Amazon’s Echo Show adds more accessibility features, including ‘Gestures’ and text-to-speech

Amazon today is introducing a small handful of new features for its digital assistant Alexa that aim to make the device more accessible. The company is launching two new ways to interact with Alexa without speaking including support for Gestures on Echo Show devices that will users to interact with the device by raising their hand — something that can also come in handy for anyone using Echo while cooking who want to quickly dismiss a timer without having to speak. In addition, Amazon is rolling out text-to-speech options and a way to turn on all closed captioning features at once across devices.

The new features are the latest to arrive in a push to make Alexa a more accessible tool, and follow the fall launch of a “Tap to Alexa” option for Fire tablets that allow users to interact with the voice assistant without speaking.

With Gestures, Amazon says users will be able to hold up their hand — palm facing the camera — to dismiss timers on the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen.) or 10 (3rd Gen) devices. Beyond enabling nonverbal customers to use the device, Amazon also envisions a common scenario where users in the kitchen are cooking while listening to music and don’t want to have to scream over their tunes to be heard by Alexa or touch the screen with messy hands. The gesture could give them an easier way to interact with Alexa, in that case.

Gestures are not enabled by default — you’ll have to visit Settings, then Device Options to access the option. (Presumably, by calling it “Gestures” and not “Gesture,” Amazon has other plans in store for this feature down the road.)

To work, Gestures uses on-device processing to detect the presence of a raised hand during an active timer, Amazon said. Users will not have to enroll in other visual identification features like Visual ID, the Echo Show’s facial recognition system, to use it.

The company is also launching text-to-speech functionality to the new Tap To Alexa feature, which today provides customers with a dashboard of Alexa commands on the Echo’s screen which they can tap to launch. With text-to-speech, customers will now be able to type out phrases on an on-screen keyboard to have them spoken aloud by their Echo Show. These commands can also be saved as shortcut tiles and customized with their own icon and colors.

The feature aims to help customers with speech disabilities, or who are nonverbal or nonspeaking who can use text-to-speech to communicate with others in their home, for example by typing out “I’m hungry.”

Image Credits: Amazon

The third new addition is called Consolidated Captions, and allows customers to turn on Call CaptioningClosed Captioning, and Alexa Captions at once across all their supported Echo Show devices. This enables customers to turn on captions for things like Alexa calls and captions for Alexa’s responses, which helps those who deaf, hard of hearing, or who are using Alexa in loud or noisy environments, Amazon says.

This feature is enabled by tapping Settings, then Accessibility, and selecting “Captions.”

Image Credits: Amazon

The new features come at a time when Amazon is trying to determine how to proceed with Alexa, whose division at the company saw significant layoffs and, per an Insider report, is said to be on pace to lose Amazon around $10 billion this year as opportunities to monetize the platform, like voice apps known as Skills, have failed to gain traction with consumers. Alexa owners also tend to only use the device for basic tasks, like playing music, operating smart home devices, using timers and alarms, and getting weather information, among other things.

More recently, Amazon has been positioning its Echo Show devices as more of a family hub or alternative to the kitchen TV. Its wall-mounted Echo Show 15, for example, offers widgets for things like to-do lists and shopping lists and just rolled out Fire TV streaming.

Amazon says the new Echo Show features are rolling out now.

Amazon’s Echo Show adds more accessibility features, including ‘Gestures’ and text-to-speech by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon’s new Alexa feature uses AI to create animated kids’ stories on Echo Show

Amazon announced today the launch of “Create with Alexa,” a new AI tool for kids that generates animated stories. The company first revealed the feature in September. “Create with Alexa” launched in the U.S. today, November 29, across supported Echo Show devices and is available in English.

To craft a story, a child says, “Alexa, make a story,” and then answers prompts, the company explains in its blog post. The child selects from three themes: “space exploration,” “underwater” or “enchanted forest,” and then chooses the story’s hero, a color scheme and adjectives like “silly,” “happy” or “mysterious.”

The AI then generates a five-to-ten-line story based on the answers. The story comes with a background image, animations, sound effects, music and more. Amazon claims that the story will be different every time, even if the same child chooses the same exact prompts.

