Report: Amazon to roll out Echo with screen, videoconferencing capabilities

The latest version of Amazon's voice-activated speaker will also enable users to make internet-based phone calls, according to a report.

Amazon is expected to announce a new version of the Echo, equipped with a screen, as well as phone and videoconferencing capabilities, the Wall Street Journal reports.

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The updates could turn Amazon's Alexa-powered device into a full-fledged home communications hub. Amazon has similarly fleshed out its business offerings with Chime, a videoconferencing service that competes with tools like Cisco's WebEx and Microsoft's Skype for Business.

More specifically, the new Echo will feature a 7-inch touchscreen, unnamed sources told the Journal, which can use visuals to answer verbal questions. Its phone and videoconferencing capabilities will be internet-based, and the calling capabilities may be rolled out in stages.

Amazon could announce the new device as early as Tuesday and start shipping it as early as next month. Meanwhile, the Journal reports, Amazon is also expected to soon roll out broader telephone services for Echo devices.

Amazon already has four versions of the voice-activated speaker: The original Echo, which was introduced in 2014 and followed by the Echo Dot and Echo Tap. Just last month, Amazon introduced the Echo Look, a version that comes equipped with a depth-sensing camera and LED lighting. The device will take a picture of your outfit via voice command and use machine-learning algorithms to offer fashion advice.

As voice recognition improves, voice-activated speakers are expected to become more common household devices. Amazon has also integrated its voice-activated assistant Alexa into other devices and services, such as its iOS shopping app, and it has supported a rich third-party ecosystem of Alexa integrations.

Amazon's competitors offer their own voice-activated speakers; Google has been building more sophisticated features into Google Home, while Microsoft has been working with Harman-Kardon on a screen-less, Cortana-enabled speaker called Invoke.

However, Amazon has a strong lead in the market thanks to its early entry. According to a report from eMarketer, 70 percent of consumers who use a voice-enabled speaker use the Echo. Google Home is the next-most popular at just under 24 percent. The report also said that 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant this year, up 128.9 percent over last year.

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