Publication Date: 3/14/17 – By now you’ve probably heard the rumors of an upcoming, new Alexa device release, but have you heard the stories about its rumored functionality? Alexa voice recognition and call capabilities, plus the much-wanted intercom feature, are looking more and more like definite enhancements we’ll be seeing in the new device.
Depending on how they’re implemented, via software, firmware or hardware changes, we may even get some or all of this functionality on existing Alexa devices.
Rumors of a new Alexa device with a 7″ touchscreen mounted on top of one or more high-end speakers have been floating around since last fall, but the latest reporting from credible sources is all about functionality Alexa device owners have been wanting pretty much since the initial Echo release.
Yes, these are all on the way: hands-free voice calling via Alexa devices, the use of multiple Alexa devices as an intercom system, and voice recognition such that Alexa can tell users apart and restrict content based on the user.
On February 27 of this year the venerable Time magazine reported:
The Seattle-based technology giant has been developing a feature that would allow the voice assistant that powers its Echo line of speakers to distinguish between individual users based on their voices, according to people familiar with Amazon’s Alexa strategy…Amazon’s new feature would match the person speaking to a voice sample, or “voice print,” to verify a person’s identity, according to a source. 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 this capability, internally called Voice ID, since at least the summer of 2015. It remained on the Alexa roadmap as recently as late last summer, but it’s unclear when or if the feature will launch. The underlying technology has been completed; it’s just a matter of integrating the feature into Echo products, one of the sources claimed. A number of factors could delay or the feature, including privacy concerns, which have become a greater issue for the company.
According to a 3/3/17 piece on Re/Code:
Amazon plans to unveil one or more new Alexa-powered devices this year that will allow people to initiate phone calls by voice, according to multiple sources…The device, or devices, will also allow people to talk with others on the opposite end of another Alexa device through a feature that could serve as an intercom system, these people said…As of last month, the new hardware was in beta testing inside of Amazon. Sources say they expect an announcement in the coming months.
On 3/14/17 University Herald seconded both Re/Code and Time’s accounts, * and refers to the new features in the present tense in a story about Amazon’s new program “that will allow students to study complicated technology problems by working on the virtual assistant”:
Amazon is continually making improvements on their intelligent personal assistant, Alexa, to rival the likes of Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant. A useful tool was recently added to the voice-controlled virtual assistant — the ability to make phone calls…It was also reported recently that Amazon’s Echo line of speakers will soon have advanced voice-recognition skills. That will make Alexa capable of distinguishing different users’ respective voices.
*Note that the University Herald site crashed while I was in the process of drafting this article, and it may still be down as you read this, but the quote above was copied directly from the linked article and I have no reason to doubt its validity.
But When? WHEN?!
Unfortunately, Amazon’s not saying. If the new features are currently in beta test, assuming no earth-shattering problems are uncovered during those tests, I’d expect the new devices to come out in time for Dads, Grads and Wedding season. In the past Amazon has pretty consistently offered significant new product and service releases in spring and fall.
You can rest assured that when the new device(s) drop, I’ll be making the purchase so I can do some testing and report my findings.