total of the parts and components.  Indeed Amazon has merged the best of both worlds, the huge Skills base of the Alexa platform with the foundation of Android based Apps from the Fire Tablet platform.

Lets start with the basic features:

Size 7.4” x 7.4” x 3.5” (187 mm x 187 mm x 90 mm)
Weight 41.0 oz. (1170 grams)
Actual size and weight may vary by manufacturing process
Display 7″ touchscreen
Camera 5MP
Wi-Fi Connectivity Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks. Does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.
Bluetooth Connectivity Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) support for audio streaming from your mobile device to Echo Show or from Echo Show to your Bluetooth speaker. Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) for voice control of connected mobile devices. Hands-free voice control is not supported for Mac OS X devices. Bluetooth speakers requiring PIN codes are not supported.
Audio Dual 2 inch stereo speakers
Alexa App The Alexa App is compatible with Fire OS, Android, and iOS devices.
Processor Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor for advanced technology and processing capabilities
Warranty and Service 1 year limited warranty included. Optional 1-year, 2-year, and 3-year extended warranty available for U.S. customers sold separately. Use of Echo Show is subject to the terms found here.
Included in the Box Echo Show, power adapter/cable (6 ft.), Things to Try card, and quick start guide.

 

 

The Amazon Echo And Alexa Journey

The original Echo was released in November 2014 [1] to a round of almost complete silence from most of the tech pundits.  Wisely, Amazon distributed the Echo to actual customers that use their Prime service heavily and mostly outside of tech centers in the US.  This cohort invited Alexa into their Kitchens and other rooms in their homes.  Rapidly, word of mouth spread as users demonstrated just how powerful it is to have a room defined by Voice First AI.

It took vision and guts to define a whole industry however in many ways Amazon did not set out to invent the Voice First revolution, they started with a humble Kindle Reader that could take basic commands to read books in 2011.  Today Amazon has over 1,700 employees directly working on the Alexa platform. This may be larger than all competing platforms combined.

Alexa also has over 12,000 Skills making it currently the platform with the largest number of Voice First developers.  To be sure many of the Skills are either 1-off tests, zombie skills abandoned by the developer or complete novelties useless on a grand scale.  Yet there are 100s of very useful Skills and no other platform has reached this level of utility.  Amazon has had the market to itself for almost 2 years until Google released Home and soon Apple with their “HomeBase” Voice First system.

Just a few weeks ago Amazon released the Echo Look [2].  This device was the the first variation to the fundamental echo design.  The Echo Touch and Echo Dot were derivatives to the original Echo device.  The Echo Look integrated the Alexa system primarily and Echo Dot with a depth of field lighted video electronics.  The speaker fidelity is slightly better than the Echo Dot with a similar far-field noise-canceling beam-forming microphone technology.  The added features was added Amazon Rekognition AI system.  Marketed as a device primarily for fashion advice and kept in the closet or bedroom, the Echo Look merged the same technology used at the Amazon Go Store [3].  The same can be said of the Echo Show, although the speaker system is superior to the Echo Dot and Echo Look, it is not nearly as high in fidelity as the original Echo but it is better than most medium quality bluetooth speakers.

 

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The Echo Show And The Amazon Video Calling App You Already Own

In 1876 just two years after receiving the telephone patent in the United States Alexander Graham Bell, created an early concept of a combined videophone and wide-screen television called a Telephonoscope.  The dream was central to many science fiction movies and became a functional reality by the 1960s AT&T Bell Laboratories and Western Electric released the first Picturephone.

It only worked if the person you were calling also had one and failed because of the high cost, a lease of $160 a month—that’s about $970 in today’s dollars. The video was also always active by default and most people just did not want to be seen all the time in that era. Today we have free services starting with the the 2003 iSight with iChat AV to Apple’s FaceTime and Microsoft’s Skype.  Although popular, video calling on smartphones in the U.S. is at 34.6% in 2015 according to Gartner.  However it is almost entirely skewed to the younger cohort below the age of 30.

Specimen of Western Electric Picturephone.