Users can also save the story in their personal media gallery and replay it whenever they want. Soon, they’ll be able to share the story with their family and friends, Amazon added.

Image Credits: Amazon

Nico Bishop, a UX designer, said that Alexa’s AI-assisted story creation would evolve over time. “Kids will want to be able to say, ‘I want to see a wall of chocolate,’ and soon we expect we’ll be able to do that,” Bishop said in a statement. She also noted that the company is working to improve graphic latency, sound effects and music capabilities.

“We envision a world where anyone can bring their ideas to life in the form of digital creations just by using a few spoken words,” said Eshan Bhatnagar, head of product for Alexa AI. “And Alexa will be right with them, assisting them as their co-creator.”

Some AI art systems like Stable Diffusion lack safeguards, making it easy for users to generate inappropriate artwork. However, Amazon’s “Create with Alexa” is targeted toward young kids, so there are content filters in place, Bhatnagar explained. And since it’s a child-directed Alexa feature, a parent needs to enable it on the device before their child can use it.

Amazon’s new Alexa feature uses AI to create animated kids’ stories on Echo Show by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon’s Echo Show 15 gains support for Fire TV along with other Alexa updates

In addition to a new lineup of Alexa-enabled devices, Amazon at its fall event today also introduced a series of Alexa updates aimed at users of its Echo Show devices with a screen. The features include those focused on entertainment — like bringing Fire TV to Echo Show 15 — as well as others for personalizing the Alexa experience, staying in touch with family, and more.

The company has been working to push Alexa device owners to use the virtual assistant for more than just the basic tasks — like setting alarms or timers, asking for the weather or news, or managing their smart home. Some of today’s updates push into new areas that haven’t gained as much traction, like shopping and communication, while others augment more standard features in new ways.

But one of the biggest updates is the addition of Fire TV on the existing Echo Show 15 in the U.S., allowing users to stream not only Amazon’s own video content, but also from third-party providers like Paramount+ and Showtime for the first time. It will also now be able to access the content you want to see via Alexa, as you can simply ask the assistant to play a show by its title, rather than worrying about which service it’s on. For instance, if you say “Alexa, play ‘The Rings of Power,'” it will launch the program or pick up where you left off.

While thousands of streaming apps can be controlled via Alexa, Amazon says there are over 70 partners who have made an effort to more deeply integrate voice into their streaming apps to allow customers to do things like play, pause, stop, rewind, search and more.

Amazon prioritized bringing Fire TV to Echo Show 15 because it found that the device is already being used in customers’ homes in some sort of central location, like the kitchen or family room, and over 70% of device owners had used it to watch videos in the last month.

The company could not yet say if it would make Fire TV available to other Echo Show devices in a later update.

A new Fire TV widget will be available, too, allowing users to view shortcuts to recently streamed apps, recently watched content, and their personal watchlist.

And to browse Fire TV, you can either use your voice, touch the screen, or even pair the device with the Fire TV Alexa Voice Remote (3rd Gen.), Amazon notes. This remote — the same that ships with Fire TV today — will be offered as an add-on and later, in a bundle.

Outside of streaming Fire TV on the Echo Show 15, the Echo Show lineup more broadly will also gain other enhancements.

One is a new feature aimed at entertaining children, dubbed Creative AI. By following prompts on the screen, kids will be able to either choose or customize an animated character like a pirate, monster or astronaut, and Alexa will then create a story for them to watch with visuals and music. Kids can use included templates and other A.I features to customize the story so it’s personalized to them.

Image Credits: Amazon

Another new feature will allow Echo Show device owners to use the device to share video messages with others in their home. This could serve as an alternative to leaving a Post-it note on a fridge, for instance. To use the feature, you can say something like “Alexa, make a video note” or “Alexa, record a sticky note.” The message will be displayed on the Echo Show screen or viewed in the Alexa mobile app.

The company will try to encourage Echo Show users to shop through the device with a “Shop the Look” feature that will allow them to describe the fashion item they want to see, like “Alexa, show me green yoga pants,” or “Alexa, show me similar pants with pockets.”

Two other features aim to better personalize the device and its content to end users — and are not limited to Echo Show, in fact.

