Innovation

Amazon Echo Show adds video calling to Alexa's growing skills

Amazon Alexa now has a screen with the $229 Echo Show, to be released in June. Learn why it could be a boon for business users.

On Tuesday, Amazon unveiled its latest device: Echo Show, an Echo model with a 7-inch touch screen and a video camera that brings a new face to the Alexa digital assistant, and new use cases to the enterprise.

Echo Show business users can make hands-free video or voice calls to colleagues or partners who have an Echo Show or the Alexa App on an iOS or Android device, by simply asking Alexa to call the person.

In this way, Echo Show will face competition from Google's Hangouts, Microsoft's Skype for Business, and Apple's FaceTime video conferencing options. Echo Show may have an advantage in that it is hands-free and voice-activated. However, since it requires both parties to have an Echo Show or the Alexa App, it remains to be seen whether or not it will gain enough enterprise adopters to make it useful for such calls.

It also remains to be seen if the device will integrate with Amazon Chime, the platform's unified communication service for business users launched in February, that offers high-quality audio and video meetings with the ability to chat, share content, and share screens across PC and Mac desktops, iOS devices, and Android devices.

SEE: Amazon Echo: The smart person's guide

In addition to making calls, Alexa will soon be able help users send messages via voice command, as well as read received messages. Calling and messaging will be available free for anyone who has the Alexa App, an Echo, Echo Dot, or Echo Show, and has enabled the services. The device includes eight microphones and noise cancellation capabilities, so it can hear you from any direction, according to Amazon.

Echo Show also includes other features that could be useful for business users. For example, users can ask Alexa to show them the front door, or monitor a certain room, with compatible cameras from Ring and Arlo. Users can also use the device to turn on lights, control thermostats, and perform other Internet of Things (IoT) functions with compatible smart home devices. And a new feature called Drop In allows users to use the device almost as an intercom, potentially to call employees together for a meeting.

Amazon also recently added support for G Suite and Office 365 calendars to Alexa, so the assistant can read off calendar events and more for business users in those ecosystems.

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Image: Amazon

Like other Alexa products, the more you use Echo Show, the more it adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences, according to Amazon. And as with those other products, users can enable Alexa Skills to add more capabilities that may make it useful for professionals, such as requesting a ride from Uber or watching a video news briefing from CNN.

SEE: BYOD (bring-your-own-device) policy (Tech Pro Research)

Amazon has sold nearly 11 million Echo devices in the US since 2014, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. The Echo Dot comprises a little more than half of that total, while the original Echo makes up about one-third.

Some 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated digital assistant device at least once a month this year—a jump of nearly 130% over last year, eMarketer found. Amazon's Echo dominates the market of voice-enabled speakers, with about 71% market share, according to a recent report from eMarketer. Google Home trails behind it, with about 24% market share—however, Google is expected to cut into Amazon's lead as time goes on.

Tech companies including Box and Oracle already use Alexa for conference room check-ins and smart office applications. If its video conferencing and other capabilities catch on among business users, Echo Show could help Amazon make further inroads into the enterprise.

Echo Show is available for preorder in black or white, for $229.99. It will be released on June 28, 2017.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. On Tuesday, Amazon revealed the Echo Show, an Echo model with a 7-inch touch screen and a video camera that allows users to initiate voice and video calls using Alexa.

2. Echo Show could be useful for enterprise users for video conferencing, camera monitoring, and controlling smart office tools.

3. Amazon's Echo line currently dominates the market for voice-enabled speakers, though the Google Home is catching up.

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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