May 9, 2017 Last Updated 9:52 am

Amazon unveils Echo Show with built-in screen, previews Alexa calling and messaging

Rumors are that Apple might introduce a Siri controlled Bluetooth speaker at its upcoming WWDC event, but whether it can match what Amazon has introduced may determine if they go ahead with an introduction

The online retailer Amazon today unveiled the latest twist on its Echo line of speakers and Alexa controlled devices. The Echo Show will look a bit like a nightstand clock radio, and will have the same features as the Amazon Echo, but with a built-in display. Available June 28, it is priced at $229.99.

The Echo Show will also include the ability to make phone calls and message, as will other Echo products. Alexa Calling & Messaging is still a “coming soon” product, but it will be another attempt by Amazon to make its way into the calling business. Its Amazon Fire phones did not make much of a splash, and its latest attempt is dependent on those without an Echo device downloading the Alexa app for iOS or Android. (Unfortunately, the Amazon Alexa app is receiving mostly negative reviews by those who have downloaded the app, as situation that better be rectified before the service goes live.)

Apple is rumored to be about to launch its own voice controlled smart speaker in order to compete with Amazon Echo and Google Home. This would be a typically Apple move, to launch a product into a new market after it has seen what others are producing. It certainly did this with the iPhone to get success.

But in this market it might run into trouble. For one thing, Amazon and Google have learned from Apple, that it is important to lock people into their ecosystems. With the Amazon Echo, for instance, Amazon is trying to convince owners that it is in their best interest if their friends and families also have Echo devices, or at least have downloaded their apps.

But Apple knows that there is a huge base of iPhone users who might want a solution that works with their iOS devices. Siri is not seen as significantly better than Alexa (in fact, most think Alexa is superior), and the market for Bluetooth speakers is pretty saturated, so finding a point of differentiation will be difficult. Some have suggested superior sound, but I doubt that — and it certainly won’t be price.

As for the Echo Show, it will come with microphone technology in line with the Amazon Echo, but with eight microphones instead of seven. It comes with a 7-inch display and two speakers, as well as a 5-megapixel camera in front for video calls.

A year or so ago I was the most tempted I’ve been to buy an Echo, but chose instead on a better quality Bluetooth speaker (the Libratone). I’m still at a loss as it why I would need an Echo since using my iPhone is just as convenient for quick searches, etc. Also, my phone works with my Denon receiver in the family room, my Bluetooth speaker in the bedroom, and my Bose Bluetooth headphones. In other words, with just about everything, so why do I need an Echo?

But many consumers are comfortable with using voice commands (I do, too, a little, on my phone), and see the Echo as a logical product for them. I see the value in it far more than I ever have in smart watches, which I remain skeptical about. So, the market may be large enough today, and still growing, allowing for new products and players to enter it. We’ll see.

Apple’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference starting June 5th would be the logical time for Apple to unveil its own voice controlled speaker product. If they do, it will be interesting to see if they have anticipated Amazon’s newest entry into the market, or if they come off looking way behind the leader.

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