Amazon has been releasing new talking speaker devices in its Echo family at a furious clip lately. A few weeks ago, the company announced the Echo Look, a camera-equipped version designed to live in your bedroom and take pictures of your wardrobe and recommend fashion tips to you, perfect for your #ootd posts on Instagram.
Today, Amazon has announced the Echo Show, another camera-equipped device, though this one also comes with a 7-inch touchscreen. Like all of Amazon’s Echo devices, it is designed to be mainly stationary in your home and contains the voice-activated virtual assistant Alexa, which dutifully fields your questions about the weather, sports scores, news, trivia, and various other matters, as well as places orders to your Amazon online shopping account.
But unlike every single other Echo product, the Show can well, “show” you what it’s doing on its touchscreen—displaying song lyrics, the time, weather forecasts, videos from YouTube, even feeds from other compatible security cameras or baby monitors in your home. And because it has a camera right at the top, it lets you do video calling with anyone else who downloads the Alexa App onto their Echo Show, iPhone/iPad, or Android device.
This would seem a remarkable feature-set for a $229 device, were it not for the fact that many of us already have smartphones and tablets that can do all of these things and more, with added portability. “The Touchscreen Echo Nobody Asked For,” as Gizmodo’s Adam Clark Estes put it. The Echo Show’s chunky, angular design with a giant speaker grill at the bottom also aren’t winning it any design points among the commentariat (it does look an awful lot like a 90s-era early flatscreen TV, as some have pointed out).
I too initially scoffed at the Echo Show, but then I started poring over Amazon’s marketing for this thing and I realized something pretty dope and also kind of scary: Amazon has basically gone and made the tiny two-way video screen device from countless sci-fi books and movies. The ominous telescreen from 1984? Orwell couldn’t have asked for a better physical model than the Echo Show. When Schwarzenegger tells himself to get his ass to Mars in Total Recall? If he’d just waited a bit, he could’ve used an Echo Show to do it.
And the company is even encouraging you to buy multiple Echo Shows to throw in various rooms of your house (offering two for $358, a $100 discount).
One photo on the Echo Show product page shows the device on a bedside table as a kind of futuristic alarm clock, another in the living room acting as an innocuous but clearly handy picture frame-cum-DJ.
The message here is clear: Amazon wants you to be able to walk throughout your house and have Echo Shows ready to listen to you and “show” you whatever your heart desires, whether that’s song lyrics, products, your relatives across the country, or your sleeping child.
Forgetting for a moment the obvious privacy and security concerns raised by the Echo Show (and the Echo Look, and all of Amazon’s Echoes, really), the larger question remains: In an age where we are already surrounded by screens of all sizes, is a tiny stationary internet-connected TV something people want and will actually find useful? Amazon’s success with its speaker-only Echo products (which reportedly command over 70 percent of the US market of such devices, according to a recent survey), and the rise of video chatting in general would seem to bode very well for this product’s future. If anything, it seems like the Echo Show is a better buy than the Echo Look: if you’re buying something that can take pictures of you, shouldn’t it be able to display them to you (without the need for an extra app)?
More importantly, think of the Echo Show combined with some of the other sci-fi shit Amazon is pursuing: robotic stores with no cashiers, delivery drones. In that vein, the Echo Show is just the latest in Amazon’s efforts to turn what once seemed fantastical into mundane reality. When talking about the most futuristic tech companies, my mind usually jumps to Apple or Google or maybe something like Baidu. But the Echo Show hammers home the point that Amazon, above almost all others, is making sci-fi come true. At least until Snapchat or someone else comes along with augmented reality that makes all devices with screens look old and jank.
Subscribe to Science Solved It , Motherboard’s new show about the greatest mysteries that were solved by science.