Knock knock. Who's there? August. August Who? Who cares, because time doesn't matter anymore.
I know it's an awful joke, but it's kind of true. Even though we're living through the terrible, horrible, no good year that won't end, it's still hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that it's already late August. That means that if things go according to plan, and when has that happened this year, we can expect more tech events and product launches in the next couple of months. True, these events will look different in this new normal, but even in bad times, life goes on, and in our world, that means that business must go on as well.
Assuming that Amazon follows its pattern from the past several years, as well as the precedent set by other tech companies these past few months, we can reasonably expect a fall 2020 hardware event between now and the end of September. But what will that event look like, and what can we expect to be announced then? Let's read the tea leaves a bit and do some wish-casting to see if we can't come up with a few good guesses. Here's what I'd like to see if, and when, Amazon has a fall 2020 hardware event.
Amazon fall 2020 event: Event speculation
As I hinted at above, we don't yet have definitive proof that Amazon will have a fall 2020 hardware event at all. Heck, we're still waiting on confirmation as to when and whether there will even be a Prime Day 2020 event this year. Assuming that both events come to pass, we're looking at a crazy busy fall for Amazon, with a hardware event, a potential Prime Day event, and the Black Friday and Cyber Monday holiday shopping events shortly after that!
If we don't have official confirmation of a fall hardware event just yet, how can we be sure one is forthcoming? Well, we can't, but there are clues if you know where to look for them. The most obvious can be found on the Amazon website right now. If you look at the homepage banners or dive into Amazon product pages, you'll see that virtually every Echo, Kindle, and Fire device is on sale. When something like this happens, it's usually around a big sales event like Black Friday, or it's immediately preceding new product launches. It's a way to clear out old inventory to make way for new products.
If Amazon does have a virtual fall 2020 hardware event, it can learn a LOT from those that have gone before it this year.
With the global pandemic still raging and being particularly bad in the U.S., we can safely assume that if there is a fall event, it will be virtual. Coming so late in the year, Amazon has the benefit of hindsight and can see what has worked, and what hasn't, from other tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung. Even the Democratic and Republican National Conventions are virtual this year, and there is definitely a lot to learn, both positive and negative, from those events.
I'm not here to offer advice or critiques on how to conduct a good virtual event; I'm here for what products and services Amazon might announce. But before I offer my thoughts on that, let's take a quick trip down memory lane to see what came of some of Amazon's fall announcements from the recent past.
Amazon fall 2020 event: Roundup of years past
If you've ever paid attention to an Amazon hardware event while it was going on or tried to wrap your head around one after the fact, you know that these can be whirlwind gatherings with a smorgasbord of announcements and new product launches. Last fall, there were upwards of 15 new devices, and nearly as many services and initiatives announced, and previous years were similarly productive.
The September 2019 event saw Amazon branching out into some new product categories with varying degrees of success. It finally got into true wireless earbuds with the publicly available and well-received Echo Buds, as well as the invitation-only Day 1 wearable products like the Echo Frames Alexa-enabled glasses and Echo Loop Alexa-enabled ring.
In 2019 Amazon both expanded and refined the Echo speaker line, and introduced new ways for Alexa to get into the world through its Day 1 program.
Amazon introduced three of the most important new Echo devices in recent memory: the audiophile-targeted Echo Studio, the practical Echo Flex, and the "why didn't I think of that sooner" Echo Dot with Clock. That 2019 event also saw Amazon publicly showcasing products from its Ring and Eero divisions, as well as discussing further Alexa Auto partnerships and new initiatives like the Amazon Sidewalk network.
In 2018 we saw Amazon embrace a newer, softer design aesthetic for the Echo speakers, as well as an expanded ecosystem of products like the Echo Sub, Echo Input, Echo Link and Amp, and Fire TV Recast. We started to see the company taking the audio quality and utility of the smart speaker more seriously, though sadly, the Sub and Input are no longer available for purchase. We also saw other ecosystem products come into the fold, such as the Echo Wall Clock and an Alexa-enabled microwave. These devices saw modest success at best, but they clearly signaled Amazon's desire to continue its smart home domination.
Going back one more year, in 2017, Amazon introduced some interesting accessories like the Echo Buttons for playing games with Alexa, the Echo Connect for enabling-Alexa access to your landlines, and the cute-as-a-button Echo Spot smart screen speaker (RIP).
Often product iterations are saved for mid-year cycles and press releases, whereas these fall events more typically introduce us to new products and categories. So with this in mind, which kinds of announcements might we see this year?
Amazon fall 2020 event: Wish-casting
If tradition holds and we do get a fall 2020 Amazon hardware event, I know better than to speculate on totally new products or categories — but I'll do a bit of that anyway. What I really want to see is Amazon address some of the products and initiatives that it already announced in years past and which seem to have either withered on the vine or could use some extra care and development.
It seems like over the past couple of years, Amazon has teased and trickled out information on new partnerships with automakers to bring Alexa into the car. Still, these have seen painstakingly slow adoption and success. Last year, Amazon announced that new cars from major automakers like GM and its sub-brands of Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC would be adding Alexa Auto to their infotainment systems and that newer cars would be able to add the feature in if the manufacturers did the work to update them. GM joined Audi, BMW, Ford, Lexus, Mini, Toyota, and even Lamborghini with some form of support for Alexa Auto or Alexa in the car. Let's see more of this.
Alexa in the car is becoming more ubiquitous, but it will take cooperation with the actual auto makers to make it feel native and not just an add-on.
I know these things are slow-going and that people don't upgrade their cars that frequently, but I've yet to come across anyone with Alexa Auto in their vehicle. I recently purchased a new VW, and I was thrilled to have access to both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. I would love to see such ubiquitous infotainment integration finally come to pass with Alexa, the voice assistant that I use most frequently at home.
