Earlier this week, Amazon held a low key press event to announce some much needed upgrades to their Echo hardware. Smart home technology is still a relatively new concept and Amazon’s project offers a sort of all-in-one entry level solution that introduces the uninitiated to the concept of multi-purpose smart devices. The new line of devices promises to not only expand the Echo brand into a broader range of smart products, but also make the products more affordable.
One interesting feature spread across the line of Amazon’s Echo devices is free mobile and landline calling. The feature immediately hearkens back to the hay-day of Skype before it added payed features and poses as competition for Google’s own voice service. The obvious benefit is that the feature is rolled into the Echo rather than as a piece of software on the user’s desktop. Its ability to make landline calls has the obvious potential of pulling in an older audience who haven’t fully transitioned to cellphones, along with the business world where office landlines are still fairly prevalent.
According to Amazon, the feature is set to be available on the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show. The Echo Show is a smart speaker with screen technology for media playback, while the Echo Dot is simply a smaller version of the Echo for customers looking for a less intrusive smart speaker. What’s curious is that Amazon did not indicate that free mobile and landline calls would be available through the new Amazon Spot, a smart alarm clock which boasts video calling as a main feature. While free voice calls might feel redundant in light of the hardware’s face-to-face focus, it still feels like a missed opportunity. That said, the Spot is a new piece of hardware and it’s likely that future iterations will incorporate voice calls if there is enough customer demand.
The money saving aspect of this announcement is complemented by the release of a more affordable line of Echos. While the initial line was offered for about $200, the second generation versions can be had for as little as $99. The company is even offering a three-pack at a discounted rate of $249. While making calls with the device is free, receiving calls requires extra hardware. The Connect box, set to retail at $35, allows just that, enabling customers to use their home phone number for Echo. Overall the feature is a good indication that Amazon is still committed to the Echo project three years out from its initial release.