Amazon reportedly is planning to launch Alexa-based devices with voice-activated dialing for making phone calls as well as intercom capabilities, according to Recode.
Amazon declined comment, but the report states that the new capabilities already are being tested, and could be introduced in the coming months.
It is unclear at this point how Alexa-enabled voice calling would work, including whether or not an Alexa device would require its own phone number, or if the capability would rely on synchronization with another calling device and contact.
Recode's report follows past speculation about the potential for Amazon as well as Google and other companies with virtual assistants to enable voice calling through their existing virtual assistant technologies, suggesting they see voice as something like a killer app for their assistants. Who knew that in the age of chat, old-school voice calling could have that kind of value?
It’s probably not the voice calls so much that may have Amazon all in a lather, however. It’s the idea of an app that involves everyday recurring engagement with the Alexa-powered device, one that will inspire users to return to that device so frequently that it becomes second nature. What Amazon may be hoping is that this level of engagement draws Alexa device owners to do more than stream music or occasionally shop or even make calls — that they may discover and start to use a wide range of other applications already available on these devices and in the Alexa skills marketplace.
It seems like Amazon has had no trouble selling the Echo, the Dot and other Alexa-powered devices, but ultimately it may not matter how many get sold if owners view them as a passing fad. Amazon is after something a bit bigger than just pushing units out of its fulfillment centers. If customers buy an Echo, use it to stream some music, buy a few things from Amazon, ask Alexa goofy questions until they get bored, then never use it again, the ecosystem Amazon is trying to build around them will go for naught.
If Amazon is looking to enable voice calling and intercom capabilities through a whole new device, that could be an interesting, but slightly risky development. A case could be made that voice calling deserves a specially designed device, but part of the beauty of the Echo is its simplicity, and the fact it doesn't need to be filled with a bunch of buttons that enable all of its functions. If Amazon reserves voice calling for an entirely new device, could existing Echo users react badly?
Still, Alexa is the real attraction, and not a particular physical device format. Amazon is looking to make the case that Alexa device owners simply can’t live without Alexa. That could take some additional effort, but enabling voice calling would be a nice start.