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Amazon’s New Fall Gadgets

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Amazon made a splash at last week’s annual hardware event announcing a slew of new gadgets coming this fall, including a pen-equipped Kindle, an upgraded Fire TV streaming box, and a bedside table with contactless sleep sensors.

But the most interesting part of the news was not an individual gadget. Rather, it was the goodness of the products: Instead of flying drones with security cameras and virtual barking watchdogs to fend off perceived threats, we got solutions to real-world problems, like poor sleep habits and spotty Wi-Fi. It seems that Amazon is turning away from venting fear to sell its products, at least for a short while.

It’s a refreshing change for a company that has put security and surveillance at the heart of its smart-home efforts for years, and it shows that the future of technology doesn’t have to be so dystopian.

A new application for Echos

The biggest aha moment comes with Amazon’s new Echo Dot speakers. In addition to the required improvements in sound quality, the speakers can serve as Wi-Fi extenders for the company’s Eero mesh routers, with each speaker providing up to 300 meters of coverage at speeds of up to 100 Mbps. (The same capability will also be rolled out to Amazon’s fourth-generation Echo speakers.)

Speaking of Eero routers, Amazon is also adding a feature that allows them to relay the signal from a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, such as the one on your phone. If you’re on a $10-per-month Eero Plus plan, the backup feature will keep your entire network online, even if the internet goes down at home.

That’s a big shift in focus from a few years ago when Amazon talked about the ability to… simulate dog barking on an Echo speaker when a nearby Ring camera detected an intruder; or from last year, when Amazon threw out an Eero router that doubled as a Ring alarm system. Rather than trying to introduce more esoteric security features into its products, Amazon is working on the much more practical problem of shaky Wi-Fi.

Fewer cameras everywhere

Amazon also seems less interested in putting security cameras in more places, as it has notably refrained from doing so in several new products:

  • The Halo Rise bedside sleep tracker doesn’t have a camera or even a microphone — a fact Amazon mentions prominently on its product page.
  • the second generation Echo Autobringing Alexa voice control to car stereo systems has a new design and better mounting system, but still no camera for your dash.
  • The new Fire TV Cube and Fire TV Omni smart TVs remain camera-free. If you want to use them for Zoom calls, you need to connect your own external USB camera.

None of this would be remarkable if Amazon hadn’t been so fixated on smarthome cameras in previous years. For example, in 2020 the company introduced a new Echo show 10 smart display with a rotating screen and camera that can record video when you are not there. A Update “Home Monitoring” followed last year for the Echo Show 5 and 8, turning them into stationary home monitoring devices.

That’s not to say Amazon is leaving home security; the newly announced Blink Floodlight and Ring Spotlight cameras suggest otherwise. But even those products are just variations on previous models, and the Ring home security drone and car dashboard camera — first announced in 2020 — remain no-shows.

Looking for a new glue

Why was Amazon pushing so hard on security and monitoring in the first place? Perhaps because it was looking for better ways to monetize its range of smart-home devices. Although the company has sold over 100 million Alexa devices over the years, people have reportedly not used them for much more than basic tasks, such as music or alarms.

With home security, the company may have seen an opportunity to make its ecosystem stickier and sell more home monitoring service subscriptions. In addition to Ring’s own protection plansFor example, Amazon offers a Alexa-specific subscription for motion-activated dog barks and sirens, along with access to an emergency helpline.

Still, all that surveillance isn’t much use on a day-to-day basis, and it exposed Amazon’s lack of ingenuity. By contrast, turning Echo speakers into Wi-Fi extenders, using an Echo Show to get sleep reports from the Halo Rise, and even bringing the Fire TV interface to the Echo Show 15 will give Amazon’s customers more usability and make them want to use more Amazon products together.

While other companies, like Apple, are discovering the power of fear-peddling as a way to make the ecosystem sticky, Amazon is surprisingly showing a better way forward.

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