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The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon plans to "unveil a new Echo speaker with a screen that will incorporate video calling capabilities, according to people familiar with the matter, keeping the online retailer one step ahead of tech rivals in seeking to control smart homes."

The new device "will also allow users to make internet-based telephone calls, according to these people, setting the speaker up to be core to a home’s communications. Equipped with a 7-inch touch screen, the device will be able to visually summon answers to verbal questions, providing information like e-commerce search results in a more digestible fashion. The new Echo, which has been in beta testing with employees for a few months, could start shipping to consumers as early as next month."

Amazon is expected to announce the new device, expected to be priced above $200, as early as next week. This is a different entry than the already-announced Echo Look, which is equipped with a camera but no screen, and is designed to allow users to access fashion device.

Here's how the Journal frames the competition in this segment:

"Amazon is in a broader race with a number of tech giants to create and install speakers using digital assistants to eventually run homes, cars and offices. Alphabet Inc.’s Google Home is the biggest competitor so far to Amazon and its Alexa digital assistant. Microsoft Corp. on Monday introduced its new voice-controlled speaker, Invoke, made by Samsung Electronics Co. , that can make phone calls. Consumers are able to use devices like the Echo and Google Home to turn off lights, close the garage door, lower the temperature and - in Amazon’s case - order online. But none have expanded their speaker devices to include screens yet."

It is a race that, so far, Amazon seems to be winning.

Reuters has a story saying that research firm eMarketer is out with a study saying that the "Amazon Echo and Echo Dot devices will claim a 70.6 percent share of the U.S. market this year ... That puts it far ahead of Alphabet Inc's Google Home, a similar gadget that has a 23.8 percent share, and less successful offerings from other tech companies.

"The number of active U.S. users will more than double for the devices this year, to 35.6 million, eMarketer said.

"The report underscores Amazon's progress in making Alexa and its speech-recognition technology an integral part of customers' lives. More users means more data that can improve Alexa's understanding and could make it a top platform for voice, like Windows is for desktop."
KC's View:
First of all, you can sign me up for the new Echo. Right now. It sounds totally cool.

Some of the studies I've seen indicate that while at this point the Google Home device is better at answering general interest questions, the Amazon devices are more accomplished at actually acquiring things ... which makes it even more important that they are expected to own a 70 percent market share this year.

What I'm really looking forward to is the day when the interactions build upon each other and allow the devices to actually become intuitive; right now, interactions are transactional, and each one is individual in nature. When this happens, that'll be when they move from being voice assistants to being artificial intelligence ... which will create new challenges, prompt new reasons to be vigilant, but also offer enormous new opportunities.