Amazon recently released AWS Chime [4] a unified communication service that is designed to make meetings easier and more efficient. The service was built on the patents and technology Amazon acquired from Biba Systems, a startup behind video messaging apps aimed at business users.  The Echo Show lets you start high-quality audio and video connections with a click and once you are in the meeting you can chat, share content, and share screens in a smooth experience that spans PC and Mac desktops, iOS devices, Android devices and now Echo Show.  Although the exact Chime platform is not currently used, it will, in my view ultimately integrated. Certainly a great deal of what was developed in Chime has been shared with Echo Show.

The system alerts you when the meeting starts, and allow you to join or to indicate that you are running behind with a single click or tap.  It provides a visual roster of attendees, late-comers, and those who skipped out entirely. It also provides broadly accessible mute controls in case another participant is typing or their dog is barking. Finally Echo Show delivers high quality noise-cancelled audio and crisp, clear HD video that works across all user devices and with most conference room video systems.

If you are not amiable to take the Video Call, the system will record a message and transcribe the audio into text, with the potential to overlay it in real time synchronization in the future.  Your mutually approved close friends can allow for a Drop-In.  The Drop-In function is a powerful new ability that allows you to reach out by just saying “Alexa, Drop in on Mom”.  The user gets a notification of who is calling and allows for them to instantly connect.  The Drop-In is a very powerful new modality of communication and will likely be a high usage feature in the future.

The Echo Show will extend the prospects of wide adoption of Video Calling because of a few fundamental aspects. The central cohort for Echo expansion has been in the ages above 35 years old, and the older end of the cohort: the 60 year old range, may adopt Video Calling as a more widely adopted aspect because of how simple Amazon has made this feature.  The extended use case for this type of Video Calling allows for easier use because the stationary aspect allows for hands free operation.  No need to hold or prop up a phone, just tilt and talk to the system.

Today anyone with the Alexa app can begin to make call.  Amazon calls this Alexa Calling. However the brilliance will come when Amazon creates a Video Client into the Amazon App will be crucial to reach the widest audience.  In many ways Amazon is making up for not being successful with producing a successful smart phone by building a new abstraction layer over the OS and extending higher user functionality with purposely designed Voice First devices that make communicating via Video a simple experience.

Additionally >76% of mobile shoppers have the Amazon app on their phone making the potential reach in the US potentially larger than any other Video Calling system, including US Skype users.  In fact >70% of US smartphone have the Amazon app installed. This potentially means the Amazon Echo Show Video Calling system has the potential to be one of the largest reaches in the US, surpassing Microsoft’s Skype, Google Video chat apps and Apple’s FaceTime.

The primary location for the Echo Show will fundamentally be the Kitchen this is also the modern gathering area in the home.  The logic of having an always ready video communication system in this setting will be powerful.  From young couples linking up during a busy day apart to grandparents having dinner remotely with their children and grand children will be a powerful new experience.  The power comes from the simplicity in access; “Alexa, call mom” and the focused utility of the device.

We will also see the Echo Show in the family room and bedroom.  The utility of having this new communication platform across many rooms in your house will be quite powerful.  We have already seen this phenomena with the Echo and Echo Dot being used in every room in the home.

Video Calling Based Customer Service

Amazon is the largest retailer in the world.  They employ thousands of customer service operators in the US.  Many of the interactions are via classic telephone calls.  Having the ability to create a video link between the customer service representative and the customer will have a huge effect on troubleshooting but also on sales.  Amazon has been testing sales demonstrations and walk throughs using Chime and other systems like Skype to great success.  Some products, especially where features need to be fully understood, lend themselves to live demonstrations. Although there have been thousands of variations of Video Calling and Video Conference systems used commercially between corporate users and although the market for dedicated systems has never exploded, they have been growing rather slowly for a number of reasons.  Echo Show will spark some expansion into the Amazon Marketplace merchants, that account for over 67% of all Amazon sales, to use Echo Show to demonstrate their products.

