Amazon’s automotive efforts appear to be taking a pit stop
Amazon laid out its plans to make ambient computing an even bigger part of its customers’ lives at its hardware and services event on Tuesday. But while that vision includes surveillance drones and being followed around your home by a rolling Alexa-on-wheels called Astro, it was missing products for the other place people spend a lot of their time — their cars.
That left an automotive-sized hole in Amazon’s presentation, and there are some good reasons to find it odd. Rumors in the lead-up to Amazon’s event pointed to the launch of a second generation Echo Auto, alongside several other predictions that ended up being true, like the wall-mounted Echo Show 15. Leaks of the Ring Car Cam in June also seemed to suggest that the Amazon-owned home security company would announce launch dates for its line of car products, which featured prominently in Amazon’s fall hardware event last year. But not this one: neither device appeared.
Ring’s side of the mystery seems to be easier to solve, because the brand assures us its devices are still coming. The company announced its expansion into car security in September 2020 with the introduction of the Ring Car Cam, Ring Car Alarm, and Ring Car Connect API. The products marked Ring’s first move outside of the home and come with smart features like the ability to connect to Amazon’s Sidewalk network to send alerts or record police traffic stops with a simple voice command for added security. When The Verge asked why these specific products didn’t appear at Amazon’s event, a Ring spokesperson offered the following response:
This is a completely new category for Ring, and we’re excited to get these auto security devices in the hands of customers once they are ready. Currently our auto devices are with our product testers right now so we can create the best experience possible. We’ve received great feedback thus far, and are looking forward to sharing more in the coming months.
(We also wonder if the delay might have something to do with that Sidewalk network, which Amazon didn’t mention even once during the showcase. Some were angry when Amazon revealed it would retroactively add the feature to many Echo and Ring devices, requiring customers who didn’t want it to opt-out.)
Echo Auto, on the other hand, is a much bigger unknown. Amazon first launched the voice-enabled add-on as a way to get Alexa into cars in 2018. The device was far from perfect when we tested it in our review, struggling with location-based queries and saddled with the connection issues of whatever phone it was attached to. That leaves plenty of room for improvement for a second-generation device, but Amazon had nothing new to share at its event, and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the future of the device. It’s a little odd for a product the company was proud to say was preordered by over a million people.
Spending more time at home due to the pandemic might have made automotive products less of a necessity — it certainly worked for car washes in my case — so getting Alexa into every car through a hardware solution is possibly not as urgent as it once was. Amazon has partnerships with automakers like Toyota and BMW to help fill that gap anyways, and even bigger plans to let car companies integrate Alexa into their cars with custom wake words.
An update to the Echo Auto would be appreciated — it’s cheaper than buying a new car with Alexa built-in — but it seems Amazon’s eyes are on an entirely different set of wheels.