Amazon.com has unveiled a new Echo device with a video screen, adding another dimension to its voice-activated digital assistant Alexa and stepping up its game amid stiffening competition.
Amazon.com has unveiled a new Echo device with a video screen, adding another dimension to its voice-activated digital assistant, Alexa, and stepping up its game amid stiffening competition from tech rivals.
Unlike its round predecessors, the new Echo Show is angular. It features a screen that Amazon says provides visibility across a room for images that accompany Alexa’s voice responses. It allows users to see photos, song lyrics, calendar appointments and video feeds and even make video calls with other users of an Echo Show or the Alexa app.
Simultaneously with the release of the new device, Amazon said it would start rolling out Tuesday a free calling and messaging feature that allows existing Echo devices to make voice calls and send messages to each other and with the Alexa app.
The Echo Show costs $230 and will be released June 28.
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The new device comes as Amazon’s competitors, from Apple to Google, take on the market for voice-enabled artificial intelligence — which experts say represents the future of computing — with greater urgency. On Monday, Microsoft and Harman International unveiled a cylindrical gadget similar to the original Echo, powered by Microsoft’s voice assistant, Cortana.
The Echo Show also thrusts Amazon into the crowded landscape of internet communications tools like Microsoft’s Skype, Apple’s FaceTime and Google’s Hangouts.
In a way, the new communications functions turn the speaker into something like a traditional landline telephone, which many people have given up in favor of smartphones. Rather than pulling a phone out of their pockets, people will be able to simply command their Echoes to call someone.
Amazon undercuts Wal-Mart on free shipping threshold
Amazon.com lowered its free shipping threshold to $25 from $35, undercutting Wal-Mart Stores by $10 and escalating a battle between the world’s e-commerce leader and the world’s biggest retailer.
The new minimum shows Amazon competing for shoppers who don’t pay $99-a-year for Amazon Prime, which includes free two-day shipping on millions of items as well as access to music and video. These customers are the Seattle-based company’s most loyal shoppers. Amazon will make non-Prime shoppers wait five to eight business days for free shipping on more than 50 million items.
Wal-Mart in January made a big push against Amazon Prime when the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retail giant offered free two-day shipping without a membership fee on orders of at least $35 while expanding its online-marketplace inventory to include millions of items.
The company last year acquired startup Jet.com for $3.3 billion in cash and stock and put its management team in charge of the online operation to strengthen its e-commerce business against Amazon.
A company representative declined to comment on Amazon’s price move.
“The challenge Wal-Mart has thrown down is, ‘Give me free two-day shipping without a membership fee,’ which is hard for Amazon to match without refunding everyone’s $99 Prime membership,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, an e-commerce consultant.
“This is the best Amazon can do without cannibalizing Prime, which is so important to its business.”