Amazon’s Echo speakers now support free calls, messages

echo

The screen-equipped Echo Show isn’t the only addition that Amazon.com Inc. made to its smart speaker family today. The company is also rolling out a new communications service that will allow users to contact one another at no charge.

Appropriately called Alexa Calling & Messaging, the feature will enable Echo devices to substitute a mobile device at home. Instead of reaching for their smartphone or tablet, users can simplify ask the voice assistant powering Amazon’s speakers to ring up a contact. Alexa provides a choice between making a regular call or leaving a voice message that is sent without dialing the recipient, which is useful in situations when they may be home but holding a conversation isn’t convenient.

Over on the end of the line, the target Echo device produces a chime sound to indicate that a new voice message has been received. Alexa also turns on a green light to help users easily tell if they’ve gotten anything while they were away.

The service’s core calling capabilities are joined by a feature called Drop In that lets users connect to an Echo device without requiring the owner to manually answer. It provides the ability to start not only voice calls but also video sessions when using the new Echo Show. Because of the obvious privacy concerns, Amazon recommends that the mechanism should only be used for the “special cases when you want to connect instantly with your closest family and friends.”

Alexa Calling & Messaging is available immediately on Echo devices and the recently updated Alexa App. Amazon hopes that the service will help cement its hold on the smart speaker segment, where it maintains a more than 70 share of the market even amid intense competition from Google. Moreover, the retail giant is working on extending Alexa’s reach to other devices with the help of third party developers.

The virtual assistant has so far been integrated with smart home hubs, security cameras and even light switches to name a few devices. Seeing that the new calling feature is part of Alexa, Amazon could easily make it accessible through third party appliances in the future. The service might also arrive in the company’s iOS shopping app, which received an embedded version of Alexa as part of a recent update.

Either way, the virtual assistant is emerging as a key component of Amazon’s plans to grow its presence in consumers’ homes. The company can be expected to add more advanced features over time in an effort to lure users away from the competition.

Image: Amazon