Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) line of voice-activated digital assistant gadgetry keeps expanding, and that can't sit well with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) as rumors grow about the world's most valuable tech company making a splash in this niche.
Amazon introduced Echo Show yesterday, a $229 device that incorporates the Alexa voice-activated platform made popular on Echo and Echo Dot with a seven-inch touchscreen that raises the bar on what a digital assistant can do. We're talking about lyrics scrolling on the screen when your favorite music plays, watching cooking videos from the kitchen, and enhancing your smart home by accessing your security camera feeds.
Oh, and this thing makes video calls to anyone else with an Echo Show or firing up the Alexa app. You can also make voice calls to those with the original Echo or Echo Dot devices. Echo Show is going to be a hit when it begins shipping in late June, and that has to drive Apple executives crazy. Bloomberg is reporting that Apple employees have been testing a digital assistant similar to Echo or Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Google Home in their homes for several months. At least one analyst -- Ming Chi Kuo at KGI Securities -- expects Apple to unveil it at next month's WWDC developer powwow. If Amazon's trying to steal Apple's thunder before it even gets a chance to roar it's doing a pretty good job.
Echo Show is everything that the $199 Echo Look that Amazon unveiled last month is not. Echo Look -- the as yet unreleased digital assistant -- is a vanity project. Budding fashionistas will be able to use Echo Look to take snapshots of donned outfits from all angles to generate lookbooks or to smoke out a second opinion.
The appeal for Echo Look will be limited, but Echo Show is gunning for the masses. Like most Amazon products it's priced aggressively, something that Apple's device -- if it does ever see the light of day -- is not likely to be.
Alphabet has the early lead among the three tech giants when it comes to the connected home through its Nest acquisition, but Amazon takes the cake in fleshing out its arsenal of digitial assistants. Starting to take pre-orders for Echo Show and email requests for Echo Look are smart moves by Amazon, locking consumers ahead of WWDC when Apple may throw its hat into the ring.
Amazon's offering $100 off the device if you buy two of them, another brilliant way to hook families with a device that can keep folks connected via video calls. Amazon widening its product line will give Apple fewer spaces to innovate in this niche, and that's going to make the class act of Cupertino too late and likely too profit-driven to stand out in this booming niche later this year.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Rick Munarriz owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, and Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.