Amazon unveils new Ring, smart thermostat, Echo and more – The Washington Post

Amazon unveils new Ring, smart thermostat, Echo and more – The Washington Post

You, too, can have an Amazon camera-robot roaming your house
New Ring products are smarter — and more intrusive
Amazon has yet another video doorbell
With a new workout service, Amazon’s event has an Apple feel
‘Hey, Disney’: Amazon teams up on new voice assistant
Amazon Glow: A smart screen for kids with a built-in projector
Amazon’s smart thermostat has lots of competition on Amazon.com
There’s a 15-inch Echo on your wall that recognizes your face
Amazon doubles down on AI with new Echo
Your Alexa requests may soon stay on your Echo
Amazon’s device boss, Dave Limp, started at Apple
Amazon loves showing off hardware, but you may be in for a wait
Amazon is selling devices to hook you on Amazon software and services
You, too, can have an Amazon camera-robot roaming your house
New Ring products are smarter — and more intrusive
Amazon has yet another video doorbell
With a new workout service, Amazon’s event has an Apple feel
‘Hey, Disney’: Amazon teams up on new voice assistant
Amazon Glow: A smart screen for kids with a built-in projector
Amazon’s smart thermostat has lots of competition on Amazon.com
There’s a 15-inch Echo on your wall that recognizes your face
Amazon doubles down on AI with new Echo
Your Alexa requests may soon stay on your Echo
Amazon’s device boss, Dave Limp, started at Apple
Amazon loves showing off hardware, but you may be in for a wait
Amazon is selling devices to hook you on Amazon software and services
Amazon failed to make a viable smartphone, so it can’t compete with Google and Apple on their own turf. Instead, the company wants to dominate the home and is throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks, literally.
On Tuesday, Amazon unveiled a 15-inch wall-mounted version of its Echo Show screen that watches and listens to your home, as well as a robot with friendly eyes that rolls around to watch and listen. A flying indoor drone for watching your home that it previewed last year will soon go on sale. And the company showed a number of other new products and services that all monitor you in some way to figure out what you want, when you want it and maybe if it’s something Amazon can sell you.
Have questions about Amazon’s vision of the smart home? Ask the Help Desk.
At the company’s annual fall press event — held virtually for the second year in a row because of the coronavirus pandemic — executives stressed its commitment to privacy, pointing out that consumers can opt-in to some features.
“As I’ve said, privacy is foundational to everything we do, from adding new ways to ask Alexa about your privacy settings to providing more granular information about your household’s voice history,” said David Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services. “We continue to give customers greater transparency over control of their data. Overall, we think privacy is a huge opportunity for invention.”
The event is something the company does every fall as a way to hype up new products ahead of the holidays and test the waters for its more out-there ideas. It’s also an opportunity to slowly increase customers’ tolerance for what’s normal. Every year, Amazon releases products that push increasingly invasive technology into people’s homes.
What started seven years ago with a microphone in a speaker has turned into a flying indoor surveillance drone and an autonomous robot with a telescoping camera in its “face.” The company framed the latest releases as technology to help with the burden of everyday life, solving problems like too much screen time, keeping track of an aging relative far away or leaving your fridge open. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
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At the heart of almost all its new products is some form of surveillance. Some of it is traditional, in the form of Ring cameras and security services meant to protect a home or family from crime or other danger.
To that end, the company revealed two new home security devices. The $249.99 Ring Alarm Pro is a home security system and Wi-Fi router that connects to smart locks, motion detectors and other security components. The company also released another video doorbell, this time under its Blink brand.
Amazon’s other Ring offerings pushed the idea that real security requires even more angles. Ring’s tiny flying drone — a kooky home security gadget first shown last year — will finally be able offer interior airborne views later this year, though would-be beta testers will need an invitation to purchase one. All these cameras create a new problem: too many feeds to watch and not enough time. Now users can pay $99 a month to have a third-party security company watch their home security video feeds for them.
The other side of Amazon’s surveillance ecosystem is meant to be helpful, heartwarming and even cuddly.
