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Amazon's 2021 launch event on Sept. 28: What we expect from Ring and Echo devices

CNET logo CNET 9/28/2021 Molly Price
a close up of a blue table: New Echo speakers are almost certain to be featured. Chris Monroe/CNET © Provided by CNET New Echo speakers are almost certain to be featured. Chris Monroe/CNET

Amazon's fall 2021 Echo event is happening Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 9 a.m. PT (noon ET, 5 p.m. BST). Amazon won't be livestreaming its invite-only presentation to the general public, but the company has promised attendees "news about our latest Amazon devices, features and services," according to invitations that went out Sept. 20. 

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We're anticipating news across all of Amazon's device and services categories, and we'll be covering the event in real time, including with a liveblog you can follow. What exactly do we expect Amazon to announce? The best indicator may be what we saw from the tech giant in previous events. 

Read more: Amazon's smart products lead the market even as trust in the company lags

Amazon devices 

In years past, Amazon has unleashed dozens of new devices at its events, big and small. From the Echo Auto to the rotating Echo Show 10 to that odd Echo Wall Clock. New Echo Dots and Echo speakers are often the centerpiece. With such a wide range of products, it's anyone's guess as to what entirely new additions we might see. 

Echo updates

As for updates to existing devices, that's a bit more predictable. Last year's event brought the redesign of the Echo and Echo Dot. There's a new speaker or two almost every year, and it wouldn't surprise us if this year was the same. However, those spherical speakers aren't even a year old as of this writing (they launched Oct. 22 of last year), so we're curious if Amazon is already planning to release a second generation.

The last Echo Studio model was released in 2019. Amazon © Provided by CNET The last Echo Studio model was released in 2019. Amazon

The Echo Studio is on the top of our list of devices that are due a refresh. It's been two years since the last Echo Studio, with no major updates save for a Billie Eilish collaboration for a special edition. In Amazon product years that's… a lot.

The Echo Studio barely fits the aesthetic of the newer Echo speakers. It will never get the Google Assistant support of the better-sounding Sonos One, but solving the annoying Fire TV requirement for Dolby Atmos movie sound would be an appealing upgrade for users who prefer a different streaming device. 

In addition, Amazon often announces a handful of Day 1 products -- experimental devices to measure market interest. They've ranged from microwaves and clocks to wearable rings and glasses -- and they don't always survive long. It's tough to guess what Amazon will try out next, but our guess is an Alexa-enabled garbage can. (Hey, one way of understanding what's going into a home is tracking what's consistently going out of it.)

Alexa 

Alexa is also likely to see some updates. Last year the Echo Show got Netflix and support for group calling. A focus on features that support remote work, like teleconferencing and productivity management, would be timely and on brand.

Amazon rolls out new Alexa features almost weekly and announced a slew of Alexa updates at its annual developers conference, Alexa Live, including the Amazon Custom Assistant Program that allows third parties to create their own assistants using Alexa's blueprint. Verizon already jumped at the chance, announcing the Verizon Smart Display and the option to say, "Hey, Verizon." What new Alexa features will be announced at the annual event is tough to call, but we could see first-party features like the celebrity voices from a few years back. 

Matter still matters

One reminder: Matter is still on the smart home horizon. Formerly known as Project CHIP, for "connected home over IP," Matter will be a single, IP-based, open-source standard that works over Wi-Fi and supports all major control platforms. It's supposed to act as a universal language that smart home devices from makers like Google, Apple and Amazon could use to connect with and understand each other. 

At Alexa Live, Amazon announced plans to integrate Matter into nearly all Echo devices (excluding first-gen speakers) via an over-the-air update. Amazon had slated the software development kit for release late this year, but it has since been pushed to 2022. We'll be keeping our ears open for any news of Matter progress at the Tuesday event.

Read moreMake way for Matter, the smart home's would-be skeleton key

Ring, Ring, on the wall...

Ring is Amazon's big brand to watch this fall for three reasons: First, Amazon still seems likely to launch its Always Home Cam -- the flying drone camera everyone was buzzing about last year -- sometime in Q4.

Second, Ring is now over three years into its partnership with Amazon (the tech behemoth bought the video doorbell company in 2018), which means some substantive integrations with Alexa and other Amazon devices and services might finally be coming down the pike.

Finally, Ring has been contending with all sorts of privacy controversies over the past year, especially with regard to relationships with police. Those need to be addressed. Let's break down what each of these three things means for Ring this coming week.

The Always Home Cam is a security drone from Ring, yet to be released. Amazon © Provided by CNET The Always Home Cam is a security drone from Ring, yet to be released. Amazon

Always Home Cam

It's doubtful that Ring has been waiting for a big event like this to announce that it's pushing back the launch of the Always Home Cam -- that sort of thing is usually slipped into a Friday press release weeks before an event, to be forgotten over the weekend. Ring hasn't discussed any updates to the Always Home Cam publicly but we still expect some sort of announcement about the drone cam's launch.

Partnerships with Amazon

Amazon's footprint has been expanding rapidly in people's homes in recent years. You've got Wi-Fi with Eero, security with Ring and Blink, smart home devices with Alexa and outside-the-home network sharing with Sidewalk -- not to mention a menagerie of other types of products like the Echo Auto and Amazon Key. Almost all of these devices and services have been connected somehow to Amazon shopping, from letting you buy paper towels with a voice command to recording a livestream of their delivery.

Expect this web of integrations to thicken this year -- especially ahead of 2022, when Matter drops. The more Amazon can control and organize your home security, smart home devices and more under one umbrella, the more useful data it gets from you, and the more consistent it can make the experience of living in an Amazon-powered home.

a person using a cell phone: The Ring Doorbell 4 is the latest model. Chris Monroe/CNET © Provided by CNET The Ring Doorbell 4 is the latest model. Chris Monroe/CNET

Privacy

It seems every year David Limp, Amazon senior vice president of devices and services, takes on a serious air to talk about privacy -- and how Amazon is doing everything it can to protect yours.

This year is likely to be no different, especially on the heels of a particularly fraught 2020 and 2021 for Ring, which finally made its procedures regarding video-sharing with police more transparent earlier this year. If Ring hasn't dropped its police partnerships thus far, it probably won't in the future. But that doesn't mean the company isn't going to try to introduce some security and privacy-facing features (like expanding its video encryption options or Neighbors app constraints).

It's unclear what this is going to look like exactly, but we'll be keeping an ear out for any info on the privacy front.

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