There were the things everyone expected to see at Amazon’s hardware event on Thursday (Sept. 24), like new Echo devices and Fire TV upgrades. And then there were the things no one was expecting that showed up anyway, like a flying drone designed to robotically monitor a home’s security.
Amazon became the latest Big Tech player to roll out its slate of pre-holiday shopping offerings, with the new hardware pulling double duty on buzz building. After all, not only is the holiday shopping season approaching, but so is Amazon’s delayed Prime Day, which the tech giant moved from July to Oct. 13-14 due to the pandemic.
What caught the world’s attention as Amazon introduced a big year-end line-up?
Surprise Of The Day: The Luna Gaming Service
Amazon unveiled its new Luna cloud-gaming platform, the latest entrant into a field that already includes Google’s Stadia service, Microsoft’s xCloud and Apple’s Arcade.
Slated to go live with early access by invitation in early October, Luna will have a subscription that starts at $5.99 a month. Amazon rolled out Luna and its controller hardware at Thursday’s event.
Luna will be available on Fire TV, PCs, Macs and iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads. It won’t initially roll out with Android availability, although Amazon execs said Android users will have access to the system within weeks of launch. And for iOS users, Luna won’t be available via the Apple App Store, but instead only in the browser.
“We'll continue working with Apple,” Luna chief Marc Whitten told Engadget. “We'd love to do a native experience. They're evaluating what their policies are... And when we can come up with a good experience there, we'll ship that one, too.”
Luna will launch with about 100 titles available for play. The service will also eventually include access to channels with curated content for an as-yet undisclosed price.
That approach — additional access to channel offerings — seems to be taking a page from how Amazon Prime offers video streaming. But Whitten said it’s still a work in process.
“You may even see other types of channels like a genre-based channel or other ways to think about specific pieces of content that might be very attractive to a certain set of customers,” he told Endgadget.
On the hardware side, Amazon also rolled out a roughly $50 Luna controller that bears something of a resemblance both physically and technologically to the Google Stadia controller. However, it connects directly to the cloud to interact with games as opposed to using Bluetooth as a weigh station.
Luna will support standard Bluetooth controllers as well, but Amazon said the best performance will come from using its purpose-built hardware.
All The New Echos
There were so many new Echos unveiled — the Fourth Gen, the Fourth Gen Dot, the Echo Dot Kids Edition, the Dot with a Clock and a very sci-fi-looking Echo Show 10. Rounded shapes were a theme in this year's Echo devices, included to make Echos more compatible with room acoustics.
Layered over the spherical design, the kids' Echo starts at $60 and includes features like Sidekick, which enables Alexa to read youngsters stories. It also has an eye-catching animal-themed design. (The panda was particularly popular with commentators.) It seems likely the kids editions will find itself stuffed into a lot of stockings this Christmas.
As for the new Echo Show 10, that has a screen mounted such that it can pivot in the direction of the person that’s speaking to it. The device also has expanded display capabilities, with Zoom calls and Netflix screenings added to the list.
Amazon also announced a series of improvements to its voice-activated Alexa, including upgraded “hunches” — where Alexa suggests an activity to a user like locking their front door.
Enhanced security features include a new $4.99-a-month subscription service called Alexa Guard Plus that includes more robust security monitoring, including a new sound sensor system. The system will also allow Alexa to take action, such as playing the sounds of dogs barking if it perceives a security threat. There’s also a new hands-free emergency help line run by a third-party company that will connect users to the police, the fire department or emergency contacts.
Alexa will also be able to interact with users more conversationally with a back-and-forth element, instead of users continually having to ask Alexa questions. Users can also instruct Alexa to delete everything they’ve ever said and facilitate video- or voice-driven group calls with up to eight participants. The device will also adjust responses when it perceives it’s talking to a child.
Additionally, Alexa has added an “Events Near Me” function, which allows the artificial intelligence (AI) assistant to guide users to a list of nearby events. The new feature is powered by demand intelligence company PredictHQ.
The Ring Always Home Flying Sentry
Amazon’s Ring home security system is getting several upgrades, most of which are fairly incremental and in line with what’s come before.
But very new to the line-up is the Ring Always Home Cam, a little drone-mounted camera that patrols the halls of one's home to make sure that thieves haven’t infiltrated when homeowners are away. The $250 floating sentry will fly a programmed path, staying out of rooms where it’s not wanted and even landing itself on a charger when it knows it needs a battery boost.
Which Products Will Conquer The Holiday Shopping Season?
Will a camera-equipped drone with a security mission become the hottest seller of the holiday season? Probably not, but the new Alexa in the sleek spherical new Echo design will certainly turn some heads.
And as for Luna, we imagine its future will be one of “wait and see.” Everyone wants to rule the gaming world these days, but nothing will be known until players pick a favorite device or system.