Both Amazon and Google are reportedly working on new features that would enable their Internet-connected speakers to work as telephones.
The functionality could launch sometime this year. Still, there are a number of concerns to overcome before Google and Amazon can integrate phone calls into their devices, the Journal notes, mostly around privacy, telecom involvement, and emergency services.
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For one, people may be uncomfortable having phone conversations on a device that’s capable of recording speech. It’s also unclear if these phone services would allow owners to call 911. Whether or not major telecom providers like Verizon and AT&T will play any role in these new services also remains to be seen. The answers will likely depend on whether Amazon and Google see the new feature as functioning more like a voice messaging app, such as Skype, or if they’re meant to act as an owner’s primary home phone, effectively replacing landlines.
Both companies are likely to use voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, which is the same technology Skype uses, the Journal reports. Amazon is said to be weighing multiple options for getting the feature to work, which could include the Echo having its own phone number or syncing with an owner’s current phone number and contacts.
AT&T already offers a skill for the Echo’s Alexa virtual assistant that lets users send text messages using voice commands through the speaker. Adding phone calling functionality could be an evolution of that partnership. The report also comes as Amazon is expected to launch a new version of its Echo that may come with a touchscreen, according to Bloomberg.