Amazon on Wednesday unveiled a collection of product updates that combine a broad suite of services and help ensure it stays at the center of people’s lives and homes.
Nearly a year after Amazon (AMZN) faced criticism for its controversial vision of the future of home security, the company is doubling up the new features of Astro, a dog-like robot to help it better patrol the home when owners are away. Amazon (AMZN) also announced a new sleep tracker, as well as an updated Alexa-powered Fire TV that knows when you’re in the room, among many other products.
The new updates, announced at an invitation-only press event, come a week after the company launched four new Fire HD 8 tablet models, and appear to be designed to spark the excitement of its products ahead of such an important holiday shopping season.
Amazon, like other tech companies, needs to convince customers to upgrade or buy new gadgets at a time when fears of a possible global recession are mounting. At the same time, Amazon also has to face changing levels of comfort with increasing reach in consumers’ lives and how closely household products can follow them.
Last month, Amazon agreed to buy iRobot, the company behind the popular Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners, for $ 1.7 billion, which quickly raised concerns. The Federal Trade Commission is now investigating the deal after more than two dozen groups wrote to the agency claiming the acquisition could help Amazon “solidify its monopoly power in the digital economy.”
Amazon made no mention of Roomba at its Wednesday event, but Amazon clearly remains committed to investing in making each home a little more of Amazon’s home.
Here’s a look at what the company announced:
Amazon introduces the first major software update for Astro, a stand-alone, 20kg dog-like robot with large, cartoon-like eyes on the tablet’s face and a cup holder. The robot – like Alexa on Wheels – uses voice recognition software, cameras, artificial intelligence, mapping technology, and voice and face recognition sensors as it moves from room to room, capturing live video and learning your habits.
Soon Astro will be able to detect cats and dogs in the house, make short video clips of what they do when their owners are not around, and watch and talk to them in real time. Amazon is also adding the ability to monitor whether windows or doors are open, based on what the company says users have already been doing, such as checking that the stove has been turned on.
Amazon also opens up Astro to the developer community by offering tools that allow them to create software or specific commands for a robot. Astro will now work with a real-time subscription service from Ring, Amazon’s smart ring company, to provide security monitoring for SMBs.
The company stressed that Astro was conceived with security and privacy as a priority, with data processed on the device itself and the ability to limit where Astro can go at home.
Astro is currently available for $ 999, which includes a six-month free trial of Ring Protect Pro. (Prices will jump to $ 1,499 later.)
Amazon has unveiled a new series of Fire TV Omni QLED models – the first Fire TV with Dolby Vision IQ.
Thanks to adaptive technology, 4K TVs know when you enter and leave the room, saving energy and turning off when needed. It also includes a gallery of 1,500 curated photos that can be viewed when not in use – a concept similar to Samsung’s existing Frame TVs.
Its deeper integration with Alexa can be a real standout: thanks to the built-in microphones, users can access widgets such as sticky notes, calendar, weather or dim the lights by talking directly to the TV. The 65-inch model costs $ 799, while the 75-inch model costs $ 1,099.
Amazon is also introducing a premium remote, called Alexa Voice Remote Pro, which includes a feature that makes it easy to find when the remote is lost.
Amazon is expanding its Halo wellness suite beyond wearables to include sleep tracking. The new Halo Rise sits on the bedside table and monitors the sleeping and breathing patterns of the loved one. It also tracks room humidity and light and provides natural light to wake up as an alternative to an alarm.
According to the company, the device, which uses sensor technology and machine learning to approach sleep, works even when a person is turned in the opposite direction or covered with pillows and blankets, as it can detect micromovements.
Amazon said it has developed the product to offer consumers more choice when it comes to sleep tracking, noting that many people do not like to sleep with their wearable device, and the batteries often turn off in the middle of the sleep cycle.
Halo Rise costs $ 139.99 and includes a six-month Halo Membership that provides you with training, information, and health monitoring tools.
Fifteen years after the launch of the Kindle, Amazon introduces a higher version that also serves as a typing device.
Featuring a 10.2-inch HD display and the first ever Kindle stylus, the Kindle Scribe allows users to write to-do lists, journal entries, and view documents imported from their phone. Amazon said it will work with Microsoft early next year to support its product suite on the Kindle Scribe.
The new Kindle supports USB-C charging and has a battery designed to last for months. The device starts at $ 339 with a pen and 16GB of memory and costs $ 369 for a premium pen and 32GB. (The company didn’t go into details about the premium pen.) By comparison, the entry-level Kindle starts at $ 99, while its higher-end Kindle Oasis costs $ 249.
Amazon has updated its Echo Dot speaker line. The new devices have twice the bass, updated processors, and can serve 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 incorporate new surround sound processing and improve audio quality. The speaker, which costs $ 199, now comes in white.
The company is also making another attempt to get Alexa into the car. His Echo Auto device ($ 54.99) is now smaller, sleeker, and easier to mount in a vehicle. The gadget is designed to allow users to send hands-free messages, listen to music and podcasts, access navigation and seamlessly transfer from the car to another device after returning home.
Amazon has also announced a series of software updates that will arrive on the existing Echo Show 15, a device the company says is particularly popular in the kitchen.
The update includes free access to Fire TV and a much more personal Alexa. The voice assistant can now speak the morning routine to everyone in the house, including providing calendar updates, playing specific music, and highlighting traffic reports for commuters.
Other new features include receiving alerts of weather forecast changes; the ability to record video messages that can be viewed on the Echo Show screen or via the Alexa app; asking Alexa to dim the lights for 24 hours in the future; and be notified when your Whole Foods Market curb pickup order is ready. Updates will be rolled out in the coming months.
The Echo Show also gets an interactive storytelling feature that allows children to choose from several themes such as an underwater or space adventure, and characters such as an octopus or an astronaut to create a story that is instantly animated on the display of the gadget and told Alexa. The plot is generated using a series of AI models that define the elements, including script and music, making it different every time.
“Amazon has been investing in embedding more intelligence in its Alexa devices for some time now, and the potential to extend that capability to include greater system-wide intelligence is significant,” said Jonathan Collins, research director at ABI Research. “New functionality, including the Routine feature, can make Amazon smart home systems more intelligent, responsive and helpful, and more closely integrated with other Amazon offerings from grocery shopping and more.”
Rachel Metz of CNN Business contributed to this report