VentureBeat reporter Evan Blass tweeted a leaked image of an expected Amazon Echo with display screen this afternoon. It may not be a beautiful design which was noticed by many of Evan’s twitter followers. However, it does have a screen, appears utilitarian and looks like the love child of a Fire Tablet and Echo.
— Evan Blass (@evleaks) May 5, 2017
What Does a Screen Mean for Usability?
The voice user interface purists will no doubt be disappointed. The introduction of a screen offers a crutch that gives user experience designers and easy-out when they face difficulty designing a purely conversational interaction. This crutch may inadvertently stifle voice design innovation. There was disappointment that Baidu’s first foray into the space in China this week included a screen. That will bring a lot of traditional mobile app developers into the ecosystem that will spend little time attempting to create a robust conversational user experience and simply add voice control to visual user experiences.
With that said, a screen offers a good deal of functionality for users. It still appears to be a voice-first, hands free interface that can enable users to go back and forth between conversation and display. The type of activity and user preference should determine the best interaction method and the best response to requests. Seeing a recipe pop up for quick reference or a video that shows how to prepare the food can be a plus. The voice-only experience in these scenarios is often challenging. Other daily uses could include bringing up a calendar or video chat. The proliferation of Kick-starter projects for voice-activated smart mirrors (here and here) suggests that many people see the integration of voice and display as a good and necessary evolution.
Amazon Needs An Ecosystem of Devices
You saw in the recent Apple patent application that the idea is to offer users an integrated solution where a voice request can result in video, audio or text responses depending on what is best for the use case. Mark Zuckerberg also referenced this concept when he demonstrated his Jarvis assistant in December. Amazon has the Fire TV stick which can be controlled by Alexa, but doesn’t currently coordinate with an Echo device. However, you can foresee a scenario where the television is the primary display when helpful in the living room or den, a mirror might be there for you in the bedroom or bathroom and in your kitchen, an Echo with a touchscreen display.
Since few people have televisions in the kitchen, this is a good solution. The alternative is to have a Fire Tablet or iPad that you carry around with you. However, the idea behind ambient computing is that you don’t need anything with you. Computing resources are already there wherever you are. The voice interaction and the displays respond when needed. The ambient computing environment may or may not win the day. Many people think smartphones will be the primary device. However, Amazon is clearly betting on the smart home and smart building concept and hopes that the company’s lack of a successful smartphone doesn’t hinder its voice-first device strategy.
Ready to Go?
This product looks ready to go, but keep in mind there are not 10,000 applications ready for the integration of the voice assistant and multi-media responses. So, even if the solution is ready to launch, the user utility will likely be low initially. The timing for launch and the application catalog are key open questions. The other pressing question is price. Amazon has been very successful with its $50 entry-level Echo Dot. The Echo at $179 is also reasonably priced, but we still see that discounted to $139 frequently to drive unit sales. It will be hard to drive sales volume on a $500+ device to complement this portfolio.
The device is expected to come in both black and white. Both should work in most kitchens. ;^) Let us know what you think in Voicebot’s Facebook Page.