Amazon today introduced Amazon Glow, a new interactive family-friendly device that lets kids interact with family members and other distant loved ones through video calls. Although it’s a competitor to Facebook’s Portal line of devices, which are also largely aimed at connecting families via video, Amazon Glow differentiates itself by offering more than just a connected screen experience. . It also uses technology to create an interactive projected space in front of the device to provide a surface for virtual activities – like games, art, puzzles, etc. – to give the feeling of an in-person experience.
To do this, Amazon Glow combines immersive projection, sensing technologies, and video in a single device. Unlike other smart displays on the market, the Glow doesn’t look like a small TV. Instead, its 8-inch screen stands vertically and a projector creates a 19-inch touchscreen space in front of the screen to play virtual games and engage in other activities with distant family members who participate on their own tablets.
This game takes place on a special mat, which is also included with the device.
With Amazon Glow, children and their loved ones can play games like chess, checkers, Go Fish or Memory Match. They can choose from thousands of children’s books to read together or draw using digital crayons, crayons, brushes or spray paint, among other activities. The idea is to make remote digital gaming more like the kind of experience you would have if you were in the same room with the other person.
The Amazon Glow can also do things that combine physical objects and digital games. For example, it can scan the child’s favorite toy and then turn it into a personalized puzzle by projecting the digital scan onto the flat surface in front of the device. The child then breaks the digital scan into pieces with their hand to turn it into a puzzle. Or they can scan a drawing they made on paper and then turn it into a new work of art, with the help of a family member, by drawing digitally on the scanned version.
It also comes with something called “Glow Bits”, which are physical items designed to work with the new device. The first Glow Bits kit is the Tangram puzzle game, where the child uses the puzzle pieces to solve challenges while the distant family member plays using digital puzzle shapes on their tablet screen.
At launch, Glow will support special activities among kids’ entertainment favorites, like Anna and Elsa from “Frozen”; Woody and Buzz from Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story”; Barbie and Hot Wheels characters from Mattel; Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer; Elmo, Zoe and others from “Sesame Street” and others.
The device is mainly aimed at families who want to stay in better contact with others at a distance. This could be used with families where one parent travels a lot, with grandparents who live far away, etc. It could also come in handy during this pandemic era, when families are spending more time isolated from each other for COVID safety.
Amazon Glow does not allow the child to call the person of their choice, of course. A parent or guardian will first need to set up Amazon Glow by providing consent and pre-approving the contacts the child is allowed to call. This way, parents could limit the device only to family members or trusted family friends. And at any time, the parent can turn off the cameras and microphone by closing the physical privacy shutter on the device.
Amazon Glow is also not an Alexa device, so no voice or video recordings are collected. It also does not track or record location data or even drawings that are made.
However, Amazon will retain things like profile preferences and activity history to suggest relevant activities and content available with the included Amazon Kids+ subscription that families might want to try.
The device will eventually cost $299.99 but will launch with a discounted price of $249.99. It comes with the mat, a mat case, the Tangram Bits puzzle game, and a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+. (Amazon Kids+ is a paid service that offers unlimited access to thousands of premium kids’ books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, games and skills for Alexa.)
Amazon Glow is not yet widely available.
Instead, customers will need to request an invitation to join the Early Access Program at www.amazon.com/glow. The first devices will then ship to US customers in the coming weeks, Amazon said.
Developers are invited to apply for access to the SDK, which will be available in the first half of 2022.