Amazon’s touchscreen Echo may launch as soon as Tuesday, for more than $200

Amazon's touchscreen Echo may launch as soon as Tuesday, for more than $200

Amazon Echo

Amazon’s next Echo speaker might look radically different from any that have come before it — and it could launch as soon as Tuesday.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon will take the wraps off its new flagship Echo on Tuesday. It will support video and voice-based calls in a manner similar to Microsoft’s Skype, and retail in June for more than $200.

Voice calling might not be ready in time for launch. It, along with a multi-Echo intercom feature that Amazon employees have reportedly been testing for “months,” will roll out “in stages.”

The Wall Street Journal’s scoop follows the leak of Amazon’s new Echo in early May. On Friday, AFTVnews pulled a thumbnail of an unannounced device from Amazon’s servers — a touchscreen Echo. Just a few hours later, another leak posted by Evan Blass of Venturebeat suggested that new Echo will come in black and white color variants.

The image didn’t give much away, but showed an Echo-like, Alexa-assistant-powered stand with a 7-inch embedded touchscreen. It stands vertically, like a desk clock, and has a rectangular speaker that is much larger than that on the Amazon’s Echo Dot, Echo Tap, and first-generation Echo.

Nearly a year ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon was working on a next-generation Echo, code-named “Knight.”

 The rumored device, which was reportedly 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 said to be functionally identical to the current Echo lineup. Newer reports suggest the device could have a camera, like Amazon’s new Echo Look camera, and that it will boast a high-quality speaker system and allow users to pin items such as photos on the speaker’s screen.

“Knight” is said to respond primarily with voice, like the current Echo speakers, but would be accompanied by interactive elements from the built-in touchscreen.

They might look a little like the card-like Alexa interface on Fire TV, Amazon’s line of set-top boxes. Asking Alexa on Fire TV about the weather brings up a seven-day forecast. Starting a music playlist brings up album artwork. A search for nearby businesses pulls up top-rated places on Yelp. And questions about movie showtimes brings up a list of nearby theaters.

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Questions about less specific subjects get more generic visuals. If you ask Alexa on Fire TV when the Golden Gate Bridge was completed, you’ll see the San Francisco landmark. And if you ask where American Eskimo Dogs originated, Alexa will serve up a pic of the breed in question.

It’s unclear how the new device will handle third-party integrations. Amazon’s current-gen speakers integrate with skills, or apps, that extend their capabilities — they let you place pizza delivery orders, for example, and reserve rides from Uber and Lyft. Presumably, Amazon will encourage developers to add visual aids to skills going forward.

Rumors of a new Echo come as Amazon faces increased pressure from rivals like Google. The company was said to have gotten a “wake-up call” when Google Home, Google’s eponymous smart home assistant, gained support for multiple users — a feature which Echo devices lack.

And even fiercer competition could be on the horizon. Apple is said be “finalizing” the design of a home speaker powered by Siri. It’s rumored to carry some form of Beats technology and support for AirPlay, Apple’s wireless music-streaming standard.

Article updated on 05-08-2017 by Kyle Wiggers: Added new information from a Wall Street Journal report.