The Amazon Echo and Google Home could be used to make and receive phone calls later this year, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal’s Ryan Knutson and Laura Stevens.
Citing “people familiar with the matter,” the report says that both Amazon and Google are looking to activate the feature, but that their attempts have been slowed by privacy and regulatory concerns.
Amazon has reportedly been working on Echo-specific voice calls since 2015, but has been held up by “employee turnover” as well.
Amazon declined a request for comment. Google declined as well, only saying that it “continue[s] developing new experiences for Google Home.”
How exactly this feature would work on either device is unclear. The report suggests that the smart speakers would “most likely” use voice over internet protocol (VoIP) tech, which lets you make calls over the internet. This is what apps like Skype do today. Amazon launched its own Skype competitor called Chime on Tuesday.
The Google Home.Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderThe report says Amazon is considering other options, though, like giving the Echo its own phone number and using call forwarding, or syncing an Echo owner’s phone number with the speaker itself.
In any case, Amazon would be entering the market with less experience in phone tech than Google, which has operated its Google Voice service since 2009. Google Voice currently gives users a phone number that can be used for forwarding calls and making VoIP calls; it was recently updated by Google in late January. Google also runs a wireless service called Project Fi, which provides mobile data by piggybacking off Sprint and T-Mobile’s network.
Integrating voice-call support would make sense for speakers that, particularly in the Echo’s case, are growing increasingly popular and intelligent. But it would likely further the ongoing privacy concerns that exist with such devices, especially since both speakers have the ability to record conversations. One of the WSJ's sources says that Amazon wouldn't record the content of conversations, but that it would collect the length of those conversations and what numbers are dialed.
All of that, plus the myriad of regulatory hurdles associated with creating new telephone features, means Google and Amazon are likely far from getting speaker-specific voice calls up and running in the near-term. But if they do make it work, voice calling could turn the Echo and Home into modern-day landline phones.