Video calling is not exactly new, but it is still cumbersome. When I want to make a Skype call or use FaceTime, I have to dig out my phone — from the sofa cushion or the counter in the kitchen. With a new device called the Echo Spot, Amazon hopes to make voice calling much easier, more pervasive, and highly spontaneous. I think it might just work.
Here’s what I like about the device. Available just before the holidays, it will cost $130 and let you make video calls using Alexa to any other Echo device or the Alexa app. The Spot will also let you use the device as an intercom system in your home, video calling other devices in another room. And you can place voice calls to anyone. You can just say “Alexa, call mom” from any room where you have the Spot and you can chat instantly by video without having to find your phone.
OK, so that’s the first step. In theory, you could also use a laptop in any room or carry a phone around. And you would not use a Spot in your car or even in the office, since it looks like a bedside clock radio. But the part that I like is how it will pave the way for a near-future scenario where we won’t need phones at all. The Spot is the first low-cost device that has video calling and is controlled using Alexa that might actually make me want to make video calls.
What comes after that is the most interesting. Let’s say your new 2020 Ford Fusion has Alexa built-in and a camera in the dash. Eyes on the road, you say “Alexa, call mom,” and that works without distracting you. No phone, no fuss. At the office, you walk into a meeting and say “Alexa, call the remote office” and that actually works. You don’t need a phone.
The main benefit here is that we don’t have to carry anything anymore. Alexa can tell us what we need to know, and we can use a laptop for any detail work like photo editing or designing a social media analytics report. There’s no reason to click or search. The bot takes care of the contact management and parses our language so it knows our intent. When we say “remote office” it knows we mean the one in a suburb of Chicago, not the other remote office (because we never call that one). Alexa knows our voice and intentions, and this works with the Spot and every other Echo device.
Which is not to say I’m hoping Alexa takes over the world. Maybe it will be a new Google or Apple product that ushers in the age of hands-free video calling. All I know is that it is not quite there. My laptop isn’t charged, I don’t have a user configured for Skype on my phone, my login for Google Hangouts doesn’t work. There’s too much fussing around with apps and settings to make video calls totally and completely fluid.
So this is a test — I want to use multiple Spot devices and make a bunch of video calls all week when the device finally ships, and I’d like to see if it makes me not want to make voice calls (or even not send as many texts). Check back around December 19 to find out if it works.