Audio Calling More Intercom or Walkie Talkie Than Phone

The Audio only aspect of the Chime technology will allow the Echo Show to operate like an intercom or a Walkie Talkie system.  The instant connect between Echo Show devices can be very powerful.  Although system like this have existed before and in many ways elements exist in apps like Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and Apple’s Messages system, the unique network effect of Amazon users make this type of system far more viable.  Clearly existing Alexa users will gain instant assess to the Audio Calling features as will any user of the Amazon app.  Like the Video Calling feature when you are not around or don’t take a call, the caller can leave you a message that can be transcribed to text for you.

Voice Commerce: Like Having An Amazon Go Store In Your Home

The Echo Show takes all of the features of the Echo and Echo Look and combines them into a new category of device.  The fundamental defining point of Echo Show is that it is designed around communication and Voice Commerce.  Although purists believe that the screen is a step backwards to the non Voice First world, I see it as a confirmation that we are moving rapidly to this era.  The idea of Voice First is fundamentally different that Voice Only.  The presence of a situational screen to confirm product images and to call up short form demonstration videos have always been fundamental to the Voice First revolution.  In 2016 I wrote [2]:

Voice First Enhances The Keyboard And Display

Voice First devices will not eliminate display screens as they will still need to be present. However, they will be ephemeral and situational. The Voice Commerce system will present images, video and information for you to consider or evaluate on any available screen. Much like AirPlay but with locational intelligence.

There is also no doubt keyboards and touch screens will still exist. We will just use them less. Still, I predict in the next ten years, your voice is not going to navigate your device, it is going to replace your device in most cases.”

Voice Commerce will ultimately become one of the foundations of Amazon Show as Amazon will make the experience more comfortable for more complex product selections.  Ultimately, over time and as Voice First systems like Alexa become more deeply contextually aware of your shopping habits, like and dislikes, the use for a screen over the arc of ten years will diminish.

 

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The Echo Show also includes similar depth of field lighted video electronics using the same Amazon Rekognition AI system that the Echo Look uses. Thus we can reasonably assume that Echo Show will share the same Echo Look functionality also and enhance the fashion shopping experience.

In 2009 Amazon’s A9 devision SnapTell [5].  SnapTell used enhanced computer vision based recognition technology and this technology was including in Flow, Amazon Mobile, and Firefly on the Amazon Fire phone.  This technology was a foundation to the Amazon Rekognition AI system used at Amazon Go stores and will also make product identification in your home far more powerful.  In most cases the system will be able to detect the product you hold up to the built-in camera and find the product options on Amazon’s website.

 

Specimen of The SnapTell/Flow Technlogy.

 

The Voice Commerce element of the Alexa platform has been perhaps one of the most underestimated aspect of the system.  I have estimated that Amazon sees, [6] based on just a conservative number Alexa devices:

  • The average Amazon Echo user increased purchases by ~10%
  • Fundamentally a vast majority of Amazon Echo users are Prime members
  • Average Amazon Prime user spends ~$1500 per year
  • Echo users increase sales at Amazon by ~$150 per yer
  • There are ~ 10 million Alexa enabled devices in early 2017
  • If half (5 million) Alexa enabled device owners spend ~$150 more per year Amazon experiences ~$750,000,000 new revenue

We can conclude that the expansion of Voice Commerce with situational video and images will, in the most conservative sense, potentially double the sales from a standard Echo device.  However I believe this is far too low.  I assert that using the same technology from Echo Look and the Amazon Go Store product identification system, Amazon may not only see a 5x increase in sales diverted from the app, I also suggest new sales, not usually captured via all other Amazon platforms will be generated via Echo Show.

The shift to Voice Commerce and the end of advertising as we know it today (pay per click) will catch many infrastructure suppliers by surprise. One of my focuses over the last 35 years has been payments and it is in payments where the impact will be deeply felt, not only on the Alexa platform but across the entirety of Voice First devices.  It conies to stun me just how uninformed the advice has been to the most innovative young payment companies to the most successful legacy payment companies.  The impact will be deeply impacted to both online and retail focused payment companies.  From the clear obvious of thousands of merchants shifting to Voice Commerce and Voice

Payments using Amazon Pay, built into the new Alexa systems in the future to the less obvious techniques Apple, Google and Microsoft that will effectively block payment companies from these platforms.  Merchants are practical and pragmatic and will move their business to those that not only are offering solutions in Voice Commerce, but are also leading it.  One can not say payment companies have not been warned, I have offered guidance to just about all of the ones anyone reading this article could think of.  Many think all they need to do is sit at the “bottom of the payments stack” and merchants will be happy.  History will see this as tragically wrong advice.