One will allow multi-person households will be able to kick off Alexa Routines — a way to combine tasks into a single voice command — using the same start phrase as someone else in their household. For example, partners may both have a routine that begins by saying “Alexa, good morning.” This feature will leverage Alexa Profiles to return personalized results within Routines for things like calendar updates, music, and traffic reports.

Alexa will also now include weather insights into users’ calendar views and can send notifications about rain or snow up to 10 days out.

The company additionally ported the Echo Show’s call captioning feature to the Alexa app in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Brazil, supported in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, it said.

read more about Amazon's fall event, September 28, 2022

Amazon’s Echo Show 15 gains support for Fire TV along with other Alexa updates by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon Alexa gains new smart home features like a multi-camera view, new commands, and more

Amazon today announced a number of new smart features designed to allow Alexa device owners to better control their smart home — some of which don’t even require the Alexa device owner to interact with the virtual assistant by voice. These features expand on tools Amazon has rolled out to make Alexa more proactive and predictive, including things like its automated Alexa Routines, smart home suggestions known as Alexa Hunches, and its home security features from Alexa Guard.

As a result, the company says that now, more than 30% of customers’ smart home interactions are triggered by Alexa without users having to say anything. At its Alexa event today, Amazon introduced a handful of new additions that will also allow Alexa to do more in the background, among other additions.

One of these is a feature that will let you turn on or off smart home devices at some specific point in the future. For example, you can ask Alexa to turn off the lights at 9 pm or in 10 minutes, allowing you to schedule these sorts of smart home interactions.

Alexa will also now gain support for remote switches instead of only wired smart switches. This allows users to push a button to trigger certain Alexa actions — like reading the news or turning off the lights — without having to use their voice. This can particularly help those with speech disabilities better interact with Alexa. And the support for remote switches offers more freedom as to where these are placed in the home.

This particular addition follows an update that brought the Tap to Alexa feature to Fire tablets, which had supported Bluetooth switches, as well.

The Echo and Echo Show devices (fourth generation) will also now be able to function as a hub for older devices on the network through new functionality called “Alexa Edge Extensions.” This would allow, for instance, an older Echo Dot user to connect to a newer Echo Show 15 to adjust the volume, control the lights or get the date and time — even if the older device isn’t connected to the internet. The hub devices will handle the local voice processing for the supported connected devices, Amazon notes.

A new “Smart Home Suggestions” future, coming soon, will allow Echo owners to have Alexa proactively notify them via an Echo Auto device if they’ve left the house and Alexa “has a hunch” that nobody is home and the front door is unlocked. When users hear this notification, they can ask Alexa to lock the door for them.

Meanwhile, the Alexa Together service which allows caregivers to use Alexa to keep watch over elderly family members, will now be able to receive notifications related to smart home devices, like when doors are locked or if lights go on at odd hours, and more.

A final smart home update isn’t necessarily about Alexa’s assistant working in the background but is rather focused on convenience.

Amazon says Echo Show device owners will be able to view multiple smart home cameras simultaneously on their screen via a new multi-view camera feature. On Echo Show 5, they can view two cameras, while on all other Echo Show devices including Echo Show 15, they can view up to four compatible smart home cameras at the same time.

read more about Amazon's fall event, September 28, 2022

Amazon Alexa gains new smart home features like a multi-camera view, new commands, and more by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon’s newest Echo Show is a 15-inch, wall-mounted digital picture frame

Amazon just took the wraps off the latest — and largest — addition to the Echo Show family. The Echo Show 15 takes the company’s smart screen technology to the wall in the form of a 15.6-inch 1080p display that doubles as a massive digital picture frame.

The $250 device is certainly a novel approach to the growing line that presently includes the Echo Show 5, Echo Show 8 and the Echo Show 10 (also priced at $250), which raised some eyebrows with a rotating screen that follows its subject around the room. The new device ups that particular ante with the addition of Visual ID, which utilizes facial recognition to identity a subject and offer them custom-tailored content.

Image Credits: Amazon

The experience is built around a customizable home screen designed to serve as kind of a control panel for the Alexa home ecosystem. This is largely accomplished through customizable widgets, which let you add things like calendar events, to-do lists and recipes — effectively serving as a kind of digital whiteboard or collection of refrigerator magnets. The list also includes smart home controls, including feeds from security cameras and digital doorbells, which are housed as a single widget.

