Amazon’s vision of the home has taken a rather futuristic turn, with its devices and services announcement on Tuesday ranging from its slim new Echo Show 15 — now the spitting image of a digital photo frame — to flying gadgets and a robotic pet.
In other words, Amazon is once again looking to create or define a consumer tech category on its own terms.
The anchor of Amazon’s press announcement is usually the Echo product family, and the new Show may be Amazon’s most important Alexa gadget. So it’s no wonder that it had a makeover and new software features…about which more later.
But if that was supposed to be the headliner, it was shown up by a head-turning flock of new Amazon hardware.
The Ring Always Home Cam looks like a basic plastic box set on a tabletop. But when set off by a Ring Alarm sensor, the top lifts off to jet around the house and its camera monitors potentially compromised areas. Users can also command it to fly a pre-planned trajectory using the Ring mobile app to check on things, like whether the stove is off or if the dog is staying off the sofa. The micro flight ends with an automatic return to the dock.
Consumers worried about privacy may note that the camera lens is covered while it’s docked and only films while in motion, according to Amazon.
The device is part of Amazon subsidiary Ring’s home security releases, including a service that lets outside security firms access Ring cameras and the new Ring Alarm Pro, a monitored security system with a built-in Wi-Fi 6 Eero-branded router. New security gadgets also include Blink-branded devices, including a new $50 doorbell camera.
But the $250 in-home drone, introduced last year, is clearly the showstopper of the group and the company is now taking requests for invitations.
The new Amazon Glow is a kid-oriented gadget that attempts to do what has vexed many a parent — keep children engaged in a video chat with grandma or other loved ones.
The unit sits on a surface and projects an image on the area directly in front of it, so both parties can engage in the same puzzle, game, drawing or other activity. Those images are interactive, which means the kid and the family member can play with it simultaneously. The remote family member doesn’t have to purchase the Glow, but can simply use the mobile app instead.
The device can also scan things like toys and sketches and turn it into a sticker or another interactive item.
The projection technology has been around for years, such as in projected travel keyboards, but Amazon must have made major gains in quality and touch sensitivity to make this sort of experience work.
A unit like this might have implications for education as well, though that wasn’t the focus of the announcement. According to Amazon, major companies that specialize in children’s content — like Disney, Mattel, Nickelodeon and Sesame Workshop — have signed on to produce experiences for the device. Of course, those same companies also sell branded products, so it will be interesting to see if retail factors in at some point.
The Glow costs $250, and Amazon is taking requests for invitations, with shipments going out in the coming weeks.
The finale of the presentation, if there was one, was the Amazon Astro, a rolling, roving robotic companion that’s essentially Alexa on wheels.
Those seeking their very own Wall-E — with a smaller footprint and shorter stature, but sleeker looks — may find satisfaction with Astro. As its name suggests, the experience looks like tech’s equivalent of man’s best friend.
Its face, or display, features two eyes that show expressions — which, according to Amazon engineers, was crucial to making users feel an emotional connection to the robot.
Astro is not just a companion that can follow owners around like puppy dogs. It features a camera that can periscope to capture areas at different heights and store surveillance clips, making it something like a guard dog, as well, that can do the rounds at home while the owner looks on from a smartphone.
Like any of Amazon’s other Alexa-bearing devices with screens, the display can show weather forecasts, streaming video and video calls.
All of these products come from Amazon’s Day 1 Editions program, and like the other products above, Astro will be available by invitation only to start. Interested consumers can request one, but if accepted, it will cost a pretty penny: The initial discounted price will be $999, before it hits retail at $1,499.
Amazon is no stranger to experimentation, having popularized e-readers with its Kindle in 2007 and defined the smart speaker category with the first Amazon Echo in 2014. There were, of course, misses along the way as well. To this day, its Fire-branded smartphone may still be remembered as one of the biggest flops in mobile.
But the die was cast, and Amazon apparently sees a lot of upside in having an early mover advantage.
Astro, for one, started out as a project from the company’s Lab 126, a “skunkworks” team that specializes in experimental or unique tech. It’s the same group responsible for the first Kindle, as well as the development of the Fire and Echo line of devices.
As for the latest Echo, the new Echo Show 15 has been revamped, Amazon revealed. The unit lost the base and increased the hi-definition screen to 15.6 inches. As a slim display, it can be mounted to the wall or under a shelf, as well as rest on a table (with an optional stand).
Along with the new $250 Show, Amazon introduced Alexa Widgets, a new interface that shows snippets of information like shared calendars, notes, shopping lists and other items. It also offers more direct access to smart home tech like security cameras, as well as the option to turn on a new Visual ID feature. Using facial recognition, the Echo can customize the data it shows based on who it recognizes.
According to Amazon, the processing required for the computer vision happens on the device itself, which means it doesn’t transmit the data to Amazon servers.
Other announcements included a display-equipped successor to the Halo Band fitness wearable called the Halo View; a Disney-themed version of the Alexa voice assistant; a smart thermostat, and services for fitness, nutrition and senior care.
Altogether, it’s clear that Amazon’s universe is expanding. Considering its own devices make up a hefty proportion of its Prime Day and holiday sales, it’s not surprising that it would grow its offerings — nor is it a shock that it would increasingly look for ways to knit them together more tightly, so that more of its devices and services work with each other.
Consumer tech often follows this type of model. Big Tech tends to bank on the idea that people invested in an ecosystem would be inclined to delve more deeply in the platform over time. Or at least show reluctance to leave it behind, even if a flashy new rival comes along.
It’s worth noting this mentality, considering Amazon’s moves to expand in other areas. It may very well intend to employ a similar strategy for groceries, health care and even fashion and beauty.