Expanding its retail empire isn’t Amazon’s only pursuit, and it made that clear on Thursday when it took the wraps off its latest fleet of consumer devices. Among the most interesting is the new Echo Show 10, an update to its display-equipped smart speaker line that can automatically swivel around to follow its users in a room.
Thanks to new hardware mechanics, the Echo Show 10’s screen physically rotates around a stationary base, ensuring users can always see things like recipes from virtually any place in the kitchen or enjoy the new Netflix integration.
Intriguingly, the new Echo arrives on the heels of the Echo Look’s demise. Although Amazon killed off the fashion selfie camera this summer, its learnings may have helped inform the new Echo Show.
Like the retired camera, the new smart speaker can distinguish human forms using computer vision. Combined with sound-based location tracking, the tech allows the Echo Show 10 to pinpoint where subjects are in the room and move along with them. Software allows the 13-megapixel camera to digitally pan and zoom in on one or more subjects for Skype or upcoming video calls, as well as Amazon’s own Chime service for video conferencing.
This use case looks like Amazon’s answer to Facebook Portal’s most popular feature, which can similarly follow users around. Portal doesn’t have the hardware mechanisms to physically move, but instead performs using a wider angle camera to capture more of the room and software to zoom in on subjects.
Show 10 still has to capture images, though, so it scan detect, read and interpret the shapes and contours of what it’s seeing. But Amazon — seemingly to get ahead of any privacy concerns — promised that it quickly disposes of the images, unlike competitors such as the Nest Hub Max.
Google’s smart home, speaker and display mash-up uses facial recognition to identify people. In contrast, Amazon’s latest does not. All it can tell is that there’s a person in frame, not who it is.
To underscore the privacy aspect, Amazon built in some protections: Users can shut off the camera and block movement tracking in the Alexa app or by vocalizing, “Alexa, turn off motion.” Even if the camera stays on, the Show 10 doesn’t follow people around all the time, only when owners are using the device.
Reportedly, Amazon was trying to offer a more human, organic feel — as though the user is talking to a friend, who may follow them around a room during a conversation, but doesn’t stalk them all the time. Toward that end, the company programmed the system to understand body language and natural movements.
It’s worth noting that the mechanized swiveling action only works laterally. To change the vertical angle, users have to physically pull the screen up.
The appliance also features Amazon’s latest machine learning-capable processor. That matters, because the unit can perform more of its intelligence computations on the device without having to send all data out to Amazon servers. However, it still sends voice recordings to Amazon, so it can make them available in the app. Users can delete them from there.
Like the Nest Hub Max, the Echo Show 10 can control compatible smart home products, and the company offers software tools allowing outside developers to make apps — or “skills” — for the new device and its new motion features.
The possibilities seem intriguing. Perhaps an ingenious developer will create an Alexa skill that lets users capture their own runway looks as they move, and then save and share them on social media — which is something that is technically possible, but trickier to do with a smartphone.
The Echo Show 10 is just one device in an updated Echo line-up that includes a more spherically designed Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Dot with clock and Echo Dot Kids Edition, plus new Alexa voice features to make conversations feel more natural and help safeguard elderly family members.
These join other announcements, including new models of Fire TV Sticks, Wi-Fi 6-capable routers, Ring security features and car alarm tech, and a brand-new cloud gaming service called Luna, which will feature gaming videos from Amazon-owned Twitch.