Amazon came out swinging at last week’s annual hardware event with the announcement of a slew of new gadgets due out this fall, including a pen-equipped Kindle, an upgraded Fire TV streaming box, and a bedside clock with contactless sleep sensors.
But the most interesting part of the news wasn’t any individual gadget. Rather, it was the benignity of the products: Instead of seeing flying security-camera drones and virtual barking guard dogs to fend off perceived threats, we got solutions to actual problems, such as poor sleep habits and spotty Wi-Fi. Amazon, it seems, is pivoting away from peddling fear to sell its products, at least for a short while, anyway.
It’s a refreshing change for a company that, for years, has put security and surveillance at the heart of its smart-home efforts, and it shows that the future of technology doesn’t have to be so dystopian.
A new use for Echos
The biggest aha moment comes with Amazon’s new Echo Dot speakers. In addition to the requisite improvements in sound quality, the speakers can serve as Wi-Fi extenders for the company’s Eero mesh routers, with each speaker offering up to 1,000 feet of coverage at speeds up to 100 Mbps. (The same capability will roll out to Amazon’s fourth-generation Echo speakers as well.)
Speaking of Eero routers, Amazon is also adding a feature that lets them relay the signal from a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, such as the one on your phone. If you have a $10 per month Eero Plus subscription, the backup feature will let your whole network stay online even when home internet goes down.
That’s a big shift in focus from a couple of years ago, when Amazon was talking up the ability to simulate dog barks on an Echo speaker when a nearby Ring camera detected an intruder; or from last year, when Amazon was pitching an Eero router that doubled as a Ring alarm system. Instead of trying to shoehorn more esoteric security features into its products, Amazon is honing in on the far more practical problem of shaky Wi-Fi.
Fewer cameras everywhere
Amazon also seems less interested in sticking security cameras into more places, as it notably abstained from doing so in several new products:
- The Halo Rise bedside sleep tracker doesn’t have a camera or even a microphone—a fact that Amazon calls out prominently on its product page.
- The second-gen Echo Auto, which brings Alexa voice control to …….