On the surface, it looks like a nondescript tablet computer. But Amazon, Lowe’s and the startup that makes a device called Nucleus are betting it will be a lot more.
On Thursday, the Nucleus will go on sale on Amazon and Lowe’s websites and in about 500 Lowe’s stores. The touchscreen device was built, first and foremost, to replace expensive home intercom systems popular in manicured-lawn suburbs.
Tap the screen to see and hear, in under a second, what’s going on in a room across the house where another Nucleus is located. One tablet costs $249; two or more cost $199 each.
When Nucleus orders start shipping, however, they will also contain Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service, which will transform it into an alternative to Amazon’s own voice-controlled Echo speaker, with a touchscreen as an added bonus.
Just like the Echo, the Nucleus will be able to provide weather forecasts, news updates and play music, though not from Spotify and Pandora because of licensing issues. It also will let Amazon customers place orders by voice.
For Amazon, potential Nucleus success is still Amazon success, even if some customers come to view it as an Echo substitute. That’s because Amazon’s long-term play is to get Alexa into as many homes as possible so it can become the search engine of the future. If that happens, Amazon will find plenty of new ways to cash in outside of its own hardware sales.
The Nucleus can also be used as a security camera, like Dropcam, that allows people to check in on their homes from a smartphone app when they’re out of the house.
Another anticipated popular use case is long-distance video calls a la Skype or FaceTime, as long as the person on the other end also owns a Nucleus. The device was designed so that you can stand across the kitchen and still be seen and heard by the relative or friend thousands of miles away. Connections are promised in under a second.
For Nucleus founder Jonathan Frankel — and Amazon and Lowe’s — the bet is that it has the potential to become one of the first internet-connected “smart” devices to go mainstream in American homes, not just those of early adopters.
“We don’t market it as the smart home, or ever use the phrase IoT,” Frankel said, referencing the abbreviation for Internet of Things.
“We think of the mom and dad in Indianapolis,” he added, “who have never heard of Nest.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.