This week Amazon held its Amazon Devices & Services Event, where it announced many exciting devices to build on its home ecosystem. Last week I wrote about Microsoft's Surface event, which you can read about here. What was great about the Surface event is that Microsoft released Surface devices that were to show OEMs its vision for Windows 11. I say this because, similarly, Amazon's new devices are the best of Amazon's Alexa ecosystem and push the consumer smart home to the next level of convenience and intelligence.
You can read about my coverage of Alexa Live earlier this year here, which gave us a glimpse of Amazon's direction of the future of voice with Alexa. The direction of Alexa's ambient experience is to be ubiquitous, multimodal, and smarter. Let's take a look at Amazon's new devices and services that enhance the smart home to ambiently keep us present with the people and things that matter most.
Amazon Echo Show 15
One of the unique qualities about Moor Insights & Strategy is that we have real experience in the industry, and it can give us a leg up. However, I am also a consumer, and I have a family, so I can look at these consumer products through the lens of, well, a consumer. When I think of a smart home hub, what are features and capabilities that enhance the user experience (UX) and make it overall convenient? This question is a loaded one, but I imagine it being able to connect all of my edge devices, family members, and life experiences. I say all this to point out that the new Amazon Echo Show 15 fulfills all the expectations of being, as Amazon calls it, "the heart of your home." Let's run through the Amazon Echo Show 15 and all its new features.
The Amazon Echo Show 15 has a 15.6-inch 1080p Full HD display mounted to a wall or placed on the counter. It looks elegant enough to blend into most home décor and adaptable enough to display family photos or custom wall art. It is built with Amazon's next-generation AZ2 Neural Edge processor to complement some new Alexa software capabilities like Visual ID. Visual ID allows the Amazon Echo Show 15 to detect using machine learning and then personalizes Amazon Echo Show 15. It reminds me of Voice ID in Amazon Connect. I'm assuming there is some overlap in machine learning technology, and with the AZ2 Neural Engine, Visual ID should live up to its promises. Users can teach Alexa personal information to give you a personal experience when you ask Alexa something.
Amazon Echo Show 15 has Amazon's new widgets announced at Alexa live to become what Amazon calls the family organizer. It has a new UI that combines the traditional cards from past Echo Shows with new widgets like a family calendar, sticky notes for family members, and a smart home widget. Users can view home cameras while using other apps and can stream content, including newly announced Sling support. The new Amazon Echo Show 15 embodies a lot of the ambient home experience that makes it the home's heart. It keeps the family connects while also giving family members a personal experience, and it connects the home together by being a central hub. I'm excited to get my hands on this device and, even though all my kids have left the nest, I would like to try it out with my family.
I had the chance to use the Echo Show 15 for a few weeks and I was impressed with the speed, accuracy and personalization based on the visual login. My wife and I used it in the kitchen in a stand and used it primarily for grocery lists, fun notes back and forth and even help with cooking and recipes.
The Echo Show 15 goes on sale for $249.99
Amazon announced a new device for kids called Amazon Glow. Amazon Glow is a long vertical device with a large 8-inch display, a camera, and a projector that projects a 19-inch interactive space in front of the device. While kids use, Amazon Glow remote callers can interact with the kids using a tablet or other device. It has large kid-friendly buttons and a reasonably sized speaker. If you did not have the device on, you could fool me into thinking it was another Echo Show device—this is how good-looking it is. It has a privacy shutter for cameras and mics, parental controls, and settings to call only preset contacts.
The idea behind Amazon Glow is that it understands that video call is here to stay, and kids experience video calls just as much as adults do with family and loved ones. It has created a device that makes the entire video call scene interactive and collaborative with loved ones. The cameras allow kids to scan their favorite toys and put them digitally as s stickers. Amazon Glow interacts with physical objects as well as digital objects. It has interactive content from Disney, Mattel, Nickelodeon, and Sesame Workshop.
As a father of three with all my kids out of the home, I understand as a parent the desire to put the right tools and content in front of our kids. With that being said, I think there can be digital content that isn't great for kids to experience and become addicted to—understanding that TVs, smartphones, and the internet can negatively impact us if we don't use them correctly. With all that being said, I see what Amazon is doing with the devices it makes for our kids and am grateful. The Amazon Glow creates an interactive experience for kids with learning, creation, and collaboration, and it does it with its goal to be ambient. What is Amazon looking for kids to consume with this device? It is looking for kids to consume better video call interactions with the people and things that matter most. If you follow this area closely like I do then you may also see this as an HP Sprout for kids and families at 10% of the price.
Amazon Glow goes on sale for $249.99.
Halo was launched last year, and Halo View is Amazon's new fitness tracker with a new AMOLED display. The first Halo fitness tracker did not have a display, and this new tracker gives Halo users the option of a display to look at health metrics and other Halo experiences. I used my Halo 1.0 for a while but it quickly lost some relevance for me as it didn’t do anything new for me that my Apple Watch or Oura Ring didn’t. But then again, most normal people don’t wear two wearables already. It has an all-week battery and a swim-proof design.