One thing the Echo Show 15 has in spades is a whole lot of real estate. That means you can get a whole bunch of different information at once, though a tiling effect or the use of picture in picture, when your in a specific service and, say, a video doorbell alert pops up. Really, it’s the dream of something like the cover of Samsung’s smart refrigerators, without having to having to shell out a few thousand bucks for an appliance with some cameras built-in.

Beyond that, the device can do pretty much anything you’d expect from an Echo Show at this point, essentially working as a big kitchen TV. That includes streaming Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu and Sling TV. That last one is coming soon, along with content from TikTok, which you can now watch on a 15.6-inch screen, if that’s your thing. You also can cast content from a handset onto the device.

Image Credits: Amazon

The 1080p screen is coupled with side-firing speakers. Those will probably do the trick for short clips, but you’re probably going to want to connect to another Echo or Bluetooth speaker if you intend to stream music or watch movies or TV for any length of time.

There’s a camera on-board, built into the sizable bezel — or the “mat,” if we’re keeping up with the picture frame terms here. I do appreciate the use of a white border in this case, which highlights the presence of five-megapixel camera in the upper corner. The presence of a virtually hidden camera can, no doubt, prompt further privacy questions, but at least here it’s a visible black circle on a white background, next to a flashing 15.6-inch screen.

Image Credits: Amazon

The device can be used to video chat, which could ultimately make the product an interesting proposition as Amazon pushing its Alexa for Business offering as a method for incorporating more of its hardware into work settings. I could see a product like this serving as a (relatively) low cost teleconferencing device for companies with a tight budget and numerous conference rooms. When not in use, it could give you the weather and corporate events or room bookings on the calendar. Will be interesting to see if Amazon goes more aggressively after IT departments here.

There’s a physical shutter button on board to cover the camera — but anecdotally, I’d say that if I was staying at an Airbnb with one of these installed, I would be the guy who unplugs the thing and turns it to face the wall. Of course, I was also the guy who was supremely weirded out by the Echo Show 10’s face pivot feature, so take that as you will. When Amazon announced the feature last year, they were quick to note that it wasn’t using specific facial details for the tracking.

Image Credits: Amazon

Amazon is quick to note here that Visual ID requires the user to opt-in and enroll their face. Users can delete their profile on-device or via the Alexa app if they have second thoughts. I anticipate the feature will become ubiquitous across the company’s various Show products with built-in cameras. The display is powered by Amazon’s newly announced quad-core AZ2 chip with an on-board neural processor — the successor to last year’s AZ1. The custom-built chip is designed to do much of the processing on-board, which means it won’t send Visual ID data to the cloud. Given Amazon’s long track record with face recognition, however, the feature will still, no doubt, raise concerns among privacy advocates.

The Show 15 sports an update to the Sound Detection feature that rolled out in beta earlier this year. At launch, the offering was designed to detect specific noises, such as broken glass or crying baby, at which point it sends an alert to the account holder. A new addition called Custom Sounds, meanwhile, can effectively train the system for alerts by asking the device to listen.

Image Credits: Amazon

The Echo Show 15 runs $250 and will be available later this year. I can’t speak to build quality here, having not actually seen the product up close, but for the pricing, one would hope for something more than just a scaled up digital photo frame — especially given the fact that it’s designed to hang on a while or sit on a counter or table all the time. It’s effectively the antithesis of early smart speakers, which were more or less designed to fade into the background. Countertop stands and cabinet mounts will be available as well, but sold separately.

Amazon Fall 2021 Hardware Event

Amazon updates Echo Show line with a pan and zoom camera and a kids model

Amazon this morning announced a handful of updates across its Echo Show line of smart screens. The top-level most interesting bit here is the addition of a pan and zoom camera to the mid-tier Echo Show. The feature is similar to ones found on Facebook’s various Portal devices and Google’s high-end Nest Hub Max.

Essentially, it’s designed to keep the subject in frame – Apple also recently introduced the similar Center Stage features for the latest iPad Pro. It comes after Amazon introduced a far less subtle version in the Echo Show 10, which actually follows the subject around by swiveling the display around the base. I know I’m not alone in being a little creeped out, seeing it in action.