Astro is a robot that roams your home to keep an eye on things and maybe play with the kids. It’s essentially a Ring camera and Echo Show screen built into a robot. The camera on top can rise and act as a periscope for better views of far-off corners of your home. It’s the most experimental hardware of the bunch and will cost $1,000 for early adopters when it ships as early as this year, but eventually will go for $1,449. To ease concerns customers might have about a wandering security camera on wheels, Amazon included privacy features such as the ability to make certain rooms off limits.
Amazon privacy settings to change now
It’s one of many products Amazon pitched as helpful for families. The company wants to use AI to automate daily tasks and chores, perhaps even eventually purchases. The Echo Show 15-inch smart screen goes on a wall to organize your family, something Amazon said was difficult to do before. It’s essentially a giant smartphone home screen but with two notable opt-in features that might make some feel uneasy: a camera that can detect who is walking by and customize the screen, and microphones that can listen for specific household noises such as an open fridge beeping.
There’s was also the Amazon Glow, a bulky smart screen on a stand with a built-in projector to let kids make video calls, but avoid other less-desirable types of screen time. Amazon rolled out a partnership with Disney, a streaming competitor, to introduce a new voice assistant that includes Disney characters and is summoned with the command “Hey, Disney.”
The company also tried to follow in Apple’s footsteps, with a new streaming workout service.
Amazon is making a $1,000 home robot. Astro is small and roams around your house like a little sentinel. It’s essentially a Ring camera and Echo Show mounted on a robot vacuum, with similar mapping and stair-avoidance features. The camera on top can rise on a periscope for better views of far-off corners of your home.
It seems that every technology company goes through its “let’s make a robot!” phase, but Amazon is in a better position than many to follow through. It has spent years acclimating customers to the idea that it’s normal always to have cameras and microphones recording in the most intimate spaces.
So, what’s the point of Astro? Amazon says it can keep an eye on pets, check that children are doing their homework, and watch for crimes — from break-ins to small family infractions. It can also be placed in an older person’s home to help caretakers, according to Amazon.
Amazon is pushing technology for caretaking, with a new $20-a-month service called Alexa Together. The pitch is that surveillance tools and the ability to control an older person’s home and technology allows the person to live independently for longer. The technology raises interesting questions about privacy and consent for the people being watched. Astro does have privacy features such as the user’s ability to put rooms off-limits.
Astro will be available to those who sign up for an invitation and should ship at the end of the year, the company said.
Last year, Amazon announced the Always Home Cam — a flying drone camera that keeps an eye on your house. The product never came out. Learning to fly isn’t easy, a company representative quipped during today’s launch event.
But the Always Home Cam is dropping, for real this time. Interested customers can apply to buy one for $249.99 starting today.
[Amazon may be sharing your Internet connection with neighbors. Here’s how to turn it off.]
Other Ring updates include the Ring Alarm Pro, which comes with an Eero WiFi router built in for better, more consistent connectivity and nonstop Internet backups. There’s also the Ring Virtual Security Guard, a subscription product that calls a professional monitoring service to review camera footage — and even communicate with potential intruders — when an alert is triggered on your property.
Amazon’s Ring video doorbells get all the attention — for better or worse — but the company just announced yet another model, this time under the Blink brand name.
Blink was acquired by Amazon in late 2017 and is best known for its line of wireless, outdoor security cameras. The $50 Blink video doorbell feels a lot like a Ring doorbell designed to appeal to people who have already bought into the Blink hardware ecosystem. (In other words, current Ring owners won’t need to worry about this.)
[Home-security cameras have become a fruitful resource for law enforcement — and a fatal risk]
That said, Blink’s doorbell seems pretty competitive for the price: it captures 1080p footage of its surroundings day or night, offers two-way audio for chatting people on your doorstep and allows you to define areas where you’d want the camera to detect motion. It’s also worth noting that Blink’s doorbell, which can be installed wirelessly or connected to your home’s wiring, is $10 less than the cheapest doorbell listed on the Ring website.
Amazon is releasing a new version of its privacy-invading Halo wearable, now with a screen added and microphones subtracted. It’s also launching a streaming workout service similar to Apple Fitness.
