Publication Date: 12/6/16 – Last week the rumors started flying about Amazon’s plans to launch a new Alexa device with touchscreen in early 2017.
Notice for holiday shoppers: tech outlets are reporting Amazon will be putting current Alexa devices on sale again next week (Inquisitr today said it will happen 12/12/16), so if you’re thinking about buying one you might want to hold off till that day.
The big discounts on existing Alexa devices lends some credence to the rumors of a new device, since Amazon has historically always discounted existing versions of its Amazon-branded devices before rolling out new versions. On November 29, Bloomberg reported:
The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon’s existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company’s voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter. This will make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments, and news, the people said. They asked not to be identified speaking about a product that has yet to be announced…The latest Amazon speaker will be larger and tilt upwards so the screen can be seen when it sits on a counter and the user is standing, one of the people said.
You Can Already Get A Good Idea Of What It Will Be Like
I can’t say I have any insider information on this so I’m only speculating here, but there’s an existing Alexa feature that would seem to provide a pretty obvious sneak preview of what this new device could be like.
One of the existing, but little-known and little-used features of Alexa is voicecast, which allows you to ask Alexa to send more detailed responses to a Fire tablet. These informational “cards” are also on display when you use Alexa on a second generation Fire TV device (Alexa functionality available on US version only, so far).
It seems pretty likely Amazon will base the new screen design and functionality on existing Alexa voicecast / Fire TV display capabilities, because this tech is already built and tested—why reinvent the wheel? See Voicecast: The Little-Known Tip That Gives Amazon Echo’s Alexa A Screen to read more about it. If you own a Fire tablet you can try out this voicecast capability now, and if you own a second generation Fire TV device you can see what Alexa’s information cards look like there, as well.
So picture a 7″ Fire tablet mounted on top of a speaker base with an angled top, so the touchscreen is presented at an upward tilt. Now picture it doing voicecast stuff. And there you have a fair approximation of the new device.
Will it be always-on, always-listening, like the Echo? Or will you have to touch it to get a response, like with the Tap? Again, since Amazon’s not saying anything about it I can only guess, but given how much more popular the Echo and Dot have been than the Tap, I’d guess always-on, always-listening makes the most sense. An even more appealing possibility is that the user would be able to choose between the two options in the Settings area, or maybe toggle between them according to what’s most useful in the moment.
Also, recall that over a year ago Amazon representatives talked about an in-development Alexa device called “Kabinet”, which was intended to be a smart home hub that was optimized for placement in the kitchen and would have a screen for kitchen-centric functions like viewing recipes, creating and editing shopping lists, managing the family calendar and the like. Since the kitchen is a room where hands are usually busy, wet or covered with food, if this new device is what Kabinet ultimately evolved into, always-on / always-listening would be a necessary feature.
Should You Hold Off Buying Another Alexa Device Until The New One’s Released?
The answer to this question depends on whether or not you think the type of device I’ve just described is worth waiting a few more months for, and paying extra for: all reports on this new device indicate it will be priced higher than the regular, full-sized Echo, so we’re probably talking $200 or more. If you’ve sorely felt the lack of the specific types of functions and uses described above when using devices from the existing Alexa device family, then you might want to wait and see what Amazon unveils next year.
On the other hand, existing Alexa devices are already pretty terrific and offer a lot of great features. Personally, I feel the voice-only interface is one of the coolest things about existing Alexa devices, and haven’t used the voicecast or Fire TV displays with Alexa because I haven’t felt that, for me, they added much to the Alexa interaction experience. However, I’m not much of a cook, don’t tend to maintain shopping lists, and have kids who are old enough to manage their own schedules so much of what this new device likely has in store isn’t the kind of stuff I’m likely to need or want.
It may well offer substantially greater functionality than what I’m laying out here, but no one can say for sure until it’s released. I will of course be buying one at that time, so I can try it out and share a full review with my readers.
Alexa is clearly no flash in the pan: she’s here to stay, and her family is growing.