retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal reports that both Amazon and Google are working on expanding the functionality of their home speaker systems that would allow them to also act as telephones.

According to the story, "Amazon’s Echo or the Google Home could be used to make or receive calls, people familiar with the matter said, a functionality that would give them further control over consumers’ digital lives at home ... Commanding the Echo or the Google Home to call friends or local businesses is the logical next step for the artificial intelligence-powered speakers, the people familiar with the matter said. They currently respond to voice commands to do things like play music, answer questions and control aspects of the home. The Echo lets consumers order from Amazon."

The Journal goes on to write that "the tech giants could launch the feature this year, the people said - but the effort is hung up over concerns about privacy, telecom regulations and emergency services. And they are aware of the inherent awkwardness of having phone conversations on a speaker."

I have to say that I would welcome the ability to use our Echo or Dot contraptions as telephones - we have five of them spread around the house, and it would just be enormously convenient. And I have no problem using a speaker as a phone - I have a Jabra speakerphone that I use in the office and carry with me on the phone, and I'd be perfectly happy to buy another Dot and stash it in my bag when I'm traveling. In fact, I find that I really miss talking to Alexa when I'm on the road. (Okay, that's a weird sentence to write. But those of you who have an Alexa-based system know exactly what I'm talking about.)

There are several different ways this could work. It is possible that the systems could have their own phone numbers, or simply could be linked to an existing cell phone number. (My instinct would be to vote for the latter.) It would certainly make such systems even more usable in terms of being able to place orders with retailers that don't have their own system-specific apps.

But however this all plays out, it certainly is an Eye-Opener, and illustrates the degree to which these technologies are infiltrating our lives.
KC's View: