Amazon’s Echo Dot is one of the most popular smart speakers out there. It costs just £49, or US$49.99, so plenty of people who would otherwise avoid new-fangled (and expensive) gadgets have bought one and are dipping their toes into the smart home waters and playing with Alexa.
Amazon is putting its full weight behind Alexa, the AI assistant which makes its Echo speakers smart. It is constantly updating its capabilities and even enabling it to answer seasonal and event-based queries such as the World Cup and Father’s Day.
The range of products you can now buy with Alexa baked in is staggering, and it’s only likely to grow in 2018.
In a YouGov survey published in April 2018, it was revealed that Amazon Echo's family of devices still holds a staggering 75% of the UK market, at least among those surveyed.
Whether Amazon will launch an updated version of the Echo Dot remains to be seen, though. Arguably it’s still a first-generation product even though Amazon calls the UK version ‘second-generation’ by virtue of its very slightly different design and internals to the original US version.
We've got a potential first glimpse of the new device in the leaked images below, as seen on Numerama. If they're genuine and not just photos of a Chinese knock-off, then the new Echo Dot looks slightly bigger than the original and has fabric around the edge.
When is the Echo Dot 2 release date?
Amazon tends to release devices in September ready to hit the big sales in the run up to Christmas.
What we do know – via The Information - is that Amazon is busily developing its own AI chip that’s likely to be used in a future range of Echo devices.
It’d be unthinkable that there wouldn’t be an updated Echo Dot with this chip, as it would be the entry-level model that tempts people to try out Alexa.
What features might the Echo Dot 2 have?
The leaked images indicate that the design hasn't changed too much, with four button on top and holes for the array of far-field mics.
The big change is a softening of the plastic shell with the addition of a fabric strip around its circumference.
The only other rumour is the aforementioned AI chip. This is key, though, as it would mean that Alexa could answer your questions more quickly and – in theory – with better and more correct information.
Currently, all AI assistants record your speech and send it over the internet to a server where the audio is processed to turn the sound into text. That is then processed again to figure out what it means. Only then can Alexa proceed to do what you’ve asked or give you the information you want.
Although certain questions - such as those information requests - will still rely on an internet connection to read out a Wikipedia summary or similar, others will be processed locally on this AI chip in your Echo.
That should speed up the response time considerably so when you say “Alexa, turn on the lights” the action should be pretty much immediate rather than the few-second delay you experience currently.
There’s another benefit to on-device speech processing: it can’t be hacked. Or, at least, it makes it significantly harder to get that data because it isn’t being transmitted over Wi-Fi or outside your home at all.
We’re beginning to AI chips in devices already: Apple, Google and Huawei already use custom-designed processors which have the capacity to perform some recognition locally without needing an internet connection.
Really, it’s a win-win because it reduces internet traffic and server load, and improves response time for users. Whether these chips will make Alexa noticeably more intelligent, though, is another matter.
As any Echo owner already knows too well, Alexa will often do the wrong thing, having not understood what you were asking or thinking you said something different.
So we’d love to see improved speech recognition in the Echo Dot 2, plus an Alexa that’s actually intelligent.
We’d also like better sound quality, but the same diminutive dimensions. As rumours begin to surface about the Echo Dot 2, we’ll update this article.