Bloomberg’s well-informed Mark Gurman reported Monday that online retail giant Amazon is developing a brand new premium model of its Echo wireless speaker that will feature a built-in seven-inch touchscreen in an effort to “fend off competition” from Google’s Home device and Apple’s rumored entry into the connected home market with its own Siri-powered hardware.
Amazon may release a higher-end Echo device, known internally as “Knight,” early next year. It will target kitchens and cost more than the current Echo models.
The new device will mark a major departure from Amazon’s existing cylindrical home Echo devices that integrate voice-based Alexa digital assistant. While it’ll still respond to verbal commands and spoken questions, just like current Echo hardware, the new gadget’s built-in touchscreen should make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments and news, sources said.
One of the features Amazon is currently testing permits users to pin photos and other items on the speaker’s screen “akin to physically placing items on a refrigerator door.”
“The latest Amazon speaker will be larger and tilt upwards so the screen can be seen when it sits on a counter and the user is standing,” reads the report.
High-grade speakers will make the new Echo sound much better than current ones by playing high-quality audio at all volume levels. “At least one prototype version of the device places the speakers below and behind the screen,” one of the sources added.
The gadget will run an optimized version of Fire OS, Amazon’s Android-based operating system for its Fire tablets and Fire TV set-top box. It’s scheduled to be formally announced in the first quarter of 2017 though plans may change in the last minute.
The company plans to keep selling the existing $50 Dot, $130 Tap and $180 Echo speakers. The Echo has been a surprise hit for Amazon, with Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimating U.S. sales of more than five million units since 2014.