Not only does Amazon need to continue working with more and more automakers to make this experience comparable (or better) to that from Google and Apple, but they also need to make the aftermarket accessory market much better. The Echo Auto isn't great, and other devices like the Roav Viva can't compare with the other major phone-based infotainment systems. Sure, they are better than nothing, especially in older vehicles that don't have infotainment systems. But if these accessories were to get measurably better, I think automakers and consumers might start to see Alexa in the car as a more viable option.
Ring, Eero, and personal privacy
Amazon has made some astute acquisitions over the past several years to enhance its position as king of the smart home, picking up popular companies like Ring and Eero. At last year's event, Amazon announced iterative product updates for these company's smart cameras and Wi-Fi systems, and while it certainly could, and probably should, do that again (um hello, how about an Eero mesh router with Alexa built-in?), I'm less concerned about the products themselves as I am the policies and practices behind them.
Amazon and Ring have taken a lot of (deserved) flack over the past year or so due to a series of PR blunders surrounding alleged mishandling of customer data, security breaches, and two-factor authentication problems, as well as the companies' relationship with law enforcement. When Amazon acquired Eero, a lot of fans felt understandably nervous with the access the new ownership would have to their network and browsing data. A virtual fall event would be a fantastic opportunity for Amazon, Ring, and Eero to lay out their plan for enhanced privacy controls, opt-out tools, and policies for the handling of customer data. The companies have done this in fits and starts, but this is the perfect venue to do so comprehensively and transparently.
Day 1 products
It has been nearly a year since the Echo Frames and Echo Loop Day 1 devices were announced, and they remain available only through invitation. I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to try out the Echo Frames and review them, but Amazon needs to decide if it's going to release these products to a broader audience, and if and when it will iterate on them.
Among the worst-kept secrets in tech is that Apple is working on AR glasses, and Google has a history with Google Glass and has acquired North, developer of the Focals AR glasses. Amazon needs to step up the pace in its wearables innovation if it wants Alexa to be able to compete with Siri and Google Assistant outside the home, or long-term.
Amazon Sidewalk was a project announced at the 2019 fall event that promised neighborhood up to city-level wireless mesh networks using the 900MHz spectrum. Among the practical examples it gave were the ability to track pets throughout the neighborhood and triggering routines and events with your smart home from further afield. Not much has been heard from this project since its initial announcement, but with more and more people working and attending school from home, it seems like the time is ripe to expand on this project.
Recently rumors have been going around that Amazon will be incorporating podcasts into its popular Amazon Music and Audible apps. I would love it if the company could confirm these rumors at the fall event, and let us know precisely what this podcasting integration will look like.
What I don't want to see is the Amazon Music app getting bogged down by more tabs and sub-menus like Spotify did when it added podcasts to its service. I also don't want to see Amazon podcast exclusives that, while free, are only available in the Amazon Music app. That's gross, and that's not living up to the spirit of what open podcasting is about. Other rumors have mentioned that Amazon would require podcast hosts to not "disparage" Amazon, and that's equally yucky. Stay out of content moderation Amazon; it's not a good color on you.
I have no problem with Amazon getting into the original podcast content business, but its content should be freely accessible from any podcast client. If it wants to create premium, paid content, then stuff it into Audible as it does with Audible originals.
Work from home
Finally, I'd like to see Amazon use this fall hardware event to announce initiatives that help its customers deal with the new realities of working from home. I'm not exactly sure what this would look like in the form of new products or product categories, but perhaps it takes the form of lower prices on Ring cameras and Echo Show devices for customers to better monitor the front and back door from their home office. Or, maybe it's better bundles on Eero mesh Wi-Fi routers to help customers better manage the increased internet demands and balance the load of multiple people in the household hogging the bandwidth all day.
Perhaps Amazon can introduce a version of FreeTime Unlimited that is built-into the Eero app, which would make it easier for work-from-home parents to make sure their kids are safe and protected online when they can't focus their attention on them. Or, perhaps Amazon can make more school-focused routines more discoverable and configurable from Echo Show smart screens. Google recently announced a feature called Family Bell to post announcements on Google smart displays and speakers. Amazon was actually first to incorporate broadcast announcements on its smart speakers, so it certainly has the ability to put something like this together quickly.
Amazon fall 2020 event: Fingers crossed
If Amazon can announce some movement in the areas that I outlined above, I think that they will have done a good job at "reading the room" and will actually be addressing concerns that its customers are facing in these pandemic times.
I do not doubt that we'll also see some new Echo speakers and smart screens, some new form factors for Alexa to get out into the world, and some iterations on existing products. We're long overdue for a new 10.1-inch Echo Show, a better Echo Auto device, and perhaps even new Echo Buds or Echo Buds Plus. If and when we see those products, I'm sure I'll be as excited as the next person to play with them, review them, and write up my thoughts for you on them. But that's not what I'm really looking forward to.
We have yet to see Echo Show devices updated on a yearly cadence yet — we're going into year three for the Echo Show (2nd Gen) — but this "just right" sized Echo is on sale right now, possibly indicating that we might see an updated version soon. Even if we do, this is still a great purchase at a price that is hard to beat!
There's not much Amazon can improve on here, aside from additional storage space for all the Jackbox Games my family has been playing. If you have the opportunity to pick this 4K streamer with Alexa voice remote up for under $50, you should jump at the chance. Even if it is updated this fall, it's a terrific device for a guest room or college dorm.
I can't say enough good things about this device; it's like the Swiss Army Knife of Echo speakers. It is cheap, it brings Alexa into spots that regular smart speakers haven't been able to go before, and it gives you the option to add on useful attachments like a customizable nightlight, motion sensor, or smart clock.
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