Imagine yourself tucked snugly into bed. It’s autumn now, so the warmth of your duvet is welcome coziness. To add to the comfort, there’s a small, glowing device just next to your lamp — tracking your movements as you sleep.
That, in effect, is the Halo Rise, a new device from Amazon designed to observe your sleep patterns and wake you up gently using light and sound.
The Halo Rise was part of a slew of products that Amazon announced earlier this week at its annual September event that focused primarily on smart home tech.
The pitch for the Halo Rise is that it is a sleep tracker and alarm clock. It has no cameras or microphones, instead tracking your movements and breathing through sensors to give you insights into your sleep cycles. Come morning, the device will wake you with a soft light and an alarm or song of your choosing — even claiming to wait if it detects you are in deep sleep.
Somewhat hilariously though, the Halo Rise has a round light on the edge of its circular frame that gives it the effect of being more like the Eye of Sauron than gentle bedside accessory.
It is, almost inevitably, “creepy” — that word we give to the vague unease that has settled in thanks to living in a world in which almost everything either is or at least feels like it’s under surveillance.
In Amazon’s marathon event, it announced a slew of other iterations on its smart home products: TVs, and an updated streaming box; a new Ring camera that can swivel and track things in 3D; floodlights and indoor cameras and swivel; and an update to its Astro robot that moves around a home and acts as a sentinel.
If it sounds like a lot that’s because it is. Amazon is flooding the market with smart home tech for a clear and obvious reason: it wants to establish itself as a smart home platform company. And in doing that, not only will it help usher in the smart home era, it will also cement that era as one in which everything is watched.
The distinction between merely offering products versus being a platform is a useful one when it comes to thinking tech companies. Products are individual objects without much greater purpose: a coffee maker, a “dumb” TV, a stereo.
Platforms are integrated systems upon which product ecosystems are built. Amazon’s newest lineup not only has smart speakers but also music services that go along with it, not just smart TVs but also streaming apps for them. And those smart home devices — cameras, sensors, speakers, even robots — all work in tandem, with each other and with voice control.
It’s a shift in model that was precipitated by tech and the creation of vertically integrated business models that encourage consumers to use products of one platform because they work best with one another.
Looked at that way, it suddenly makes a lot more sense why an e-commerce company wants to track you while you sleep. In building out a series of smart home tech, Amazon not only gets you to buy its various speakers and cameras, but then also sign on to various services, whether they exist now or will down the road. And services are the Holy Grail for most companies for a simple reason: steady recurring revenue.
It isn’t all sinister. All this tech can be genuinely helpful, not only making life easier or more convenient, but also in many cases making it more accessible too. If you have stubborn arthritis or mobility issues, asking Alexa to play a tune is a lot easier than getting up to grab a phone or prod at a stereo.
But along with that convenience comes this relentless focus on surveillance, cultivating a culture in which we are all recording who comes to our front door, who is passing by our house, and what everyone we know is up to.
That is the downside of the platform approach, at least under our current tech regime: it brings with it the need to gather data in order to service the many other products attached to one another.
Amazon faces stiff competition, from just who you’d expect. Apple continues to build out its Home app as a control centre for the smart home, and Google is also in the space with its Nest lineup of speakers, thermostats, Wi-Fi and more.
But it’s worth considering at what price all this convenience comes with, and if there isn’t another way we might evolve our homes into technological centres — without also being, quite literally, tracked while we sleep.
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