Amazon, as I'm sure you know, is the biggest online retailer in the world, run by the richest person in the world. It's also the leader in cloud computing with Amazon Web Services (AWS), and home-based digital assistants with Echo and Alexa.
eero, as you may or may not know, is a mesh router system made by former Apple engineers. It's super simple to set up and use and has a companion subscription service that offers all sorts of extras like content blocking and malware protection.
Amazon + eero
And, you just now might have heard that Amazon, the massive online retailer, and cloud and assistant power, is buying the scrappy young eero router. From Business Wire:
"We are incredibly impressed with the eero team and how quickly they invented a WiFi solution that makes connected devices just work," said Dave Limp, SVP of Amazon Devices and Services. "We have a shared vision that the smart home experience can get even easier, and we're committed to continue innovating on behalf of customers."
"From the beginning, eero's mission has been to make the technology in homes just work," said Nick Weaver, Co-Founder and CEO of eero. "We started with WiFi because it's the foundation of the modern home. Every customer deserves reliable and secure WiFi in every room. By joining the Amazon family, we're excited to learn from and work closely with a team that is defining the future of the home, accelerate our mission, and bring eero systems to more customers around the globe."
So, why are some people so pissed? Why are people who already bought eero saying they're thinking about throwing them out, and people who haven't yet bought them saying they dodged a bullet?
Because, simply put, they feel betrayed. They feel bait-and-switched. They feel sold out. They chose and trusted eero and now they're being handed over to Amazon.
But let's back up a minute.
In April of 2018, Apple canceled it's long-running AirPort line of wireless routers. They were long neglected to the point of being outdated, but people liked them because they were easy to set up and use, and Apple's commitment to privacy was incredibly important to privacy-centric customers.
Absent new AirPorts, or any AirPorts really, people needing a replacement or simply wanting something more modern, went in search of equally privacy-centric alternatives. And, because of their roots in Apple engineering, and their apparently like-minded commitment to privacy, some of them settled on eero.
And now they have Amazon.
It plays to all the fears of small companies you like and trust being eaten by big companies you may very well not, and your data being only ever as protected as the next giant megacorp that takes it over.
Now, whether these feelings are reasonable or not, we'll each all have to decide for ourselves.
Amazon has had more than their share of privacy issues over the years. Over the last year alone, they've come under fire for considering the sale of their facial recognition software to law enforcement organization. Their Echo devices have several times recorded and even transmitted sensitive information, including conversations and messages, to unintended third parties, and, most recently, Ring doorbell contractors — another company bought by Amazon — were accused of monitoring the cameras of their customers, essentially spying on them.
And to cherry top that particular sentiment sundae, some people already feel like Amazon creepily follows them around the internet, always trying to sell them something.
Hi Steve! eero and Amazon take customer privacy very seriously and we will continue to protect it. eero does not track customers’ internet activity and this policy will not change with the acquisition.— eero support 👋 (@eerosupport) February 11, 2019
The reason eero cuts particularly deep with privacy-first customers is because routers sits at the edge of your home or office and the internet.
Forget the North, they are the wall. The primary layer of defense in depths, where the packets leave your phones and tablets and computers and hit your internet service provider, or vice versa. Routers are one of the places you want privacy the most.
And, to some people, even the remotest chance of Amazon using eero to monitor everything that's being done on home or office Wi-Fi, whether intentionally or accidentally, by policy or through abuse, is untenable. As untenable as putting Google there.
So, the reflex reactions of ripping and replacing existing eero systems or thanking the fates they don't have to, and the anger over there being one less privacy-centric option on the market.
So, what about the flip side? From Amazon's point of view, buying eero makes a world of sense, of course. Amazon already owns the cloud, owns online retail — at least in some regions — and owns Echo and the works-with-Alexa ecosystem.
On the surface, slotting eero in there does exactly what the announcement said it does: Creates an infrastructure where adding more works-with-Alexa products to your network is drop-in easy.
Deeper, it sets the stage for an even more advanced, interconnected ecosystem all the way from that cloud to that end-point, and with a huge range of potential products connected in between.