The Amazon Show And Amazon Prime Movies

 About 65% of the US population views some movies and short-form video on devices that have < 7 inch screens.  Although the screen on the Amazon Show is small it will serve as a platform for video entertainment while cooking or eaten in the kitchen.  This element should not be overlooked as it has the potential to extend a new Amazon screen into a relatively “screen-less” environment.  Clearly even with modest adoption, Amazon will gain millions of new Amazon Prime video users. 

The Echo Show Social Network

When examining just the raw numbers of potential users, Amazon will be in a fundamentally strong position to build an ad-hoc social network.  I don’t think this artifact will be clear in the early days, however over time the prospects of building a sort of Audio and Video Snapchat-like system is not only possible but highly probable, by de facto use.  As the network effect takes hold, we will begin to see a behavior shift to this new platform.  Much like Apple’s Messages platform has become far more popular in the younger cohort, below the age of 25, I think the new Chime based system will shift some of this cohort for a number of reasons.

Impact To Other Apps And Services

The Echo Show will have in impact on every communication platform from Skype to Slack and from Facebook to Snapchat on to standard phone calls.  Initially the impact will be unnoticed, however over time the network effect and the adoption I predict in some business environment will take a toll.  Microsoft has already worked on making Cortana and Skype coordinate in the new Harmon Kardon Invoke.  Google will show a similar integration soon as will Apple.  However apps and social networks may be the most vulnerable over the arc of the next ten years as Voice First platform supplant old audio, video and text based systems.  Sadly many of these companies have taken the wrong advice and ignored the impact Voice First devices will create to their core services, much like payment companies have.

The Impact To Other Voice First Platforms

As I have mentioned, Apple, Google, Microsoft and others will begin to offer many of the features found in Echo Show.  However, they will not be able to duplicate Amazon’s technology.  On the other hand Amazon will be hard pressed to do exactly what Apple will be doing as well as what Google will be doing.  I have stated that we will all own many Voice First devices and this is one of the fundamental reasons.  Unlike the great OS debates of Window vs. Mac and iOS vs Android, there will be no OS debates.  Ultimately the price points will be so low that we will be happy to have many systems.  In fact appliances, homes and automobile will have some of these systems built-in along with new systems not yet announced.  Either way, the market will expand rapidly and if the basic features stay in parity all the systems will rapidly expand to new users as we reach past smartphone sales volume over the next ten years.

The Echo Show Developer Challenge

All Alexa skills will automatically be available on Echo Show. Skills will display any skill cards that is currently returned in your response objects in the Alexa app. This is very similar to how customers see your Alexa skill cards on the Alexa app, Fire TV, and Fire Tablet devices today. If no skill card is available, a default template shows the skill icon and skill name.One of the largest impediments to Amazon is motivating developers to build on to this new hybrid Alexa platform.  Although Alexa Skills will continue to work as well as Fire Tablet Apps, the power of Echo Show will be in the exclusive new Skills that take advantage of the new features.  The launch partners:have created a great start, however getting the longer tail motivated will require high sales numbers and I believe they will be forthcoming. A few developers are already using the screen. Echo Show includes updated skills from Allrecipes, Jeopardy, Uber, OpenTable, CNN, and more, as well as new smart home camera integrations from Ring and Arlo. Here’s what they are doing:

  • Allrecipes shows customers recipe photographs and videos to help them prepare a meal, along with recipe search and filtering.
  • Jeopardy! engages players by enabling them to view the clues and answers on Echo Show.
  • Uber introduces trip details on the screen.
  • OpenTable gives customers a visual confirmation of their reservation including table size and time.
  • CNN allows customers to watch CNN video briefings that are updated every hour.
  • Ring and Arlo offer compatible cameras that can show you the front door or monitor the baby’s room.

