The Apple HomePod and Amazon Echo speakers fall on two sides of the design divide; Apple is marketing the HomePod as a premium speaker with Siri capabilities (and a premium price tag to go with it), while Amazon's Echo is a cheap and cheerful way to get a smart assistant into your home.
However, Amazon could be moving into Apple's territory with its next Echo speaker. According to sources speaking to Engadget, the new Echo will be shorter and slimmer than the existing model - approximately the size of three or four Echo Dot speakers - and it will have rounded edges and a cloth-like covering, rather than the plastic currently used.
Amazon also claims that the new Echo should sound better as well, using several tweeters instead of just the one large tweeter the Echo currently has (alongside its bass driver).
The company isn't only improving its speakers - the microphone technology will be improved too, although the details are as yet unclear. While the seven microphones in the Echo is already the most of any available AI speaker (the HomePod has six while Google's Home has two), it could be that the improvements will be on the software side rather than hardware.
Since the source claims to have seen "a working unit that looked pretty polished", and given that Amazon is planning for a release in autumn, we're unlikely to see too much deviation from these specs.
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Still, it will be interesting to see whether these improvements will draw more people towards the product. Despite the vinyl revival, the rise of streaming services shows that the mass market action is still dominated by features and convenience rather than sound quality (although we'd of course prefer both).
As such, it's possible that improved functionality - like the Google Home's 'context aware' feature that allows you to ask follow up questions - might make it stand out more.
And, since the usual way that people get better sound quality from Alexa is connecting an Echo Dot to another wireless speaker or system, will better audio chops be enough for the next-gen Echo? Only time, and sales data, will tell...