For people who love that works-with-Alexa ecosystem, adding eero as its local heart is pretty great news. As is the idea that eero plus could be melted into Amazon Prime, giving all that extra value not for free but as part of what's already being paid. In other words, an overall savings.
Also, eero is currently available in very, very few regions currently and Amazon could certainly help them expand their reach.
Now, yeah, as weird as it is for some people to use Amazon and love the service and Prime while not liking or trusting the company behind it, because it's cheaper, faster, and there are few to no alternatives, other people genuinely love the company as well as the service and have absolutely no problem with them or their buying eero.
Everyone is, of course, going to have to weigh all the information and decide for themselves. There are legit privacy and security concerns but there are also legit conveniences and benefits.
What remains indisputable, though, is that for people for whom privacy is the most important feature and Amazon is not a company they trust, as of right now, today, there's one less option for it on the market.
Sure, you can still get the Logitech Velum system Apple sells in its stores. You can get something from Ubiquiti, the company founded by one of Apple's original AirPort engineers. I'll drop a list of all of the alternatives in the description below. But, you can no longer get eero, and you still can't get anything from Apple.
And, maybe, that's the real heart of the unhappiness.
The Apple Angle
Apple chose not to keep its aging AirPort line. They chose not to invest in a next-generation, mesh AirPort system for the next generation of Wi-Fi. And, even if they didn't have a clear internal path to one, they chose not to buy eero themselves and bring those engineers back into the fold before Amazon did.
So, Apple customers feels abandoned. Naked and afraid on the internet.
A thousand nos for every yes. A company that prioritizes focus has to stay focused. When you keep adding new products, you sometimes need to retire old products. All of that is true.
But, as I've said repeatedly, the danger of focus is tunnel vision. Eero will now become Amazon's router and its connection between cloud and home. Google already has one. So does Samsung, who acquired it along with SmartThings and all of their connected home accessories.
Google also bought Nest and Dropcam. Amazon also bought Ring and Blink, is buying eero, and has invested in ecobee. And there are probably other acquisitions I've missed or forgotten. Probably many.
And Apple, again, has no router, no connection between their cloud and their customer's devices, and has so far bought and brought precisely zero HomeKit accessories in house, nor has developed any of its own.
Do they have to? They obviously feel like they don't. Or, at least, they've shown no outward signs of it so far.
And believe me, I'm keenly aware that it's super mega easy trademark to think you know better when you have zero responsibility to ship or sell product. And Presuming to substitute hot takes for actual business acumen has seen the reputation of many a pundit and analyst smote across the Internet.
And the internet is strewn with the battered reputation corpses of pundits who thought they understood product and design strategy better than Apple.
I do worry about the horn effect. Apple has benefited from the halo: People buying iPhones have bought iPads, Macs, AirPods, Watches, etc. But, equal and opposite, when you let those same people buy critical pieces of the experience from other vendors, you risk them leaving you for those other vendors.
Consider this as well: Despite early plans and promises to the contrary, neither Google's Nest nor Amazon's Ring have offered any HomeKit support. Which means the competition isn't just buying up the ecosystem, they're walling it off.
Bit by bit, company by company, people who use Apple and HomeKit won't be able to access some of the best products on the market.
Sure, There will be companies that stay independent and conglomerates that continue to support HomeKit regardless of whether they're independent or not. Some of them will be good. But not all of them will be the best. And they'll work but, unlike what we expect from Apple, they won't "just work". But they will with Amazon or Google or Samsung. And that'll make it much more likely for people to keep buying Amazon or Google or Samsung. Certainly for the home. Maybe for more, up to and including phones.
And what's really weird about all this is that it's the exact opposite of how Apple usually operates.
Tim Cook's doctrine states that Apple should strive to control those technologies that are core to their business interests. Apple is usually the integrated player in any key market, leaving the wider but less elegant modular approach to the competition.
Apple may feel like routers and HomeKit — which I still really hope they rebrand as Apple Home — don't benefit from integration and aren't those kinds of core technologies.
But looking around my Twitter feed today, I see an avalanche of Apple customers who'd disagree.
And, for a company that values and champions privacy the way Apple does, what could be more important than securing that privacy right at the internet line?
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