Does Alexa need a screen?

Source: Amazon
Dec 05, 2016
Tom Ryan

Amazon is developing a premium version of its popular Echo speaker that adds a seven-inch touchscreen display to Alexa, its voice-driven digital assistant, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Adding touchscreen technology will make it easier for users to access weather forecasts, calendar appointments and news, sources told Bloomberg. The device will be larger than the current speakers and will be able to tilt upwards, making it easier for users to operate on a counter or elsewhere while standing.

Also being tested is the ability to “pin” items such as photos on the speaker’s screen, as one might place reminders on a fridge. The device, which will pack a better speaker, could arrive early in 2017 and will be priced above its Dot, Tap and Echo speakers. The whole range would continue.

In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon was working on adding a visual aspect to Alexa’s audio functions “so that users can summon web pages, videos or images when, say, their hands are covered in flour.”

Indeed, although the Bloomberg article didn’t point to the benefit, several tech writers following up on the news felt that a screen would naturally help cooks needing a video to follow recipe directions.

International Business Times writer Owen Hughes feels the pin function would support adding shopping lists or do-to lists to the screen’s display.

Carolina Milanesi, a principal analyst at Creative Strategies, a consumer tech research firm, believes shopping would be a primary benefit. Writing for Recode, she stated, “If I am trying to buy furniture, clothes and gifts, being able to see them is a huge improvement versus Alexa just calling out the description of the item.”

Overall, adding a screen was seen as a way to stay ahead of Google and Apple.

One risk, however, was that a second input mechanism could slow down adoption for Alexa’s “voice first” capabilities, argues Ms. Milanesi. Last week, Amazon introduced new artificial intelligence services for developers that promise to help Alexa further understand context and user intent.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Would adding a screen to Alexa enhance its potential as a shopping medium or encumber it? Do you see more benefits than drawbacks to adding a screen version to the Echo ecosystem?

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23 Comments on "Does Alexa need a screen?"

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Cathy Hotka

Some of the older amongst us will remember early personal digital assistants. I had a Sharp PDA that could maintain a calendar and also served as a calculator. With such limited functionality it was more trouble than it was worth, and was quickly replaced. These early speakers are analogous — it’s fun to watch them develop, but there’s no burning reason to purchase one yet.

Sterling Hawkins

This reminds me of the old discussion about how touch-only devices needed a keypad. Adding a new way for consumers to interact with the technology may increase the device adoption rate through a medium all are comfortable with, but at the expense of slowing the adoption rate of voice-only interactions. I’m sure Amazon has thought through all the implications and will ultimately release something that will add value to the consumer.

Max Goldberg

Once again Amazon is ahead of its competition. Adding a screen to the Echo will benefit the company by allowing consumers to see items before buying them. I have not used Alexa to make purchases, because I want to see something before buying it. Adding the screen, plus even better voice recognition, will keep Amazon ahead of Google and Apple in the personal assistant category.

Steve Montgomery

Echo with a seven-inch screen. Is that another way of saying it’s a funny-shaped, voice-driven tablet? I don’t disagree with the benefits of adding a screen but I wonder where Amazon is headed with this product.

Ken Lonyai

The answer is no, it doesn’t need a screen, it’s a choice that Amazon is making to slowly morph it into a multi-modal Amazon “computer.” It could be seen from one perspective as the rebirth of Fire Phone in an enhanced, home-based footprint.

Working in this space, which we branded Humanized User Interface, the question of which interface modality is best comes up regularly. The answer is almost always multi-modality, so adding a screen kinda-sorta addresses that. What I’ve been expecting is a camera with the ability to do facial and object recognition and eventually gestural input and positional awareness. Expect that in all brands of these devices in future versions.

Lee Kent

Another screen? Not so much. If we need a screen when using voice services then perhaps they should simply consider adding the voice service to one or more of our other screens.

The concept is a good one however the execution — meh.

For my 2 cents.

Shawn Harris

OK, so is Amazon adding a screen to Echo or adding Alexa to a Kindle? Either way, the addition of a screen in the kitchen makes sense. As a coherent strategy with AmazonFresh, this will further drive the initial purchase, replenishment and preparation of food items into a Prime member’s everyday life. Also, this will add a missing media element to Echo: streaming video. By the way, I do not think that this will slow down the interaction with Echo. Like everything else we will individually optimize the interaction between voice and touch. If you have a keyboard for your iPad you get what I am saying, as you undoubtedly fluidly type and touch.

Ryan Mathews

I’m bullish on voice recognition technologies. I had a beta of the Echo, have a Dot and am pondering the Google version. But, all that said, I too wonder if a screen doesn’t give us a voice-activated tablet. I guess the real question is, is that such a terrible idea? Clearly certain functions — shopping, recipes and obviously video entertainment — would be enhanced by a screen. I wonder if this is an experiment or whether it was where Amazon was going all the time. Combining constantly-improving voice recognition software and radically-evolving AI features could make typing more or less obsolete, so a voice-activated device with a screen may be the wave of the future.

Shep Hyken

The primary reason we love Alexa is that it’s all about a conversation — and that’s a voice, not a screen. That said, I can see a group of Echo customers that can benefit from the screen, but at this point it’s probably a secondary product offering. For retail purposes, a seven-inch screen won’t showcase a product much better than a mobile device. When the Echo can seamlessly work with a computer, or even a large screen smart TV, then we may have something to consider.

