Smart Home

Amazon Echo with a built-in screen may be on deck next month

The device, code-named Knight, could make the Echo more useful for video chats and online shopping.

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The Amazon Echo family may get even bigger.

Amazon will likely reveal a new Echo device with a built-in screen next month, a person familiar with the plans told CNET. This information comes just after Amazon on Wednesday introduced the Echo Look, a smart speaker with a built-in camera.

The person said Amazon had been working to more fully develop its Echo devices, but it appeared to get a "wake-up call" last week after Google said its Home smart speakers can now identify multiple users, a feature Echo devices don't have. Amazon's devices team may now be looking to speed up introduction of these products so they can stay ahead of Google, the person added.

Timing on the new Echo device's introduction may change, the person said. An Amazon representative declined to comment for this story.

The rush to get out a new version of its hit speaker underscores the fierce battle raging to dominate your home and connected devices. While Amazon enjoyed a significant lead in getting its Echo into homes and has aggressively built up the capabilities of its Alexa voice assistant, Google is coming on strong with its own Home speaker. Whichever companies are able to dominate will be able to embed their products deeply into people's lives for years to come.

The new device may help Amazon expand and improve the Echo's capabilities in more areas, including video chats and online shopping, making the gadget more of a must-have item for homes.

Amazon sold an estimated 8 million Echo devices in the US since the product first launched, Consumer Intelligence Research Partners said in January.

Apple is also reportedly working on its own Echo and Home competitor with a built-in camera.

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The Amazon Echo, Tap and Echo Dot.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Reports of an Echo with a screen have come out since last year, with the Wall Street Journal writing about such a device last May and Bloomberg publishing its own story in November. The device's code name is "Knight," the person said, a name the Journal reported in May. The person couldn't confirm whether it has a touchscreen.

It's a smart move by Amazon. While voice assistants can tackle simple commands, the screen could allow Alexa to respond to more complex queries, said Jan Dawson, an analyst at Jackdaw Research who didn't have direct knowledge of the company's plans. For example, voice shopping on the Echo today often requires users to wait and listen to multiple choices, but a screen could present those options all at once.

Also, there's a better chance Amazon will come out with an Echo that includes both a screen and camera, especially now that the Echo Look has been introduced, Dawson suggested.

Having a screen available could cut down on Alexa misunderstanding a query, a problem that's still typical for voice assistants, said Patrick Moorhead, of Moor Insights & Strategy, who also wasn't aware of the Amazon's plans. "Audio input and output isn't always the best because it rarely gets it right every time," he added.

Alexa is available on Amazon's Fire tablets and Fire TV, with the tablet's screen able to show additional information, such as the weather report, when Alexa is queried. Alexa can also be used to get news and launch apps on the tablet and Fire TV.

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