The new feature arrives on the Show 8’s 13-megapixel camera, which is coupled with a built-in physical shutter – a mainstay as Amazon is look to stay ahead of the privacy conversations. The eight-inch HD display is powered by an upgrade octa-core processors and coupled with stereo speakers. The new Show 8 runs $130.

The other biggest news here is the arrival of the Echo Show 5 Kids – the one really new product in the bunch. At $95, the kid-focused version of the screen features a customizable home screen, colorful design, a two-year warranty in case of creaks and a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+.

There’s a new version of the regular Show 5, too, featuring an upgraded HD camera, new colors and additional software features. That runs $85. The new devices go up for preorder today and start shipping later this month.


Amazon Echo Show 10 review: Unmoved

Every new smart home device invites new questions. Questions of privacy, security and what we’re willing to give up for the sake of convenience. It’s not an anti-technology stance to welcome these conversations and assess new products as we invite them into our homes.

For my part, my apartment is fairly limited when it comes to smart home tech. I own two large smart speakers and a third smaller one, mostly for the convenience of networking streaming music across different rooms. My smoke detector is connected, for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that my home wasn’t on fire back when I used to leave it for extended stretches. Oh, and a couple of connected lightbulbs, mostly because why not?

Back when Google announced its first-party smart screen, the Home (now Nest) Hub, I thought it was a savvy decision to leave the camera off. Of course, the company included one on its larger Max device, so the option is there, if you want it. Of course, for most of these products, video cameras are a given — and understandably so, with smart screens like the new Echo Show 10 edging into the teleconferencing space as the line between work and home has become far more fuzzy for many.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Amazon’s gotten the message here, with the addition of a large physical shutter button on the top of the device. When slid to the right, the camera on the top right is covered by a white lens cap, contrasted against the black bezel, so it’s easy to spot across the room. Doing so will pop up a notification: “Camera off. Disabling motion.”

The “motion” here refers to the rotating screen — the headline feature of Amazon’s latest take on the Echo Show format. The company is positioning the new tech as a game changer for the category, and while I will say it’s done a good job implementing the feature in a way that works well and quietly, it’s precisely this new addition that reignites the privacy question.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The notion of creating a home device that fades into its surroundings is really out the window with that feature. The Echo uses figure tracking to make sure the display is facing you at all times when using it, drawing attention to itself in the process. One can inherently know and passively understand that a device is using imaging and AI for tracking, but largely effectively ignore it. After all, we’ve got cameras on pretty much everything now. These things are a part of the social media and services we regularly use. When the device physically follows you around the room, however, this stuff is top of mind.

Having used the product for several days, I would say the feature feels unnecessary in most cases — and downright unnerving in some. I’ve placed the Show on my desk next to the computer where I’m typing this, and I’ve mostly disabled the feature. It’s probably something I could get used to over time, but with the relatively limited amount I’m going to spend with it, I prefer to use the product in a stationary manner, manually swiveling the display and flipping the screen angle up and down as needed. I adjust screens all of the time. It’s fine.

Amazon will walk you through the feature during setup, including which direction you want the screen facing as a default and how much rotation it offers on either side. Keep in mind, the system really has no notion of what constitutes “straight ahead, until you adjust the setting sliders accordingly. You can adjust these later in settings, as well. There’s also a “Motion Preferences” option. Here you can limit the applications it will use to follow you, require voice to use the feature or disable it entirely.

Of course, I’m also someone who prefers to keep the camera shutter on while not in use, so that works out just fine. You can’t shutter the camera and have the device continue to move, since it needs to know what it’s seeing to move along with it. I will say that the moving screen has the unexpectedly nice side effect of reminding me when I’ve forgotten to disable the camera.

Amazon’s understandably — and thankfully — been talking up the privacy aspects since the Echo Show 10 was announced. There are eight mentions of “privacy” on the product page, but here’s the key graf:

Built with multiple layers of privacy controls, including a mic/camera off button and a built-in shutter to cover the camera. Easily turn on/off motion at any time by voice, on-device, or in the Alexa app. The processing that powers screen motion happens on device – no images or videos are sent to the cloud to provide the motion feature.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Notably, the tracking feature uses a vague outline of a person, rather than any sort of facial tracking. The image it processes looks more like a blotchy heat map than anything recognizable as an individual or even, generally, a human (though it’s able to distinguish human figures from pets). That, in particular, has been a hot button topic for the company.

