Last week, Amazon introduced a handful of new products. Some of them were interesting and are likely to find their way into a lot of homes. The Amazon Smart Thermostat and Ring Alarm Pro are both examples of Amazon refining existing product ideas and making them better or more useful. The Smart Thermostat, for example, is only $59, and is a solid alternative to Nest or EcoBee.
On the other hand, some of the products announced are just, well, wacky. The headline product was a robot that Amazon calls "Astro." As robots go, it's not exactly the most functional. Mostly, it's an Echo Show with wheels that will follow you around and play music or check to see if you left the oven on.
Beyond that, it doesn't do any of the things you might expect a home robot to do. It's not going to clean, or get packages off the porch. It's also confined to one floor of your home since it's unable to navigate stairs.
There's also the question of whether you really want a camera and microphone following you around the house. Then again, it's not the first time Amazon announced a product basically designed to do that.
Last year, Amazon introduced the Ring Always Home Cam, which is actually a camera attached to a drone. This year Amazon says it's still a real product and it will start selling it on an invitation basis.
There was also the Amazon Halo View, which is basically a FitBit but cheaper. Then, there was the Amazon Echo Show 15, which is a larger Echo Show you can hang on your wall. Finally, Amazon introduced something it calls Amazon Glow, which is sort of a dedicated video call device with an integrated projector for kids. It's like if your iPhone could project a screen on the table while you were on a FaceTime call with grandma.
At some point, I think we're getting close to "bizarre" territory.
The thing is, it might be bizarre, but it's also brilliant. Amazon's product design strategy is what you get if you take "let's throw things against the wall and see what sticks," to its logical conclusion. Amazon is throwing a lot of things at the wall, and it's totally fine if almost none of it sticks.
That means it's making a lot of things that most of us think, why would we buy that? But, in more than one case, I'm not sure Amazon cares whether anyone buys some of these products. I'm positive the chances are basically zero that you'll walk into a friend's house to be greeted by an Amazon robot any time soon.
Also, Amazon can actually afford to try wacky product ideas. It clearly has the money to spend on wild inventions and it has never been shy about spending it on just that. Plus, it can afford to think beyond the smartphone in a way its peers can't. Here's what I mean:
For most of us, the primary device in our lives is a smartphone. Amazon doesn't make one of those, though not because it hasn't tried. It threw the Fire Phone against the wall seven years ago, and quickly threw it out when it realized it was one of the biggest flops in tech history.
It turns out that, for Amazon, that's a blessing. Because it doesn't make a smartphone, it doesn't have to rationalize every product it makes in terms of how it fits into a strategy focused on a six-inch device you carry in your pocket. Instead, it is focused on making devices you want in your home.
It doesn't even have to make all of the products it introduces. What it has to do is keep people engaged with the Alexa/Echo/Ring ecosystem. That's really what some of these products are about--expanding people's context of the ecosystem.
Even if you aren't in the market for a surveillance camera on wheels, or attached to a drone, you have to at least give Amazon credit for trying crazy ideas. Right now, honestly, it's the only one trying--and some of those crazy ideas might actually stick. That's why it might be bizarre, but it's definitely genius.