Amazon will build new tools that allow for:

  • Build Optimized Display and Video Interfaces. While your skills will work out of the box, we know that you may want to create visual experiences unique to Echo Show. You develop skills for Echo Show in the Alexa Skills Kit, just like you do for other Alexa devices with a screen today. When the display interfaces in ASK later this summer, it be able to choose from several GUI templates for your skill. The developer will also be able to stream videos on Echo Show using the new video player interfaces in the Alexa Skills Kit. The developer will simply provide a URL and other details of your video in your skill response. This will render the video on the device and allow customers to control the playback using both voice and touch interfaces.
  • Enable Customers to View Smart Home Cameras. With Echo Show customers can say, “Alexa, show the baby’s room” and have the feed from an Internet connected camera, like Arlo, display on Echo Show. To support this, they are introducing cameras as part of the Smart Home Skill API. Because the Smart Home Skill API taps into Amazon’s standardized Alexa language model, the developer won’t need to build the voice interaction model for your camera skill. Alexa will understand the customer’s speech, convert it to directive, and send that directive to your skill adapter. Your skill adapter will return the video feed URI from the requested camera. The URI is then passed to the Echo Show device so it can directly display the video.

The Most Successful Product In Amazon’s History

I believe that the Echo Show will become one of Amazon’s most successful Echo devices and at some point the most successful product Amazon has ever produced.  Just last holiday season, the Echo Dot broke all sales records at Amazon.  This demand will continue and expand as Moore’s Law pushes the retail price to $99 or lower in the next year.

Thus with Echo Show we have:

  • The Alexa Platform
  • The Fire Tablet Platform
  • The Chime Platform
  • The Rekognition Platform
  • The SnapTell/Flow Platform

As I said above, the sum total of the parts, hardware and software are synergistic.  Amazon has taken the decades of merchant knowledge and AI technology and wrapped up together into a package that will be very hard for Apple and Google to exactly match.  Of course Google first and than Apple will show new Voice First devices this year, with a visual aspect, however they will both take different directions.

Viva The Voice First Revolution

Just about a year ago I wrote about Jeff Bezos and his 1,000-person Alexa army [6]. Today it is approaching an over 2,000 person army.  Jeff Bezos said:

“…We’ve been working behind the scenes for the last four years, It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Indeed, even with Echo Show, we have just seen the start of the long arc I have been calling the Voice First revolution [1].  When the dust settles devices ultimately will become less relevant than the Voice based AI that know us best to a deep contextual level.  The AI knowing us is half the equation. Jeff said:

“I think there are going to be a bunch of artificially intelligent agents in the world, there are going to be specialties, and you may not ask the same AI for everything. I bet the average household will use a number of these, but to me that’s a very exciting seed that we’ve planted. I love working on stuff like that, and the team is brilliant.”

The seeds have been plated as far back as 2010 at Amazon and the Voice First revolution reaches much further in time. Conceptually to the brilliant Norbert Wiener and his Cybernetics ideas.  I wrote an entire issue of my Multiplex Magazine [8] (subscribe, for a price of a cup of coffee per month) on how this has defined the journey to this point in time and how it will define the journey ahead.  This journey will replace the mechanical aspects of everything we have been acclimated to perform with computers, including typing and gesturing on glass.  We will gain back our time as our contextually aware systems “know” what we are looking for and allow us to move to other things.  Norbert Wiener foresaw this in 1948 and today, we have made a big step forward.

It is revolution, a Voice First revolution.

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[0] Amazon Echo Show 

[1] There is a revolution ahead and it has a voice

[2] The Amazon Look will-transform the closet and the fashion industry

[3] What is the Amazon Go Store the new retail shopping experience and why is it important

[4] Amazon Chime

[5] A9

[6] Does Alexa affect Amazon’s stock price

[7] Jeff Bezos and Alexa Army are building the future

[8] Get Multiplex Magazine

 

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