Amazon’s next Echo might feature more than just microphones and a speaker. According to the Wall Street Journal, the retail giant’s working on a follow-up to its current-gen models, code-named “Knight,” that sports a “tablet-like” display.
The device, which is being developed by Amazon’s Lab126 (the Silicon Valley-based research and development arm responsible for Amazon’s Dash, Fire TV, and Kindle Fire devices), is functionally identical to the Echo, Amazon Tap, and Echo Dot speakers in terms of input: It reportedly performs actions by predetermined voice commands. But the addition of a display allows it to serve up much more information than the purely voice-based Echo ever could — it can pull up a web page, for instance, or play a video.
The Journal’s report was unfortunately light on the details. It’s unclear, for example, whether Amazon will allow the same sort of third-party integrations — such as with Uber, Dominos, and Kayak, to name a few — it has the Echo speakers, or whether the Knight will support visual apps. But Google Now, Google’s eponymous rival assistant for Android tablets and handsets, may be a good frame of reference: It lets you parse services like Yelp and YouTube, perform web searches, save written notes, request driving directions, and more, all by voice.
Already, Amazon’s pushing Alexa toward a more interface-dependent future. The company’s liberally allowing developers to tap the voice assistant’s voice prowess, and the initial results — assistants like Lexi (iOS) and Roger (iOS and Android) — are perhaps prescient predictors of what Alexa on the Knight might eventually look like: a touchscreen-based interface that lets you interact more with Amazon’s voice service in more granular ways than the Echo speakers currently allow.
Amazon’s new device will face a crowded field come fall. While lack of competition’s led the Echo devices to impressive sales numbers (3 million, according to some estimates), The New York Times reports that Google will soon unveil an always-on voice assistant of its own, Google Home, at its I/O developer conference. Ultimately, time will tell whether Amazon can maintain the momentum it’s built.