Amazon Acquires Roomba Maker iRobot: Why Is This Bad News?

The tech world is about to lose another independent hardware company with Amazon iRobot. planned acquisition ofWhose Roombas pioneered the robot vacuum business two decades ago.

The deal is valued at $1.7 billion, and cofounder Colin Angle will retain his role as iRobot CEO at Amazon. Neither company has said much about the acquisition, except that a shared desire to make people’s lives easier,

Already, there’s a lot to worry about What Amazon can do with iRobot’s data, After all, some Roomba vacuums can create detailed maps of your home, and Angle suggested back in 2017 that the company could. Share that information with tech giants, (he quickly thought back,

But the real downfall with this acquisition isn’t just about the data — of which the tech giant already has plenty — but about losing another independent company with interesting smart-home ambitions of its own. While iRobot once had a plan to be the brainchild of your home, its new mission will likely be to peddle more Ring home security subscriptions.

more ambitious plans

iRobot is no longer alone in the robot vacuum business. While it’s still the most popular brand overall, it faces stiff competition from brands like Neato, Eufy, and Ecovacs, which have added their own room-mapping, self-emptying, ledge-detection, and mopping features. is added. Hardware alone is no longer a major difference.

This may explain why Angle has become vocal about iRobot’s software and services in recent years. In 2020, iRobot announced a software update called “Genius,” touting the upgrade as a “brain swap” that would make the Roombas smarter and more coordinated. With Genius, users will be able to define specific areas for spot cleaning, or set up routines to clean some of the generally messy areas.

Last year, Angle took the idea a step further, claiming that iRobot’s Spaces would eventually be able to communicate with other devices in the home. in an interview with fast company In September, he talked about getting Roombas to act as rotating security cameras, adjusting room lighting based on people’s location, and controlling air purifiers based on environmental conditions.

“The realm of genius is far greater than just making your Rumba work better,” Angle told me last year.

Angle also emphasized that Amazon, Apple, and Google were trying to integrate the smart home with practically every product in existence, regardless of how well those integrations worked. (They often don’t work properly.) As an alternative, Angle envisioned a more curated approach in which the iRobot would work better with a smaller number of connected devices.

“Unlike the Googles, Amazons and SmartThings of the world, I believe in a walled garden,” he said. “I believe that experience trumps universality.”

Those ideas are unlikely to materialize after the acquisition. While Amazon is clearly interested in home robots — as seen with the ambitious but deeply flawed Astro — its primary angle is security, and the company has taken surveillance as a focal point of its smart-home efforts as a whole. turned to. One can imagine iRobot dialing back its plans to be the brainchild of your smart home, and instead serve as another set of eyes for Ring Home Security customers and all the civil rights stuff they carry. serving in.

finding familiar territory

Of course, this is all just speculation. But the last time Amazon acquired an ambitious upstart in the smart-home space, it was reported.

I’m referring, of course, to Eero, the maker of Wi-Fi routers, which had grand plans of its own to be the brainchild of your home. Prior to the acquisition, CEO Nick Weaver repeatedly talked about the computing power that Eero built into its mesh Wi-Fi system, explaining how they could power future operating systems for smart homes. can help.

Those plans never came to fruition. As Rachel Cross reported for Mashable in 2019, Eero Abandoned plans for home security systems Fearing competition with Google and other tech giants, and was acquired by Amazon for a disappointing $97 million.

As part of Amazon, Eero continues to develop Wi-Fi routers, but its broader smart-home plans exist primarily to feed into the Ring home security system. Ring Alarm ProWhich was launched last year, is essentially an Eero router and Ring home security base station linked into one product.

Granted, the eero’s core router hasn’t suffered under Amazon, and iRobot’s vacuums and mops aren’t likely either. And when combined, they could combine the kind of ambitious smart-home ecosystem each of the two companies envisioned.

It’s sad to see another attempt at an independent platform transform into a tech giant whose main selling point is keeping you safe from real or perceived danger, rather than just adding convenience to your life.

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