All that said, just like any new technology, Amazon can educate the consumer on the benefit to the screen. Maybe they will show us why we can’t live without it.

Tom Redd

This is just a simple marketing tool that helps many shops get more of your mindshare. Main ship — Amazon. The other side of these dumb adult toys is hacking and listening. Having very technical relatives and a son in forensics and bureau work, the word is out that the right hack flips these units into listening devices — if you will — like the Nixon tapes.

Even a WPA protected home cannot beat the really smart hackers with select devices in mind. Enjoy your Amazon toy and ignore the fact that it might be listening to every conversation it hears — and sending that data/info to criminals.

Robert DiPietro

Ok — I’m an Alexa user today and I think the screen adds value. It definitely will help display information that is more difficult to consume verbally, like pictures of products. I’ve also used Alexa to purchase items (batteries, chocolate, etc.). The frictionless purchase experience is un-nerving. Holy cow is it easy to spend money.

The one thing that is very interesting is to watch how kids interact with Alexa — the learning curve is non-existent and they expect her to do things that I’ve not set up yet.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

The Internet of Things puts computational and information power in an increasing number of devices, and as visual communication is our language, many can benefit from including a display so that the information can be presented in a wider context. “Nothing stands on its own” goes the ancient Japanese proverb, “there is something before it and something afterwards.” The transaction of inquiry is much more relevant when considered as part of a process.

“You dream — we display,” Joo Soo Lim, Director of OLED Technology Strategy at LG Display said, “as Intel sees a world in which there is a chip on every device, we believe that there could be a display for every chip.”

Jerry Gelsomino

As an OLDER person with degrading eyesight, I value devices that allow me to talk my choices. I use this to call up phone messages, find contact information or conduct internet research. I’m disappointed when my inquiry brings up a website I have to read. A screen adds to the job. If I want a screen I go to my computer, iPad or TV.

Frank Riso

First of all I love my Echo, it is the only woman in this household that listens to me. I do not think that adding a screen will help Alexa be more helpful. First of all we, as do most people, have too many screens in our home. What Alexa can do is just order what we have already reviewed online or in a store without the need to touch another screen. While some may like the screen I just think enough is enough. Alexa, what is the weather today?

Ben Ball

One more small step in the stealth encroachment of Amazon on the Microsoft/Google duopoly — at least for shopping. Amazon wants to be our uniquely valuable and personal life-simplifying device. On the one hand, adding visual simply moves Echo one step closer to being an under-powered, voice-activated computer. On the other hand, it moves Echo/Alexa one step closer to replacing Google and our other devices for our most common needs and tasks — especially those related to spending our money.

Doug Fleener

I don’t think it needs a screen, but why wouldn’t you offer one if it would include early adoption? Talking is still easier and faster than typing.

Changing that habit is much different. After adding Siri to my laptop I have used it maybe six times. And half of those consisted of me talking to the laptop and nothing happening.

W. Frank Dell II

Adding a screen should expand uses for Alexa. The bigger question is, do we need Alexa? At this point I see Alexa as a talking Fitbit or GoPro. Everyone gets one and then what? It seems like technology looking for something to do.

Kai Clarke

Alexa is quickly becoming a household computer … oh wait, with the AI focus and the network connection, it already is a computer! Alexa is quite simply a portal with a computer front end. No matter how Amazon configures it, adding more functionality really starts to make it like a singular focused computer. Yes, adding a screen (and why not a built-in keyboard) would give it more appeal. But the better position would be to connect Alexa to your cellphone with a simple app that allows your cellphone or home PC the ability to communicate, control and better use Alexa.

Brian Numainville

Nothing wrong with adding a screen as that will bridge the current use between an Echo and a Fire tablet, and make it much easier to see products before buying. I don’t find myself doing that too often, but mainly because it isn’t as seamless as having a screen right on the device. These devices, and their continuous evolution, are a given into the future!

Joel Rubinson

I understand the benefits of a screen but what comes next, a keyboard? I think there is also something to be said for staying true to the idea … voice!!!

Liz Crawford

While adding a screen certainly adds some benefits, I think the real killer app would be a screen that is a “projection” onto a nearby surface. For a cook, it could be the wall, a counter or the pan itself. For the weather, it could project onto a bathroom mirror or tile. Actually, Alexa should join forces with Corning, which has screen-enabled substrates for kitchen and bath.

Larry Negrich

That would seem to be a natural evolution. Once a user asks what are the top 10 cat videos of all time, the next request will likely be, “Show me.” Then Alexa, send this to 10 friends. Now put this into a watch and you really have a useful device.

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
3 years 10 months ago

I’m not sure what the role of the screen will be. It starts to look more like a tablet and sound more like Apple’s Siri on a screen. Except that the way I suspect most people use Alexa today, the screen will be many feet away from them. How easily will you read a 7″ screen from across the room? Or will you now walk up to Alexa and ask for something to see it on the screen? At that point, how is this experience different than picking up your iPhone and asking Siri?

"I don’t disagree with the benefits of adding a screen but I wonder where Amazon is headed with this product."
"OK, so is Amazon adding a screen to Echo or adding Alexa to a Kindle?"
"I think the real killer app would be a screen that is a “projection” onto a nearby surface."

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