Apple is also rumoured to be exploring such a device.

But in the same way that Amazon’s tardiness in the smartphone game punished it, the company getting ahead of its competitors may prove crucial.

And regardless of the Fire Phone’s merits, or lack thereof, Jeff Bezos and his team had entered the market half a decade late.

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It has posted five straight quarters of profits, unheard of for a company previously allergic to the word, and shares have risen by 150pc since the start of 2014.

But at the same time, its dismal showing in smartphones has been eclipsed by delirious enthusiasm about what comes next.

In fact many analysts now believe that Amazon has one hand on the future that comes after the smartphone.

Alexa is not the only, or even the first, voice-activated virtual assistant – Apple, Google and Microsoft have had their own for years – but it is the first that consumers have truly embraced.

But Amazon has clearly stolen a march on its rivals, which they are now scrambling to recover from.

Google announced a rival to the Echo earlier this year, although evidence of its development has been scarce, and privately, Amazon does not appear to be too worried.

Many shoppers, meanwhile, are likely to feel uncomfortable, at least at first, about speaking to a robot to do their shopping.

Analysts at RBC Capital Markets say 47pc of owners have never used the Echo to order an item from Amazon, against 10pc who buy things “very often” and 16pc who do so “somewhat often”.

or a company founded on prescience – Bezos’s belief in online retail led him to quit his Wall Street hedge fund before many had heard of the web – it was a spectacular misjudgement, and led to a 0m (£130m) writedown just a year after the phone was launched.