The value behind the new fitness tracker is the Halo Fitness service included in the Halo membership. Halo Fitness has hundreds of studio-quality workouts that are integrated with Halo hardware. It also has another new service called Halo Nutrition that introduces personalized tools for better eating habits. I think Halo View has an advantage over other fitness trackers like FitBit based on its integration with other Alexa devices. The Halo Nutrition service also stands out to me because eating healthy is just as much a part of staying healthy as working out is.
Halo View goes on sale for $79.99 and includes a year of the service.
Amazon also announced new Ring devices that further protect the home. Ring announced this year's Always Home Cam that doesn't need cameras around the house to be connected to and can be flown anywhere in a home. You can read about my take on last year’s Always Home Cam here. It also announced a new Ring Alarm Pro that doubles as a WiFi 6 router, including internet backup if the internet ever goes down. It also has a microSD card slot that lets users store videos locally rather than in the cloud.
Amazon announced a new Ring Jobsite Security kit that, in partnership with Home Dept, brings security to job sites with a Ring Alarm Pro. With a Ring Protection Plan, it can work off of a cellular-only plan and uses solar power or battery. I think this is a neat application for the Ring Alarm Pro and one that shows Amazon’s verticalization for security. Most job sites have little to no security and are common places for theft and burglary. Ring Jobsite Security looks versatile enough to work for various job sites, and I think this is a win for our blue-collar workers. Alongside Ring Jobsite Security, it also announced Ring Virtual Security Guard, which is a third-party service for monitoring a user's eligible outdoor security cameras. I find it interesting that Amazon is farming out the service to a third party; probably to deflect some of the fear behind Amazon and privacy. It can be used with the Ring Jobsite Security or a home. For those who desire the extra level of security and monitoring, I think this is a useful service. Amazon is good at bringing services to scale, and I think professional monitoring is right down its ally.
First of its kind consumer robot
The biggest announcement of Amazon's is its intelligent home robot called Astro. Astro is a tiny robot on three wheels with a large 10.1-inch display. It has multiple sensors and cameras, including a navigation sensor and obstacle sensor at the front, a display camera, and a stereo depth sensor above the display. The periscope cam comes out of the top of Astro and allows Astro to extend its camera view to higher places.
I think we have to stretch our minds to see how we implement this kind of new technology into our lives because, frankly, a home robot can be futuristically daunting. I think the idea of a home robot assistant has been in our future for quite some time. Keep in mind that in designing Astro, Amazon had the same goal to create an ambient digital assistant. Astro is no different in this goal, and Amazon says it's more than just an Alexa on wheels.
Amazon has had to put a ton of engineering into this device to allow for autonomous movement, home mapping, and visual understanding. Alongside these attributes and the personality it has given it even though it is still a part of the Alexa ecosystem, Astro looks to be a great home companion. He has the ability to move around objects and to keep a safe distance from people, pets, and stairs. You can ask Astro to follow you or to deliver a message to someone else, and he will hang out around the house until needed. All of this Amazon has designed for him to intelligently move around the house.
I have seen other news media platforms try to fear monger people on Astro, so I would like to extinguish whatever doubts and fears these misinformed articles might have said. Some tech publications released an article about unreleased documents claiming Astro is nothing more than a "sentry" device used by Amazon to spy on its customers and a flawed robot with problems.
Its first concern is that "leaked" documentation calls Astro a sentry in that it patrols the home looking for unfamiliar people and looking and listening for unusual activity. I hope this is true because that is exactly one of Astro's functions is to patrol the home with Ring Protect Pro. You would have to be intentionally pushing fear into people's lives to write an article thinking anything different. With Ring Protect Pro, Astro can be scheduled to make autonomous patrols, and you can configure Astro to investigate detected events and save video from investigations in Ring's cloud storage.
Another concern is that developers said that the Astro is flawed and sometimes throws itself down the stairs. These concerns are easily dismissable since developers usually get early releases of these products. Considering Dave Limp, senior president of Devices and Services at Amazon, mentioned that he has had Astro in his personal home for over a year. AI and machine learning take time to develop, and it makes total sense that Astro's AI and ML were not fully realized pre-release.
The last concern is that Astro has no concern for a user's privacy and must function off of customer behavior. While the goal of Astro is to be an ambient intelligent robot, collecting data from its users is justified. Amazon says that Astro is built with multiple layers of privacy controls in the companion app as on Astro itself. There should be as much concern for privacy with Astro as there is with other devices in the Alexa ecosystem. We know these boundaries and privacy measures, and so does Amazon.
The Astro goes on sale for $999.99 and then $1,499.99 after the introductory period.
My biggest takeaway from the Amazon event was just how much more seriously Amazon is taking the smart home compared to other companies in the smart home space. The home can be a private place as well as a place to be hospitable and personal. With its new line of devices, I think Amazon has nailed it on the ambient experience with devices that are ubiquitous, multimodal, and smarter.
I think Astro, the first home robot, is going to be a test as to whether we are ready for intelligent robot assistants for the consumer in our homes. I see Astro in the home as not that much different from a robot vacuum cleaner but at the same time a life changer. Good job, Amazon.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.