In many ways, Amazon and Apple are complete opposites when it comes to their hardware events. Apple’s announcements clearly cost more and have higher production value, while Amazon’s are mostly shot on a normal stage surrounded by plants. While Apple is stingy and controlled about what new devices and services it releases, Amazon is always happy to throw out tons of products even if they’re going to fail.
Amazon’s new health band is the most invasive tech we’ve ever tested
But on Tuesday, Amazon was trying to catch up with Apple by expanding its health products. Its Halo View is essentially a FitBit and drops the controversial tone-policing feature of the original Halo, though it’s still available on the smartphone app. It will come with a year-long Halo membership, which will soon include the Halo Fitness streams and even a new nutrition service — so in addition to knowing when you work out or don’t, the company can help keep track of what you’re eating.
Amazon is teaming up with Disney to launch a new customized-voice assistant that answers to “Hey, Disney” (reminiscent of “Hey, Google,” its rival’s wake word).
Disney World Resort hotels will integrate the voice assistant to help park visitors find restaurants, rides and other attractions.
The new library of voices and characters will also be available on Echo devices, allowing users to chat with characters or play trivia games.
It’s a fairly major partnership between the two companies, which compete against each other in the video-streaming world. It’s also the first time Amazon has introduced a new voice assistant.
Amazon’s smart screens haven’t always been much to look at, but its latest — the Amazon Glow — is a little different. For one, it’s meant specifically for kids and the people who want to interact with them. It packs a top-down projector that shoots a virtual, 19-inch touch screen onto the floor or table on which it’s sitting.
Amazon says kids will be able to see “remote loved ones” on an eight-inch screen, while playing on that touch-sensitive space. Meanwhile, the loved ones on the other end of the video call can see what those tots are up to and can interact with them using a dedicated Glow app.
When they are not reading at a distance with grandma, kids will also be able to “scan” toys and other objects to turn them into digital stickers or digital jigsaw puzzles. And in an effort to head off the privacy concerns that come with building connected gadgets specifically for kids, Amazon says the Glow will allow young ones to call only contacts whom parents have specified. (There is a physical shutter parents can close to ensure that the built-in camera doesn’t see anything it shouldn’t.)
[Growing up on screens: How a year lived online has changed our children]
This is easily one of the most unusual hardware projects we’ve seen Amazon take on. If the Glow somehow sounds like a good fit for your home, you’ll able to request an invite to buy the $249 gadget next month.
In an oddly late move, Amazon is finally making its own Nest clone. The smart thermostat is made in combination with Honeywell-maker Resideo and will cost $60, which is on the low end for options on Amazon.com. There are more than 300 results for “smart thermostat” on the site and the low-end prices cost between $80 and $120. That includes Honeywell smart thermostats, which already exist as well. It’s unclear why Amazon took so long to make this, but it fits with its plan to dominate the smart home and lock it into the Amazon ecosystem.
Amazon’s latest Echo Show device is supersized and packs some features that push privacy concerns right to the edge. The 15-inch Echo Show 15 is basically a wall-mounted television. It can be vertical or horizontal and is meant to be a hub for your family life. It has a new look that’s similar to a giant smartphone home screen, covered in widgets like the weather, a digital sticky note and your calendar. It can play TV shows, show family photos, and jot down your reminders.
But here is where it gets weird.
The camera in the Show can recognize you as you walk by, using on-device facial recognition, and change the display to show your own custom home screen. Amazon says the feature is opt-in and you can delete this “digital identity” at any time (yet another thing to do after a breakup). The microphone is always listening, but not just for the wake word “Alexa.” It can be set up to listen for common household noises like a fridge beeping and send you a reminder to shut it.
The device will cost $249 and will be available later this year.
[Alexa has been eavesdropping on you this whole time]
Amazon already leads the smart speaker market, with more than half of all devices shipped during the second quarter of 2021 equipped with the company’s Alexa voice assistant, according to data from IDC. By comparison, devices with Google Assistant comprise about 44 percent of that market, and devices with Apple’s Siri make up 8 percent.
