Google and Amazon's respective smart speakers could soon gain another functionality: placing and receiving phone calls. The feature could arrive on both Amazon Echo and Google Home later this year, a new report by the Wall Street Journal suggests.
You Might Soon Place Calls Via Echo Or Home
Both companies are pursuing to activate the feature, but those attempts have been hampered by privacy and regulatory concerns, the report states, citing sources privy to the matter.
Amazon has been apparently developing a voice call feature for Echo since 2015, but such efforts have been held up by "employee turnover."
How Would This Work?
How voice calling would function for both smart speakers remains unclear, but the report suggest that the devices would most likely take advantage of voice over internet protocol, or VoIP, a technology which facilitates calls over the internet, used by Skype and other messaging apps with calls and conferencing functionality.
Amazon is considering other options beyond VoIP, however, such as providing individual Echo devices their own unique phone numbers and using call forwarding or synchronising the Echo owner's preexisting mobile number to the device itself, the report suggests.
Google Is More Experienced Than Amazon In This Sphere
Whoever gets there first matters not to Google, who has considerably more experience in the field, having operated Google Voice since 2009. The service provides users their own phone number, which can be used for call forwarding and VoIP calls. Google Voice's user interface has recently gained significant tune-ups.
Additionally, Google also maintains wireless service Project Fi, which siphons off mobile data from a number of carriers, switching between them according to signal strength and speed to ensure consistent user connectivity.
Privacy Concerns Loom
As Business Insider notes, enabling phone calls is a logical trajectory both smart speakers are likely to take, given that both devices are increasingly finding their way onto people's homes of late, becoming smarter and more popular each time.
But the notion of phone calls would likely agitate privacy concerns already associated with the system, especially since it can record conversations. Apart from that, there's also telecom regulation, access to emergency services, and the overall user experience are some of the few things that are likely being put into consideration.
Citing a source, the report suggests that Amazon wouldn't record the content of the actual conversations — just the call duration and what numbers are dialed.
All aforementioned considerations told, coupled with regulatory roadblocks that will potentially stall approval of such a system, it seems that Google and Amazon might still be miles away from the finish line. Suppose that both find a way to make it work, however, then Google and Amazon may very well soon replace traditional landline home phones.
At present, AT&T already offers a skill for Echo's Alexa virtual assistant that lets users send text messages via voice commands using the speaker. Expanding that relationship to include calls can come as an evolution of that functionality.