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By Dan Moren

Report: Image of Amazon Echo with a screen make the rounds

Over at AFTV News, there’s an image of the rumored Echo with a screen that showed up on Amazon’s servers (tipster Evan Blass later provided higher quality images that are also included in the post).

Despite some folks knocking the machine’s appearance—Engadget’s Edgar Alvarez said it resembled “a shrunken big-screen TV from the 1990s”—the device has me interested, certainly more so than the recently announced Echo Look.

I think there’s a lot of appeal to adding a screen to the Echo, particularly because some information is more efficient when delivered visually than spoken aloud. For example, rather than having the Echo rattle off all your calendar appointments, one by one, it could simply display them. Same goes for, say, a seven-day forecast. And having a screen opens up the possibility of displaying video content, which of course previous Echo models were incapable of doing.

In particular, I think a screen-based Echo could be a boon in the kitchen, where my primary Echo is located. Not only could it display videos for cooking (for those instances when I find myself running to the office to look up the best way to mince garlic, for example), but it would also be handy for showing how much time is left on a timer, or letting you page through a recipe.

That said, the devil is in the details. Reports describe the display, unsurprisingly, as a touchscreen. One would hope that Amazon would take appropriate precautions to make the device durable for use in some place like a kitchen: splash-proof, easy to clean, etc. Too much necessary interaction with a touchscreen is a disaster if you’ve just been dealing with raw chicken, for example.

The purported Echo image also shows what looks to be a small camera at the top, which has prompted some to wonder if the device will include some sort of video-calling feature—though, given that Amazon doesn’t have its own service for that, it makes me wonder if it would use Skype, Google’s Duo, or something else?

The big question is how Amazon thinks of this device. We’ve seen the original Echo and the Echo Dot positioned as devices that can live in any room of the house; more recently, we’ve seen the Echo Look aimed at use with your wardrobe. Is the Echo with a display meant to be in your living room, in the kitchen, or somewhere else? Because the Look also showed us that Amazon’s interested in leveraging machine learning to accomplish some specific tasks; it’s not hard to imagine that a kitchen-based device, for example, might use cameras and machine learning to identify certain ingredients and give you information based on them. (Or, knowing Amazon, prompt you to order certain complementary gadgets or food.)

Amazon would clearly love for you to have an Echo in every single room of your house. The idea of computers as home appliances was a popular one back in the ’90s, but it never quite caught on; in more recent years, it’s been supplanted by the smartphone that’s with us all the time. But the Echo—and competitors like Google Home and rumored Siri Speaker—show that there’s still room in our lives for an appliance-like device that we don’t have to carry around with us when we’re in the comfort of our own homes.

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]