Amazon today introduced Amazon Glow, a new, interactive device aimed at families that allows kids to interact with family members and other remote loved ones over video calls. While something of a competitor to Facebook’s line of Portal devices, which are also largely aimed at connecting families over video, Amazon Glow differentiates itself by providing more than just another 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, and more — to give the feeling of an in-person experience.
To do so, Amazon Glow combines immersive projection, sensing technologies and video into a single device. Unlike other smart screens on the market, the Glow doesn’t look like a tiny TV. Instead, its 8-inch display stands up vertically and a projector creates a 19-inch touch-sensitive space in front of the display for playing virtual games and engaging in other activities with remote family members who are participating on their own tablets.
This gameplay takes place on a special mat, which is also included with the device.
With Amazon Glow, kids and their loved ones can play games like Chess, Checkers, Go Fish or Memory Match. They can pick from thousands of children’s books to read together or draw using digital pencils, crayons, brushes or spray paint, among other activities. The idea is to make the remote, digital play feel more like the sort of experience you’d 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 play. For example, it can scan the child’s favorite toy then turn it into a custom jigsaw puzzle by projecting the digital scan on the flat surface in front of the device. The child then smashes the digital scan into bits with their hand to turn it into a puzzle. Or they can scan a drawing they made on paper then transform it into a new artwork, with their family member’s help, by digitally drawing on the scanned version.
It also ships with something called “Glow Bits,” which are physical objects designed to work with the new device. The first Glow Bits kit is the Tangram puzzle game, where the child uses the puzzle bits to solve challenges while the remote family member plays along using digital puzzle shapes on their tablet’s screen.
At launch, Glow will support special activities from favorites in children’s entertainment, like Anna and Elsa from “Frozen;” Woody and Buzz from Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story;” characters from Mattel’s Barbie and Hot Wheels; Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer; Elmo, Zoe other others from “Sesame Street,” and others.
The device is mainly aimed at families who want to stay in better touch with others from a distance. This could be used with families where one parent travels a lot, with grandparents who live far away, and so on. It also could be helpful during this pandemic era, when families have been spending more time isolated from each other for COVID safety.
Amazon Glow doesn’t allow the child to just call anyone they choose, of course. A parent or guardian will have to first configure the 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 disable 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 doesn’t track or save location data or even the 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 may want to try.
The device will eventually retail for $299.99, but is launching 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 kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, games, and premium kids’ skills for Alexa.)
Amazon Glow is not yet broadly 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 U.S. customers in the weeks ahead, said Amazon.
Developers are invited to apply to access the SDK, which will be available in the first half of 2022.