The rotating feature is primarily a way to reduce user friction. Amazon notes that existing Echo Show owners will swivel their devices around when they’re, say, using it in the kitchen to cook. The front-firing audio also moves as the screen does. That’s in keeping with the company’s move away from 360-degree audio in recent Echo models. This is either a plus or a minus, depending on how you use the device, and how many people are around. It can also be used to follow you as you move around while video calling (a feature the competition has offered through zooming and cropping).

Amazon’s taken pains in recent generations to improve the audio on these device, prioritizing the “speaker” part of smart speaker, and the new Show certainly benefits from that. I wouldn’t use it as my primary sound system, but sitting here on my desk, it delivers a nice, full sound for its size, even with the screen obscuring a big portion of the front.

The 10.1-inch screen is a nice size, as well. Again, I wouldn’t use it to replace a TV or even a good laptop, but it’s good size for quick videos. It’s a shame Amazon and Google haven’t been able to play nice here, because YouTube has the market cornered on short-form videos that are perfect for this form factor. (If you’re so inclined, you can still access YouTube via the built-in browser, though it’s not exactly an elegant solution.)

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Amazon Prime Video certainly has its share of good long-form content and series (it has a ton of trash, as well, but sometimes that’s fun, too), but Amazon’s best play is partnering with third-parties to bolster its offerings. And that’s another spot where Amazon has been improving the Echo experience. Netflix and Hulu are now available on the device for video, and Apple Music and Spotify have been added on the music side.

There are still a number of third-party apps that would be nice additions, but that’s a pretty solid starting point. Not to mention that services like Spotify can be set as the default for music playback. That’s one of those additions that genuinely reduces friction (and honestly, Amazon Music is a far less compelling service than Prime Video at the moment).

Zoom — arguably the most compelling addition from a software standpoint — is coming later. For now, calls are limited to other Alexa devices. Zoom and other third-party teleconference software has the opportunity to create an entire new dimension for these products, especially with the aforementioned blurring of home and work life.

Honestly, where the Show is currently sitting on my desk is really the perfect placement to use it for calls while working on my computer. I’m cautiously optimistic about the implementation. At the very least, it would give me a compelling reason to get more use out of that 13-megapixel camera on a regular basis.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

For the time being, I think the most compelling case to be made for both the camera and automatic screen swiveling is as a makeshift security camera. This is another “Coming Soon” feature that requires a Guard Plus subscription. With it, you can set a geofence, with the Show doubling as a smart security camera when you leave home. The system will send an alert if a person is detected in your home while you’re out.

This month has seen rumors that Amazon is working on a wall-mounted smart home hub. The form factor certainly makes sense, essentially serving as an Alexa-enabled touchscreen control for your various connected devices. For the time being, between Show and the Alexa mobile app, I think the bases are covered pretty well — though such a device could certainly lend a more premium experience to the space.

A well-placed Show will address that need for many. Certainly it does the job for my one-bedroom apartment. You can use voice or touch to control lighting, and the screen can monitor feeds from security cameras, including, naturally, Amazon-owned Ring. Additions like these have really made the smart screen category a much more compelling and capable one.

At $249, it’s $20 pricier than the 2018 Show. It’s hard to say how much of the increase is due to the new mechanical turning mechanism, but Amazon offered up a cheaper model without the functionality that’s almost certainly the one I would go for, for reasons outlined above. Again, not everyone will have the same misgivings.

And all told, it’s a well-constructed, nice addition to the Show family and one I don’t mind moving around the old-fashioned way.

Netflix finally comes to the Amazon Echo Show

Amazon announced the Echo Show line in 2017, and today, it’s finally gaining access to Netflix. The video service joins Hulu and Prime Video as the only officially supported video streaming apps.6

The news came from Amazon’s yearly Echo event where the company unveiled a series of new products and services including redesigned speakers and updated Alexa capabilities.

