Adam Molina / Android Authority
Today’s smart speakers owe a lot to the original Amazon Echo, so every new flagship Echo model is hotly anticipated by industry watchers — it tends to set the bar for whatever follows. The fourth-generation Echo, released in 2020, has largely kept up that track record. Over a year later, it’s time to ask what we’d want from an Amazon Echo 5th gen model, especially with pressure mounting from companies like Apple, Google, and Sonos.
Matter over Thread
Amazon has already promised Matter over Thread for some existing devices, including the 4th gen Echo, so all that remains is for the company to offer it out-of-the-box in the next generation. Nevertheless, we’re really looking forward to it.
What are Matter and Thread? You can read more about them via the link below, but in short, Matter is an upcoming network protocol that will let devices work across all major smart home platforms. You won’t have to worry if accessories like smart bulbs are explicitly compatible with your platform of choice — in theory, they’ll just work so long as they have the Matter logo. Scheduled to go live later in 2022, the standard also reduces the need for hubs, bridges, and internet access by enabling local mesh networks.
Matter can operate over Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, yet it’s ideally meant to be used with Thread, a Zigbee-based wireless protocol. Every Thread product operates as its own low-power “border router” to which other Thread accessories connect. The technology consumes so little power, in fact, that it’s already in accessories like Nanoleaf’s bulbs and light panels.
With Matter over Thread, the Echo 5th gen will likely be a cornerstone of many smart homes, uniting accessories from hundreds of brands. The real question is whether you’ll be able to add the speaker itself to Apple HomeKit or Google Assistant, not just Alexa — that could be mindblowing.
Dolby Atmos and other home theater improvements
Adam Molina / Android Authority
Despite what its spherical shape suggests, the current Echo doesn’t actually support Dolby Atmos, which simulates a 3D soundscape. The standard is increasingly common on speakers, however, and is slowly gaining a toehold on services like Amazon Music, so Amazon has the incentive to redesign the Echo 5th gen to give Dolby Atmos its due.
Amazon has the incentive to redesign the Echo 5th gen to give Dolby Atmos its due.
Support makes even more sense when you consider the option to pair existing Echos with a Fire TV streamer. Something we’d like to see is the ability to use a Echo 5th gen with third-party streamers and TVs, say via an HDMI or optical port. That’s less likely than Atmos though, given the material costs of adding extra ports, and the benefits (for Amazon) of keeping people locked into the Fire TV ecosystem.
A clock and temperature display
A clock is a small perk on any smart speaker, so normally, it’s not something we’d go out of our way to demand. We’re mentioning it here because Amazon sells a clock-equipped version of the Echo Dot 4th gen, and it seems weird that you can’t pay a little extra to get the same option on a higher-tier product, especially one that’s more likely to be a centerpiece.
An indoor temperature display may be unlikely, but there’s a room sensor built into the fourth-gen Echo, and it’s awkward that you can’t access that information without asking for it or opening the Alexa app. If Amazon does add a clock version of the next Echo, it would make sense to include a temperature readout as well.
Quick audio handoff
One of the unique features of Apple’s HomePod mini is the ability to switch audio from your iPhone to the speaker (or vice versa) by touching the two devices together. It sounds like a party trick, but if you’ve ever been listening to something and wanted to finish it somewhere else, the appeal is obvious.
Making this happen on an Echo 5th gen could be difficult. Amazon would probably need to add a dedicated wireless chip, then somehow sync data from a variety of services to a variety of different phones. There’s a chance the tech could be enabled via Android 13 if interface leaks prove correct, but there’s even less hope for the important iPhone market, since Apple keeps a notoriously tight leash over iOS and how its NFC and UWB (ultra-wideband) chips are used.
Fully custom wake words
Adam Molina / Android Authority
While Amazon is leading when it comes to alternative ways of triggering a voice assistant, that’s not saying much. Apple, Google, and Samsung don’t offer any customization, so Amazon automatically wins by letting you change Alexa’s wake word to “Echo,” “Amazon,” “Computer,” or “Ziggy.” That’s still an odd selection — particularly Ziggy, which may avoid accidental triggers, but sounds like someone at Amazon was a fan of reggae or decades-old newspaper comics.
Amazon is leading when it comes to alternative ways of triggering a voice assistant, but that’s not saying much.
There are a few legitimate reasons for limiting options. While most smart speaker commands are processed via server farms, wake words are always processed locally for a quick response — meaning the simpler things are, the better. To be reliable, wake words must also be long enough to be distinguishable and not easily confused for something else. Restricting choices ensures that customers don’t get frustrated when an Echo refuses to answer to the name of their favorite Dune character.
That said, we are living in 2022, and it’s increasingly arbitrary that we have to call our “personal” voice assistants by a name someone else picked. Alexa’s existing wake words don’t work well for everyone, and surely there’s some way of allowing broader customization while keeping guard rails intact.
Which upgrade would you want most on a 5th-gen Amazon Echo?
When could the Amazon Echo 5th gen be announced?
Amazon debuted the fourth-gen Echo in September 2020, and the third-gen model a year prior, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see the next reveal in September 2022. The second-gen Echo dates back to October 2017, mind, so it’s not surprising to see the company skip 2021.
Plans probably rest on a few factors. The first two are supply chain constraints and related inflation — it might be hard to meet the demand for an Echo 5th gen while keeping prices low, even if the situation settles down by the summer. More importantly, perhaps, Amazon has probably already decided whether or not it needs new features to compete. The pressure from rivals is strong, but then, Amazon is a behemoth that can afford to wait.