Alongside the unveiling of a new touchscreen-equipped
speaker called the Echo Show, Amazon on Tuesday announced
that users of its existing Echo and Echo Dot speakers, as well as
its Alexa app, will now be able to call one another over the
Amazon says the Alexa calling and
messaging service is rolling out to the Alexa app for
iOS on Tuesday, and its Android counterpart on Wednesday.
According to Amazon, that’ll let Echo, Echo Dot, and Alexa
app users make as many calls as they’d like, at no charge.
When an Echo receives a call over the service, it’ll chime, and
its outer ring will light up green. You can then tell the
company’s Alexa digital assistant to answer or ignore it. For
sending calls and messages, you simply tell Alexa to call a
contact. If nobody picks up, you can leave a message. If you’d
prefer to just send a message without making a call in the first
place, you can do that too.
All of this is known as a VoIP service, similar to Microsoft’s
Skype. That means it’ll require an internet connection to work.
The big catch is that the service only works between
people who use the Echo, Echo Dot, and Alexa app. Any combination
between those will work — Echo to Echo, Echo Dot to Alexa app,
Alexa app to Alexa app, etc. — but you can’t contact a
friend’s phone number directly from an Echo just yet (third-party
Amazon says you’ll import your phone number upon setting up the
service, however, and that you’ll be able to see which of your
Echo-using contacts has the calling feature enabled within the
As far as privacy goes, Amazon says it won’t store or have access
to the content of any voice calls made over the service. Similar
to other VoIP services, though, it will store your voice messages
in the cloud; an Amazon rep says that’s done to help its voice
message transcription service and “make the product better.”
The voice calling feature had been rumoredfor months, but it
stands to make the Echo more useful for those who’ve invested in
the product. Previous studies
have found that most Echo owners mainly use the
smart speakers for simpler tasks, as digital assistants like
Alexa are still at a nascent
stage in their development.
Amazon is and will remain the far and away leader in the
voice-enabled speaker market, according to recent eMarketer
estimates. That market is only expected to grow as time
rolls on and competition
Having a native calling feature gives the Echo a noteworthy leg
up for now, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see its main
rival, Google’s Home
speaker, follow suit in the future.
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