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Amazon's Echo speaker gets a touch screen and video calling

Amazon's Echo speaker gets a touch screen and video calling
Amazon's new Echo Show has a 7-inch touch screen and is scheduled to go on sale June 28. (Amazon)

Amazon.com Inc. is giving its voice-enabled Echo speaker a touch screen and video-calling capabilities as it competes with Google's efforts at bringing "smarts" to the home.

The 7-inch screen on the new Echo Show enables the speaker to supplement voice responses with visuals and other information displays, similar to the Echo-like features offered on the Fire tablets and Fire TV streaming devices.

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That could mean extended weather forecasts, not just current conditions. It could mean lyrics to go with the song you're listening to. You also could call up cooking tutorials on YouTube, hands-free, while making dinner in the kitchen.

Users also will be able to make hands-free video calls with other Echo Show devices or the Alexa app for iPhones, iPads and Android devices. The Echo and Echo Dot lack screens and cameras, so calls using those will be limited to audio. Video and audio calls will be free.

Seattle-based Amazon says it's bringing calling and messaging features to its existing Echo and Echo Dot devices and the Alexa app starting Tuesday. The Echo Tap, meanwhile, is not getting calling features — nor are Alexa apps for tablets, including Amazon's tablets.

The new Echo Show goes on sale June 28 for $230. The main Echo device is on sale for $150, while a smaller Echo Dot goes for $50.

The market for voice-assisted speakers is small but growing. The research firm EMarketer expects usage of such speakers to more than double this year, with nearly 36 million Americans using such a device at least once a month by year's end.

Amazon's Echo is expected to continue its dominance, with a share of nearly 71%, though EMarketer expects Google's Home speaker to cut into that share in the coming years.

A few weeks ago, Google Home got the ability to recognize individuals within a family by voice, allowing for more precise recommendations and ad targeting. So far, Amazon doesn't have a comparable voice-recognition feature.

To retain its dominance, Amazon has introduced other features in a variety of Echo models. Two weeks ago, Amazon unveiled Echo Look, an Echo device with a camera to offer fashion advice. The screen and video calling also help Amazon set the Echo apart from Google Home.

Both devices will get a new rival this fall: On Monday, Microsoft and Samsung's Harman business teased an upcoming speaker, called Invoke, powered by Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant.

Amazon shares rose 0.4% on Tuesday to $952.82.

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UPDATES:

2:55 p.m.: This article was updated with Amazon's stock movement.

10:40 a.m.: This article was updated to add that the Alexa app for tablets is not getting calling features.

This article was originally published at 9:15 a.m.

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