Amazon is set to give its Echo speaker a radical overhaul - and a screen.
According to Bloomberg, a new version of the hit speaker will come complete with a 7inch touchscreen.
It comes as Google's Home speaker goes on sale, while Apple is also rumoured to be testing a home speaker using its Siri technology.
'The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon’s existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company’s voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter,' Mark Gurman of Bloomberg wrote.
'The latest Amazon speaker will be larger and tilt upwards so the screen can be seen when it sits on a counter and the user is standing, one of the people said,'
The speakers innards are also set for an overhaul, with 'high-grade speakers' boosting its sound quality, it is claimed.
Amazon is increasingly facing competition for the Echo, and figures released yesterday claim over 5.1 million have been sold - although Amazon refuses to reveal the exact number.
The new Amazon device will use an optimized version of Fire OS, the software that runs Amazon’s Fire tablets and Fire TV set-top box, which can also use Alexa.
The cylindrical speaker uses Amazon's personal voice assistant called Alexa, which is similar to Apple's Siri.
It was recently launched in the UK, and a new white version of the speaker has also been introduced for the European debut, to sit alongside the original black model.
Initially only available to Prime subscribers, the Echo was made available to all all US customer in June 2015.
Previously, Amazon has delayed launching the product in other countries because of concerns that Alexa would not understand accents outside of America.
The software has since been tweaked to cope with both British and German voices.
David Limp, Amazon's senior vice president for devices, envisions the voice assistant functioning like the 'Star Trek computer', in that it will answer users no matter where they are in their home and right away.
Alexa is the 'wake word' for the internet-connected speaker.
Alexa can respond to voice commands with actions such as setting an alarm, or simply by providing a spoken answer to a question.
Shoppers can also ask Alexa to put products on their Amazon shopping list
The smart speaker learns as it goes along, getting to know the user's speech patterns, vocabulary and preferences.
Echo has seven hidden microphones to ensure that it can pick up voice commands from anywhere in the room.
With built-in Bluetooth, the Wi-Fi-connected Echo also functions as a 360-degree wireless speaker.
The speaker enables hands-free voice control from the likes of Amazon Music, Spotify and other streaming services.
Echo also works with a number of other firms such as Uber, enabling users to order a cab with a spoken command.
Other firms included for the UK launch are Just Eat, National Rail and Sky Sports.
Alexa can also be used to controlled smart home appliances including Hive, Nest and Hue.
To ensure the privacy of Echo users, pressing the mute button will cut all power to the microphones.
Users will also be able to delete voice searches from the Alexa app if they choose.
The smaller Echo Dot speaker will launch on 20 October with a price tag of £49.99 ($49.99, €59.99).
This device enables buyers to position the Alexa voice assistant in additional rooms around the house.
Savings will be available for those who buy the Dot speaker in batches of six or 12.
Commenting on the launch, Warwick Business School professor Mark Skilton, a professor of Practice at Warwick Business School said:
'We are a long way off artificial general intelligence where a machine is fully able to think as a human; but the days of the keyboard and mouse are numbered.
'The point that [Echo] does not have a screen is not relevant as when you use it, the voice interaction is natural and the issue is more in learning the range of 'skills' it can do to help you.
'We have grown up with poor voice recognition and error prone requests on our mobile devices but Amazon started a full 12 months before Google on developing a high precision microphone and voice recognition system that is built into its marketplace ecosystem'.
Amazon set to open up its TV boxes to other streaming services
Amazon's own video store will no longer have the starring role on the company's Fire TV streaming devices.
Software updates coming this year will give movies and TV shows from Netflix, HBO and other competitors equal prominence on the devices' home screen.
The approach is similar to one Apple took when it refreshed its Apple TV device last year.
Amazon's Fire TV has offered solid performance at reasonable prices, but its home screen has been cluttered with Amazon products — whether to rent or buy, or offered at no extra charge through Amazon's $99-a-year Prime program.
That's made it tough to find video from competing providers without turning to a voice-search feature that, until recently, excluded Netflix.
For the most part, finding video typically required opening a service's app first.
Now, competing services will be offered space on the home screen.
Netflix, for instance, could choose to highlight its original series 'Stranger Things' alongside personalized recommendations.
Netflix could also include a short video trailer that plays on the home screen.
And while Amazon has long had a watch list for viewers to keep track of what they want to watch, choosing a title has directed the viewer back to Amazon's store.
Now, Amazon will offer viewers a choice of providers.
If a video is available for free through Netflix, for instance, that will be the most prominent option, even if Amazon's own store is selling the same title.
The development comes as leading video services make major investments in original shows, making it difficult for any single service to fulfill all of a viewer's needs.
An Amazon-centric approach penalizes viewers looking for not just Amazon's 'Transparent' but also Netflix's 'Luke Cage' and Hulu's 'The Mindy Project.'
The refreshed Fire TV Stick, which begins shipping Thursday for $40, will get the free software update first, followed by the standard $100 Fire TV device released last year.
Both will get the updates by the end of the year.
Amazon says older devices will get the updates, too, but no timetable was given.
Amazon adds Alexa smart assistant to its Fire tablet
Amazon wants to be under the Christmas tree this year.
It's cut the price of its new Fire tablet almost in half and added its popular voice assistant, Alexa, in hopes of making it a hot holiday item, despite a slump in overall tablet sales.
The new Fire HD8 tablet will cost $90, down from $150.
Mixed-use battery life is up to 12 hours from 8, and the base storage is doubled to 16 gigabytes.
The biggest change is that the tablet will have Alexa functionality.
That means that when users tap and hold the tablet's home button, they can ask the assistant for anything from weather reports to news queries, and also get the device do things like adjusting the lights or temperature on compatible smart-home devices.
'We believe in a different approach to tablets—providing premium products at non-premium prices—and customers love it. In fact, we've seen Fire tablet sales more than double year-over-year as a result,' said Kevin Keith, General Manager, Fire Tablets.
'The all-new Fire HD 8 packs more battery life, more storage, faster performance, plus Alexa—all for less than $90.'The tablet market in general has been slumping.
Most people have already bought one who wanted one and see little reason to upgrade.
Worldwide tablet shipments fell 12.3 percent to 38.7 million in the second quarter, according to the International Data Corp.
But Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. has managed to grow its share by slashing prices of its Fire tablet and encouraging people to buy more than one.
Its base model, with few bells and whistles, costs just $49.
The Fire HD price cut in particular makes it attractive to buyers, IDC research manager Jonathan Gaw said.
'The rest of the tablet category has pretty much taken a dip, whereas Amazon has been able to increase their share,' he said. 'They are not necessarily out to make a great margin on the device itself so it works out pretty well for them.'
Alexa voice-recognition software will be available on all the new tablets, as well as via a free over-the-air software update for Fire HD 8 tablets from last year.
The software was originally part of Amazon's Echo $180 smart speaker, which is activated by voice commands.
Third-party devices have begun to use it too.
A home-intercom system called Nucleus and a portable speaker from Triby also come with Alexa software built in.
On the tablets, users can see visual cards, similar to what's on the Amazon Echo app, for each query they make.
Kevin Keith, Amazon's general manager of Fire tablets said he expects tablet users to use Alexa mainly while using tablets for entertainment like movies and e-books.
'It's a way to enhance the entertainment experience,' he said.