The Wall Street Journal is reporting that voice calling may be coming soon to the Amazon Alexa and Google Home. It reports that both companies are working on technology to help users make or receive calls. This appears to be a telephony-style experience that connects calls between telephone numbers. A device-to-device connection that uses the existing telephone networks seems to be the primary consideration.
What About Skype for Alexa
While adding telephony features to the Echo and Home appear inevitable, a device-to-device intercom that can travel over the internet between device locations would be an even better option. Like Skype, you would simply need to know the user’s device name and then could ping it when you want to call. It would connect as a voice-enabled chat as opposed to running over the telephone networks. A Nextel-like push-to-talk or speak-to-talk intercom service is a logical extension of home-based voice assistant devices. While Nextel needed to use the telephone network for its service more than a decade ago, that is no longer necessary. Amazon may be heading in that direction according to the article but it sounds more like a phone than chat service:
Amazon is considering multiple options for how the phone feature could work, the people said. The Echo could get its own phone number. Call forwarding could enable calls to that number to be answered remotely on a cellphone, and vice versa.
What about Privacy?
The Journal article points out that the biggest barriers to the adopting the phone solution may be privacy. There is concern that Amazon or Google might retain the contents of phone calls. A Journal source suggested that Amazon would only retain metadata from the calls about who the two parties were and the duration of the call. While this is an obvious concern, we have seen time and again that users often prioritize convenience over privacy. The convenience of reaching out to a parent while cooking in your kitchen to check on them or get some help with a family recipe is a clear use case you can envision. “Alexa, call Mom.”
What About the Voice User Experience?
The article also addresses some concerns about the technical aspects of the user experience. Could you transfer a call from Google Home or Alexa back to a phone if you want to make it private? Could you access 911? However, the more important risk is tele-marketers. What if they started harassing you on your Alexa or Google Home? You would need to be able to block callers or silence the call notifications. No one misses the days when the phone would ring and you could hear it throughout the entire house. That is a user experience that could undermine the favorable view people have of these devices today.