Amazon doesn’t develop smartphones or PCs, and its tablets lack the widely used Google apps. Nonetheless, the company has built one of the most powerful consumer device ecosystems.
Under the banner of creating personalized, intuitive and active ambient experiences, its technology has begun to enter our lives, starting with smart speakers and delivering Alexa across a wide range of products from its own and other companies.
Over the past few years, such category-stretching products have been included as the wall clock that counts down to Alexa reminders, the Echo Loop Ring, and the recently revived Echo Auto. Even for Big Tech companies, such fights and over-doing are inevitable when trying to create new product categories.
For example, before launching its device on the Pixel smartphone, Google introduced a new type of AI-infused home camera for capturing spontaneous moments called Clips but discontinued it.
At its most recent device launch, however, Amazon demonstrated three approaches to redefining the boundaries of a tech category, each with implications for its market potential.
Extension: Kindle Scribe
In my last column, I wrote about a class of full-featured e-paper tablets that include extensive Android app compatibility. However, there is a group of products that look a lot like these e-paper tablets but that focus more on reading and note-taking.
Last year, for example, Rakuten introduced the Kobo Ellipsa, expanding the e-reader brand with a larger device and enhanced stylus functionality for marking up PDFs or taking notes. Amazon has now followed suit with the Kindle Scribe, expanding its popular e-reader line to become a tablet-sized note-taking device.
In expanding a familiar product line, Amazon gives Kindle fans more reason to keep the Kindle around. Amazon’s devices chief described its new use of Scribe as a replacement for legal pads.
Journaling on Kindle Scribe | Image Credits: Amazon
Neither the Scribe nor the Ellipsa offer the advanced note-taking features that the Onyx Book line or the best iPad apps can provide. However, they’re simpler to use, a bit less expensive, and extend the distraction-free appeal of e-readers to note-taking and annotation.
While the Kobo Ellipsa proved the concept, Amazon’s incredible distribution prowess and the Kindle’s brand recognition should help popularize this significant expansion of the venerable e-reader’s features.
The Swap: Echo Show 15 and Fire TV Omni
Speaking of product line expansions that include a diversion, Amazon also traded in on two of its bigger and newer display-based devices.
The Echo Show 15 is the newest and largest member of the company’s smart display line, marketed as keeping families organized. But its suitability for highly viewable areas within the home prompted the company to add the Fire TV video portal from its TVs and Streaming Stick to the device.
The Echo Show line will also give back to Amazon’s Fire TV product line, and Amazon will be bringing an Echo Show-like Ambient Mode to its high-end Fire TV Omni sets.
Fire TV Omni QLED Series Ambient Experience | Image Credits: Amazon
Amazon isn’t the first company to bring a streaming portal-like experience that isn’t TV. Earlier this year, Samsung brought its streaming portal to its M7 and M8 PC monitors. But with their TV-like 43″ display and 4K resolution, that wasn’t such a stretch.
Samsung has also equipped its TVs with more limited surround experiences, most notably its Frame TV, which displays artwork when movies and shows aren’t being streamed. Coincidentally, that TV looks like a bigger version of the Echo Show 15
The added features won’t be a game changer for the established TV category or the growing smart display category. However, borrowing Amazon’s feature set shows how the company can improve on the Echo Show line’s weak point (streaming channel diversity) while furthering its ambient approach mission in the typically immersive activity of TV watching.
The Splinter: Halo Rise
Amazon’s Halo product line, which focuses on wellness, is the new kid on the company’s device block; The first Halo wearable fitness tracker was launched late last year. However, it didn’t take long for the product line to take a different direction.
While many smartwatches and other wearables track sleep, Amazon has skipped the wrist for its entry into the sleep-tracking market. Halo Rise is placed on a bedside table and uses a mix of ambient radar and machine learning to detect different stages of sleep. This product avoids one of the main drawbacks of tracking sleep with wearable devices, namely, when should you charge them if you’re up all night?
Although sleep tracking may provide insight into improved health, any device placed in the bedroom deserves additional scrutiny in terms of how privacy is protected. Amazon cites several privacy-protecting benefits of its approach. These include keeping the camera and microphone out of the bedroom and a sensing method accurate enough to capture the sleep habits of the person closest to the device.
Halo Rise also includes a gradually brightening light to make waking up easier. However, this isn’t Amazon’s first bedside device. The company has released several smaller Echo Show products, including versions with 5″ and 8″ displays, which follow the closed circular Echo Spot, which act as smart alarm clocks. Lenovo also offers a smartwatch model that integrates with Alexa and others using the Google Assistant.
So, if you want the full functionality of an Echo Show and the Hello Rises to greet you in the morning, things might get a little crowded on your nightstand. In fact, Amazon showed only this combination at the launch presentation. So why weren’t the Echo Show’s features integrated into the Halo Rise?
Echo Show Sleep Data (L) and Hello Rise | Image Credits: Amazon
Pricing, functionality and target customer factors present challenges to this. The radar-equipped Halo Rise will cost $140; That’s quite a premium over, say, the $35 that the Echo Show 5 usually commands. While the Echo Show represents a more information-rich take on the classic alarm clock, the Halo Rise is geared toward people who want to actively monitor their sleep activity and eventually see enough value to pay for a service subscription. Huh.
Also, returning to the privacy mandate, Amazon has taken laudable measures to keep Halo-tracked health information out of the Alexa knowledge graph. While this would still be possible in a combined device, it is easier to express conceptually in separate devices.
Alexa hasn’t been completely turned off from Halo Rise. For example, you can pull up your sleep report on an Echo Show or have an Alexa device play a wake-up song based on Halo Rise’s ideal wake-up time. You can also trigger Alexa bedtime routines, such as going to bed next to Halo Rise and dimming the lights. At some point, though, Amazon may find a way to make the one wake-up alarm ring to rule them all.
Rubin’s Review: Neat Frame
The explosion in hybrid work has prompted many companies to rethink their facilities and many home workers to rethink their setups. The endless barrage of video meetings has shown the value of dedicating a display—preferably the one hosting the webcam—for apps like Zoom or Teams, while the other monitor hosts the content shared on the call.
The Neat Frame is a roughly $2,500 dedicated video call device that runs Team Rooms or Zoom Rooms. According to the rules set by the conferencing software vendors, you must restart to switch between them.
Unlike most displays, its 15.6″ screen is fixed in portrait orientation, which brings the webcam down to eye level, so there’s no need to use a stand to prop it up, as is the case with many laptops Is. Neat includes an upgraded speaker for loud, clear audio that reverberates across the room and a microphone that the company has enhanced with noise-canceling intelligence.
neat frame | Image credits: Neat
As a dedicated device, the frame provides better reliability, readiness, and security than using a single PC. The product’s audiovisual features and face-framing orientation make it ideal for face-to-face video calls; It is especially suitable for use in in-office phone booths for taking private calls.
However, while portrait orientation reduces desktop footprint, it is not suitable for sharing screen content, which typically has landscape orientation. Speaking of which, since it’s a standalone device, fetching content from another PC involves a different step versus the native PC client.
Neat says that Microsoft has integrated integration with the desktop version of Teams that enables it; However, an organizational account is required to use any Team Room device such as the Neat Frame. Free accounts are not supported.
Accepting video input so it can serve as a second display will also make it more versatile for home users, as will the ability to pivot the device from landscape to portrait orientation – even if the camera is only on top in portrait orientation are.
The Neat Frame is an example of a great purpose-built device that brings a more natural feel to the often-awkward ergonomics of video calling. Still, most home users would be better served by a more generalized second screen.