If, like me, your age is hovering uncomfortably somewhere between the mid-20s and the mid-30s, you probably haven’t had a landline phone in your home for the better part of a decade.
It was actually something of a mark of independence for me. Landline phones are for parents’ houses. I may have had one as part of an internet setup when I first left college and moved out on my own, but I certainly haven’t made a call on one at home since then.
We’re part of a generation that may have lived with a roommate, but never had to dive for the ringing shared handset. Everyone I’ve ever lived with has carried their own phone around with them as an entirely private source of communication. Could that be about to change?
Amazon’s surging interest in all things video calling has led them to add the feature to their voice-activated Echo Show tablets. As these tablets are intended as central communication hubs, the Echo could become the common household phone for a generation not accustomed to sharing.
Amazon Echo Video Calling
Despite its innovation in online retail and Software as a Service, Amazon has largely stayed out of social digital communications, until this year.
In March it launched its own video calling app, Amazon Chime, and got techies all excited about the potential arrival of the mythical ‘Skype Killer.’ However, Chime is still a work in progress, and its initial release is pretty conservative when you consider the finances and technical expertise behind it.
Amazon is not stopping there, though. Just this past month it announced the new breed of Echo would go on sale at the end of June, and this time the stripped-down home unit would feature video calling.
Not just any video calling, but voice-activated video calling. Now, I know voice-activated audio calling has been around for awhile, powered by virtual assistants such as Amazon’s own Alexa, but doesn’t the thought of a hands-free video call just seem that much better?
Amazon Echo Show Features
I’m not going to go through the Echo’s entire history, save to say that it has progressed from audio-only functionality through to still photo capabilities and now video calling. The audio-only model currently dominates the speaker hub market–yes, there is such a thing–so much it accounts for 70% of all sales.
So we know Alexa’s side of the conversation is going to be fluent, but will it be functional?
According to the early information the Echo Show will have a number of cool features:
- It will be able to play videos from sites such as YouTube and, of course, Amazon Video
- It will let Alexa give more detailed responses by using its newfound visual element
- It’ll play songs from Amazon Music (complete with lyrics!)
- It’ll act as a digital photo frame
- It will link with wifi security cameras so you can check your home for baddies by simply asking Alexa to “check the backyard”
That all sounds great, and seems to be far more integrated with Amazon’s other products than Chime currently is, but what really excites are the video calling possibilities.
Voice-Activated Video Calls
We won’t know how the Echo Show performs until we get to physically stand next to it and say “Alexa, start a video call with Mike,” but the raw specs aren’t terribly impressive. It has a 7-inch screen, bigger than an iPhone 7 Plus but obviously smaller than an iPad, and a 5 megapixel camera, less than half the resolution of an iPhone 7 or the Galaxy S7.
What it could do, though, is become what the old home phone once was. Imagine this little black or white box sitting on the kitchen table. Anyone can walk by and instantly strike up a video call just by speaking to Alexa. And there’s no need to stop whatever it is you’re doing. In fact, it’ll hopefully enhance the situation.
Stuck following a recipe you don’t understand? Call that friend who fancies themselves a chef and show them just what a mess you’ve made–without having to clean up your hands.
Want a second opinion on a picture you’ve just mounted? Call your partner without getting down from the step ladder.
Need a little family history for a homework assignment? Call Grandma without having to put away your pen and paper.
Of course, all this depends on Amazon delivering a product that is both eloquent and responsive, and is safe for everyone to share. I choose to think positive thoughts about this one, even if it is out of nostalgia for the days of a family phone in the middle of a family home.
“Alexa, start a video call with Mom.”