Amazon may release new 'Alexa-powered' devices that make phone calls later this year

It looks like Alexa will be able to call up your friends sometime soon.

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that both Amazon and Google were looking to bring voice-calling features to their respective smart speakers, the Echo and the Home, later this year.

Now, Recode’s Jason Del Rey reports that Amazon is looking to introduce “one or more new Alexa-powered devices” that can make phone calls by the end of the year.

Exactly how the calling functionality will work — i.e., if it will integrate with your existing phone number, or if it will use internet-based VoIP tech similar to Skype — still isn’t clear. But Recode, citing “multiple sources,” says the new hardware is expected to be announced “in the coming months” and that it will also introduce a new sort of intercom system that lets you talk directly with other Alexa devices.

Jeff BezosSpencer Platt/Getty ImagesAmazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

As the report notes, this kind of intercom functionality already exists in an Alexa-powered device called the Nucleus today. Amazon even helped raise $US5.6 million for Nucleus last year through its Alexa Fund, which invests in startups that integrate Alexa into their products. Other Alexa devices like Invoxia’s Triby are also able to make phone calls, albeit in a more limited manner than what’s being reported here.

That said, none of those third-party machines are as widely recognised as Amazon’s Echo family of speakers, which has proven surprisingly popular for the e-commerce giant. The Alexa assistant that powers those devices has gained third-party app support at a tremendous pace, but still suffers from a lack of widely useful features, which has led most device owners to use Alexa for simple tasks. Adding voice calls would seem to help, but it would also probably heighten privacy concerns over the always-listening devices, too.

Bloomberg reported last November that Amazon was working on a “premium Echo-like speaker” with a touchscreen display. Whether or not that device is the same one noted here isn’t clear, but now that it’s been a year since Amazon unveiled new first-party Alexa devices, it seems like a follow-up of some sort is coming soon.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read the full Recode report here >>

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