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Alexa’s controversial drop-in feature could be critical to saving lives

Alexa’s drop-in feature for its smart displays has been clutch for me so many times. From peeking in to see if the cats are up to no good on my desk when I’m not there to simply asking my fiancé a question about her coffee order while I’m at the brew shop waiting and she’s at home, drop-in has proven to be a very convenient and valuable feature on many occasions.

A family member’s recent health scare made me realize the lifesaving potential it has to offer even more — and that’s despite its reputation as one of Alexa’s most controversial features. That’s because it’s often painted as a creepy way for a person to unexpectedly conduct a video call of sorts without someone technically “answering” the call. While this certainly can dissuade Echo Show owners from activating the feature, I believe there’s merit to keeping it. Here’s why.

The controversy around drop-in

At the core of the controversy is privacy. I understand the fear behind a camera peering inside of your home and the potential outcomes that could happen if there is unauthorized outside access (think hackers). There are pros and cons to adding a security camera inside of the home, so I understand the concerns about privacy. For a company as big as Amazon, it would be unwise to simply not take privacy seriously.

Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) camera closeup.
John Velasco / Digital Trends

The commotion around Alexa’s drop-in feature is that unlike a traditional phone or video call, where the receiver is given the option to accept/reject the call, drop-in bypasses that requirement and simply starts the call. The receiver in this case is a compatible Alexa Show smart display. So, if you have one sitting on your desk while you’re working and someone decides to drop-in, you may be surprised to see their face when you look up — it’s that instantaneous!

What most people neglect to mention is that you still have control over who can access the feature, plus there’s an option to disable the camera completely. Alexa-powered smart displays like the Echo Show 8 (3rd Gen) and Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) have a physical privacy shutter that can go over the camera lens to prevent features like drop-in from being used. Regardless of whether you’re for or against drop-in, users still have some level of control over the feature.

Focus on elderly care

We may not think much about it growing up, but as our parents age, there comes a time when we really need to think about their care. If you’re like me and have parents that live far away, you’re faced with the dilemma of how best to be kept in the loop about their well-being. It’s especially critical when it pertains to an emergency situation.

What appeals to me about Alexa’s drop-in feature is that it provides me with a window to interact with my parents on a daily basis. This becomes more critical if their memory deteriorates, seeing that typical tasks such as making phone calls could become problematic for them as they get older. At the very least, I can have peace of mind about using drop-in to check up on them without being physically there. Since our parents both live far from us, bridging that gap with drop-in erases some of our worries.

One of the biggest fears I have is not knowing. Did they fall and hurt themselves? Or perhaps worse, are they in an incapacitated state and unable to get help for themselves? You know that feeling when you’re trying to get a hold of someone who you’re concerned about and they’re not picking up their phone? Even though drop-in still has its limitations when it pertains to these types of situations, it’s nonetheless one outlet at my disposal.

Graduating to Alexa Together

Amazon has already thought about the what-ifs surrounding aging parents with the introduction of Alexa Together during its annual fall event not too long ago. I’ve mentioned already how Alexa’s drop-in feature is something I feel is useful for elderly adults. Alexa Together goes one step further by offering a complete, end-to-end service that aims to keep loved ones together — even though they’re apart.

Alexa Together Routines.

Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) owners already have a potent smart home device at their disposal. With an Alexa Together subscription, they’d be able to do even more with their aging parents — such as sending medication reminders to their Alexa smart display and being able to access 24/7 urgent response and an activity feed to see their smart home interactions. There’s even a fall-detection response feature.

These are all incredible features if you wish to subscribe to Alexa Together when it launches later this year for $20 per month. There’s no denying the astounding features available here to keep us connected with our parents, but it’s worth pointing out that there’s no additional subscription needed to access Alexa’s drop-in feature. It’s a native option that’s available out of the box if you own an Alexa-powered smart display.

Despite the controversy that has continued to swirl around drop-in, it’s one feature that people need to be educated more about. The option is yours, obviously, but I like to erase any and all fears, if possible.

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John Velasco
John is the Smart Home editor at Digital Trends covering all of the latest tech in this emerging market. From uncovering some…
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