Amazon executives spoke on how they have data that shows Echo Show owners love watching content on the small screens. Netflix should make that crowd happy. When Netflix, Hulu, or Prime Video is viewed on the just-announced Echo Show 10, the unit will swivel on its motorized stand, following the viewer if they move around the room.

Amazon’s new Echo Show 10 follows you as you move

So this is crazy. Amazon’s new Echo Show 10 swivels on its base to follow you around the room. The on-board camera is capable of recognizing a person and spins around to follow them — essentially taking the person tracking feature found on Facebook’s Portal and Google’s Nest Hub Max to the next, creepier lever.

Amazon is quick to note — from a privacy perspective — that the device doesn’t identify people individually, so much as just recognizing the general shape of a person and spinning around in such a way that always keep the display facing them. Not sure how it works with multiple people, et all, but will be interesting to see in person. I’m also, frankly, wondering how useful a feature this is ultimately — and whether it’s worth that extra level of tracking.

Image Credits: Amazon

As the name implies, there’s a 10-inch HD touch display on board. That’s paired with a. 13-megapixel camera and a 2.1 audio system. Like the new Echo, it has Zigbee functionality built-in, so the device also serves as a smart home hub.

Amazon’s been adding a bunch of third-party software functionality to the Show in recent months, and the list now includes Zoom, Skype and, get this, Netflix. Those are all big wins int he era of working from home, but Netflix especially, since the Show was dealt a major blow when Google removed YouTube support from Echo devices.

The Echo Show 10 runs $250. That’s pretty expensive, as far as these smart screens go. I suspect a lot of what you’re paying for here is that pricy mechanism to follow you around as you move — for many, that addition is probably not worth the premium.

Facebook Portal gets serious about remote work with BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, Webex and Zoom apps

Facebook’s Portal line didn’t get off to the smoothest start when it launched back in 2018. The company no doubt realized from the outset that it would have a lot to prove on the privacy front when attempting to convince users to essentially invite a Facebook-powered camera into their living quarters. And in the intervening years, it has made a point to demonstrate that it’s privacy and security first for the social media giant.

Recent months have also seen the company looking to branch out from the friends and family angle, into teleconferencing. Certainly it makes sense to strike while the iron is hot on that front, as remote work has become the standard for most office jobs — and will likely continue to remain as such for some time to come.

Following up the recent announcement of the business-themed Workplace on Portal, Facebook this morning announced the smart display will be getting apps from four of the top teleconferencing companies: BlueJeans (now part of our parent company, Verizon), GoToMeeting, WebEx and Zoom . Facebook notes that the apps won’t be coordinated on the same day, but all of the apps will be arriving at some point in September for the Portal Mini, standard Portal and Portal+. Portal TV support is coming later.

It’s a big morning for Zoom, in particular. The popular service made its own separate announcement this morning, noting that — in addition to Portal — its Zoom for Home offering will also be arriving on Amazon’s Echo Show and Google’s Nest Hub Max. That’s a hat trick for the top home smart screens. The other platforms will be getting Zoom after Portal, at some point before the end of the year.

The appeal is clear, of course. Zoom notably has launched its own teleconferencing appliance, as have some third-party hardware companies, like the Y Combinator-backed Sidekick. That solution in particular was an interesting one due to its always-on approach — an attempt to better approximate in-person working conditions. After all, what are these sorts of devices about, if not trying to hammer out what the new normal is going look like moving forward.

For its part, Facebook says it’s actively exploring various ways to convert its device to the work setting. That includes things like custom and blurred backgrounds, which are coming to Workplace and will arrive on WebEx day-of, with additional support for other apps dependent on the developers. If you’ve ever teleconferenced from your living room, you no doubt know what a lifesaver those can be.

What will also be interesting to see is whether companies plan to offer bulk purchasing for these devices for enterprises. Facebook says it currently has nothing to announce on that front (“stay tuned”), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that sort of feature introduced for some of these products in the not-so-distant future, as they look to compete with more traditional teleconferencing products. Mileage will certainly vary depending on how much trust businesses are willing to put into Facebook/Google/Amazon .

As the pandemic continues to wear on, however, these sorts of devices will only grow more attractive as a method for keeping remote employees always-connected.