But Google’s updates to its Nest smart cameras and doorbells in August lean into the company’s superior artificial intelligence capabilities, with algorithms that can identify events like package deliveries running right on the device.
Today, Amazon said that the Echo Show 15 — available for $249 later this year — comes with new AI features of its own, including the option to “teach” the Alexa voice assistant to recognize important events in your household, with computer vision and voice recognition processed on device.
When you ask your Amazon Echo to play music by, say, Vulfpeck, a recording of your request gets ferried to Amazon’s cloud where it gets processed. But according to Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, that will soon change — for some people, anyway.
Amazon customers who use the company’s Echo Show 10 and the latest generation Echo smart speaker can “choose to have all their voice requests processed locally on the device,” Limp said, rather than fly off into the cloud. That’s apparently all thanks to Amazon’s AZ1 processor, a custom-designed silicon announced last year that was designed to make Alexa more responsive to your requests.
Limp also noted that Amazon is the first company to offer this more secure kind of voice recognition on smart speakers. Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant have similar on-device recognition capabilities, but they only work on smartphones for now.
Running the show today is Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices & Services. He has been an executive in Amazon’s device group since 2010 and has a long history in developing consumer tech.
Limp began his career at Apple, working in the company’s PowerBook laptop division in the 1980s and ’90s. At the turn of the century, he joined interactive TV start-up Liberate Technologies, where he worked as chief strategy officer. As Liberate faded, Limp moved to Palm, the pioneering handheld digital assistant, working as its chief strategy officer.
Aside from Amazon’s Kindle devices, which predates his arrival, Limp has played a role in the development of nearly every piece of consumer hardware made by the e-commerce giant.
Amazon will probably spend a little over an hour today unveiling a cavalcade of products and services it desperately hopes you’ll embrace. And if last year was any indication, it might be a while before some of them actually appear on the company’s (online) shelves.
In case you weren’t keeping count, three of the gadgets the company first showed off at its 2020 launch event haven’t materialized yet. The Ring Car Alarm was a tiny black dongle that plugs into your car’s OBD port — that’s usually under the steering wheel somewhere — and pings the Ring app if someone bumps the vehicle, breaks in or tries to tow it. The Ring Car Cam, meanwhile, monitors the inside of your car from its perch on your dashboard or windshield. Both were supposed to be released sometime in 2021, so who knows — maybe today’s the day they go on sale.
[How Big Tech got so big: Hundreds of acquisitions]
And the last thing Amazon hasn’t released yet? Its tiny, flying home security camera drone, otherwise known as one of the weirdest things the company revealed in 2020. It was designed to fly around your home in a path you specify and keep an eye out for intruders — and burners you might have left on in the kitchen — but Ring founder Jamie Siminoff never confirmed when it would arrive on the market. Considering how creepy people seemed to find the concept, perhaps Amazon had the good sense to shelve it, but somehow we doubt it.
Amazon’s infomercial Tuesday morning may bear some similarities to the gadget-paloozas that tech rivals such as Apple hold annually.
But for Amazon, there’s an important difference: The company, for the most part, is aiming to make money when consumers use its devices, not when they buy them.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, dubbed that strategy the “Amazon Doctrine” when he introduced it nine years ago at an event rolling out the company’s Kindle tablet devices. The idea, at the time, was that Amazon sold Kindles at close to cost, then persuaded customers to buy books and videos for their devices.
“We don’t need you to be on the upgrade treadmill,” Bezos said at the 2012 event. “If we made our money when people bought the device, we’d be rolling out programs left and right to try to get you to upgrade.”
The model has no doubt evolved as Amazon has acquired hardware companies such as Ring, which makes video doorbells, and Eero, which makes home-networking gear. But Amazon’s Echo devices hook customers with the e-commerce giant’s $119-a-year Prime membership. Echo customers don’t need Prime membership, which offers shipping on most items at no additional cost.
But if Echo customers have it, they also get ad-free access to Amazon Music and streaming programs from Prime Video for their gadgets. And research has shown that Prime members spend nearly twice as much annually on Amazon as shoppers who don’t have Prime.
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