- Amazon is integrating phone call capabilities into upcoming Alexa-powered devices, according to a report in Recode. Rumblings of Alexa phone capabilities first surfaced from The Wall Street Journal last month, but Recode confirms the rumors have weight and the company is pushing ahead with said plans.
- The new hardware, which was being beta-tested at Amazon as of last month, will also serve as connected intercoms, allowing people to hold conversations between their Alexa devices.
- The new devices are expected to launch later this year following an announcement from Amazon planned for sometime in the coming months, sources told Recode.
The Journal reported that Amazon had been considering an Alexa phone-like concept since at least 2015, but Recode's latest suggests that a tangible product might hit shelves sooner than expected.
Amazon, which is increasingly expanding into areas that stretch well beyond its core e-commerce services, tried to launch a standalone smartphone several years ago that was widely deemed a failure due to a high price point and other, technology-related snafus.
But while the smartphone market is notoriously hard to break into, Amazon has been an early leader for connected home devices with its Echo offerings, suggesting that Alexa phone capabilities could see a good deal of traction. From a brand perspective, calling functionalities would potentially make it easier for consumers to call businesses with customer service queries.
However, from the technology side of things, adding a phone component runs into a variety of issues the Journal raised, namely in terms of privacy — Alexa devices continually listen into conversations, by design — and figuring out Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
Amazon completed FCC filings requesting permission to test experimental wireless technology in rural Washington and Seattle in mid-January. No explicit purpose for the test was given outside of supporting projects revolving around "innovative communications capabilities and functionalities." The new Alexa hardware might've been part of these tests.