Amazon on Wednesday unveiled a collection of product updates that tie together its wide range of services and help ensure it remains at the center of people’s lives and homes.
Nearly a year after Amazon was criticized for its controversial vision for the future of home security, the company is doubling down on new features for Astro, its dog-like robot, to help it patrol better in the house when the owners are away. Amazon also announced a new sleep tracker as well as an Alexa-powered Fire TV update that knows when you’re in the room, among a number of other products.
The new updates, announced at an invite-only press event, come a week after the company introduced four new Fire HD 8 tablet models and appear to be aimed at drumming up excitement for its products ahead of the all-important holiday shopping season, CNN reported.
Amazon, like other tech companies, must convince customers to upgrade or buy new gadgets at a time of growing fears of a possible global recession. At the same time, Amazon also has to deal with changing comfort levels with its growing reach into consumers’ lives and the closeness with which its household products can keep up with them.
Last month, Amazon agreed to buy iRobot, the company behind popular Roomba automated vacuums, in a $1.7 billion deal that quickly sparked concerns. The Federal Trade Commission is now investigating the deal after more than two dozen groups wrote to the agency alleging the acquisition could help Amazon “strengthen its monopoly power in the digital economy.”
Amazon didn’t mention the Roomba at Wednesday’s event, but Amazon clearly remains committed to investing in making every home a little more of an Amazon home.
Here’s a look at what the company announced:
Amazon is rolling out its first major software update for Astro, a 20-pound dog-like autonomous robot with big cartoon eyes on its tablet face and a cup holder. The robot – much like an Alexa on wheels – uses voice recognition software, cameras, artificial intelligence, mapping technology and voice and facial recognition sensors as it zooms from room to room, capturing live video and learning your habits.
Soon Astro will be able to detect cats and dogs in the home, take short video clips of what they do when the owners aren’t around, watch them and talk to them in real time. Amazon is also adding the ability to monitor whether windows or doors are left open, building on what the company said users have already done, such as checking to see if the stove has been left on.
Amazon also opens up Astro to the developer community by offering tools that allow them to create specific software or commands for the robotic puppy. And Astro will now work with a real-time subscription service from Amazon’s smart doorbell company, Ring, to provide security monitoring for small and medium-sized businesses.
The company pointed out that Astro was designed with security and privacy as a priority, with data processed on the device itself and the ability to restrict where Astro can go in the home.
Astro is currently available for $999, which includes a six-month free trial of Ring Protect Pro. (The price will later increase to $1,499.)
Amazon has unveiled a new series of Fire TV Omni QLED models – the first Fire TV to come with Dolby Vision IQ.
Using adaptive technology, 4K TVs know when you’re entering and leaving a room, so they can save power and turn off when needed. It also offers a gallery of 1,500 curated images that can be displayed when not in use – a similar concept to Samsung’s existing Frame TVs.
Its deeper integration with Alexa could be a real standout: with its built-in microphones, users can access widgets such as sticky notes, calendar, weather or dim the lights by speaking directly to the TV. A 65-inch model costs $799 and a 75-inch version costs $1,099.
Amazon is also rolling out a premium remote, called the Alexa Voice Remote Pro, which includes functionality to make it easier to find when the remote is misplaced.
Amazon is expanding its suite of Halo wellness products beyond wearables into sleep tracking. The new Halo Rise sits on the bedside table and monitors the sleep and breathing patterns of the closest person. It also tracks humidity and light in the room and features natural light to wake up to as an alternative to an alarm.
The device, which uses sensor technology and machine learning to tackle sleep, works even if the person is turned the other way around or covered in pillows and blankets, as it can detect micro-movements, depending on the company.
Amazon said it developed the product to give consumers more choices when it comes to sleep tracking, noting that many people don’t like sleeping with a wearable device and the batteries often die in the middle of the sleep cycle.
Halo Rise costs $139.99 and includes a six-month Halo subscription, which provides workouts, insights, and health tracking tools.
Fifteen years after the launch of the Kindle, Amazon introduces a high-end version that doubles as a writing device.
With a 10.2-inch HD display and its first-ever Kindle stylus, the Kindle Scribe lets users write to-do lists, journal entries, and review documents imported from their phone. Amazon has announced that it will partner with Microsoft to support its product suite on the Kindle Scribe early next year.
The new Kindle supports USB-C charging and has a battery designed to last for months. The device starts at $339 with a stylus and 16GB of storage and costs $369 for a premium stylus and 32GB. (The company didn’t go into detail about the premium stylus.) By comparison, a base Kindle starts at $99, while its top-end Kindle Oasis costs $249.
New Echo speakers
Amazon has updated its line of Echo Dot speakers. The new devices feature twice the bass, updated processors, and can act as a Wi-Fi extender for the company’s Eero mesh system. Amazon is also rolling out a software update to its high-end Echo Studio speaker to include new spatial audio processing and improve sound quality. The speaker, which retails for $199, is now available in white.
The company is also trying to get Alexa in the car. Its Echo Auto ($54.99) device is now smaller, sleeker, and can be mounted more easily in a vehicle. The gadget is intended to allow users to send hands-free messages, listen to music and podcasts, access navigation and seamlessly switch from the car to another device when returning home .
A smarter Echo Show 15
Amazon also announced a number of software updates for its existing Echo Show 15, a device the company says is particularly popular in the kitchen.
The upgrade includes free access to Fire TV and a much more personal Alexa. The voice assistant can now initiate a morning routine for each person at home, including providing calendar updates, playing specific music and highlighting traffic reports for commuters.
Other new features include receiving alerts for weather forecast changes; the ability to record video messages that can be viewed on the Echo Show screen or through the Alexa app; ask Alexa to dim the lights for up to 24 hours in the future; and receive updates on when a Whole Foods Market curbside pickup order is ready. Updates will be rolled out in the coming months.
The Echo Show also benefits from an interactive storytelling feature that lets kids choose from a handful of themes, such as an underwater or space adventure, and characters like an octopus or an astronaut, to create a story. which is immediately animated on the screen of the gadget. and narrated by Alexa. The story is generated using a number of AI models that determine things like the storyline and the music, making it different every time.
“Amazon has been investing in building more intelligence into its Alexa devices for some time now and the ability to extend that capability to greater system-wide intelligence is significant,” said Jonathan Collins, director of research at the market research firm ABI Research. “A new feature, including its Routines feature, could help make Amazon’s smart home systems more intelligent, responsive and useful, and more tightly integrated with other Amazon offerings from grocery and beyond.”
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