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Out, damned Spot! Amazon emits Echo ball with screen, inevitable ever-listening mic

Latest lodging for Alexa has clock radio aspirations

Amazon expanded its line of Echo cloud commerce intercoms on Wednesday with the introduction of Echo Spot, a spherical hodgepodge of screen, mics and speaker for communing with the company's Alexa software and demanding doorstep deliveries.

With living rooms already served and surveilled by elder Echo devices, Echo Spot appears to be designed for bedrooms, space-constrained kitchens, and other locations where legacy clock radios may still be lurking.

"See the weather, watch video news briefings, glance at your alarm clock, check on your kids, and more – we think customers will find lots of places for Echo Spot in their homes," said Tom Taylor, senior vice president of Amazon Alexa, in a statement.

Though Amazon insists Spot is suited for any room, it suggests the device works particularly well on a nightstand or desk as a smart alarm clock or as a kitchen timer, call-maker, and shopping list confidant.

Echo Spot comes with more sophisticated mic tech than its predecessors. Equipped with four microphones, the device uses far-field input processing, acoustic beam-forming, and enhanced noise cancellation to better identify commands spoken at a distance, even amid background music.

With a front-facing camera, Spot can conduct video and voice calls, play music from an assortment of services, and serve as a conduit to engage with the already excessive number of Alexa skills.

Available for pre-order at a cost of US$130, Echo Spot is scheduled to ship in December.

Spot follows in the footsteps of screen-oriented kin, the aptly named Echo Show, which debuted in June for $230. Other relatives include the cylindrical Echo and Echo Plus, the phallic Echo Look, and the hockey-puck homage Echo Dot.

Plus one

Simultaneously on Wednesday, Amazon retooled the Echo and revealed a larger sibling, the Echo Plus. The ecommerce juggernaut's engineering elves added speaker, mic, and audio improvements, new design choices like wood veneer, and Alexa enhancements, including the ability to trigger a series of actions with a single command.

Amazon has been breeding its Echos like rabbits because they've been selling well and because its competitors, having seen this, have been rushing to insinuate their own eavesdropping, query-catching AI conduits into people's homes before that void gets filled.

The rivalry is such that Google has denied the Echo Show the ability to show YouTube, a snit that recalls Amazon's refusal to carry Apple TV and Google Chromecast.

In September, a consultancy called Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated that there have been 15 million Echo devices sold since 2014. Google Home comes in a distance second with 5 million. In May, the group pegged Echo sales at 10 million.

Neither Amazon nor Google have reported specific sales figures for these devices, though Amazon in December said its Echo sales were up 9x compared to the previous holiday sales period. ®

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