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Amazon enables free calls and messages on all Echo devices with Alexa Calling


Amazon may have flopped with the Fire Phone, but don’t count it out of the telephony game just yet. Alongside Amazon unveiling its newest Echo device earlier today — the Echo Show with a seven-inch video screen — the company also announced Alexa Calling, free voice calls and messaging services that you use through all Echo devices (not just the Show), as well as for users of the Alexa app for smartphones.

The feature is marked as “coming soon” on the Alexa Calling product page, but we have been told by an Amazon spokesperson that, in fact, it’s coming online later today. In other words, well ahead of the newest Echo shipping.

Meanwhile, users of that newest Echo, the Echo Show, which has the screen and video feature, will get added services, it seems. The one that has jumped out at me first is called “Drop In” — which lets you make a call to someone without them even answering the phone first. Think of it as the 21st century tech equivalent of someone coming to your house and either peeking through the front window as they’re knocking, or maybe just walking straight in, 1970s sitcom-style.

Alas, this is not being positioned as something mildly intrusive, nor as a creepy big brother-style service (which is the worst-case scenario and one that Amazon has been taking pains to avoid in all of its Echo and Alexa products). Rather, Amazon emphasizes that it is opt-in, and a way to communicate with only the very closest members of your family.

Examples of usage can include checking in on elderly relatives, or letting your family in another room know it’s time for dinner — or perhaps making sure you kid is really doing homework and not watching YouTube. Let’s see how people use it as it rolls out.

Amazon says that Alexa Calling can be used on any Echo device and the Alexa app once the user and the user’s intended contact have both enabled Alexa calling and messaging. In other words, for now (emphasis on for now; Amazon is nothing less than massively ambitious), it sounds like you can’t use your Echo Dot to call your friend’s landline. But you can use it to call or message your friend if she has a smartphone with the Alexa app downloaded (and Alexa Calling enabled).

(Interesting side note: This seems to be a very new use case for the Alexa app, which to date has mainly been positioned as a support for Echo owners, not a standalone app for other Amazon services. It could be laying groundwork for more services of that kind through the Alexa app.) ..Continued..

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