One of the more ambiguous features of the new Amazon Echo Show that was revealed this morning is a feature of the device’s video calling capabilities called “Drop In.” If not understood, it can easily be misinterpreted as an invasion of privacy, but if used correctly, it gives the Echo Show several additional use cases. Here’s exactly how the drop in feature works and how to use it without compromising your privacy.
The Echo Show’s drop in feature enables you, the device owner, to optionally allow specific contacts the ability to start a video call without you having to accept/answer the call. This means that anyone on your drop in white list can see your Echo Show’s camera video feed whenever they want. On the surface this might sound like a horrible feature that you’d never imagine wanting to use, which is why it’s important to understand exactly how it works and why it’s available in the first place.
Contacts who you’ve explicitly given drop in access to your Echo Show will be able to see if you’ve been “recently active.” It’s not clear what defines being “recently active,” but presumably it means you’ve recently used your Echo Show, or are currently using it, like listening to music. Recently active contacts who have given you drop in privileges will be listed on the Echo Show’s idle screen. This lets those who are allowed to drop in know that you are around, so they aren’t constantly calling into an empty room/house.
To initiate a drop in call, you have to say “Alexa, drop in on [NAME],” as opposed to just requesting a regular video call by saying “Alexa, call [NAME].” If the person you are calling has explicitly given you drop in privileges ahead of time, you will immediately see a “frosted glass” view of the camera on the device you’re dropping in on. After 10 seconds, if the receiver does nothing, the blurred out view of the camera will automatically be replaced with a clear view.
On the receiving end of a drop in call, the Echo Show will immediately show a clear video feed of the person who is calling, along with a small preview of the frosted glass feed that the receiver’s camera is currently transmitting back to the caller. After 10 seconds, the receiver’s camera preview will go clear, indicating the caller can now see them.
The receiver of a drop in call has 10 seconds, while their camera feed is blurred, to either end the call, disable their video to have a voice-only call, or do nothing to automatically accept the video call. Remember, the receiver of a drop in call has to have granted the caller the ability to initiate an auto-answer drop in call ahead of time, so you’re probably not going to have many, if any, contacts with this privilege.
If you can’t think of anyone you would want to give automatic access to a live video feed of the inside of your house, you’re probably wondering why this feature even exists. For many people, I expect the most likely person they’d give drop in access to is themselves.
Amazon’s new Alexa-based calling and messaging service allows you to start conversations with yourself. This means you can use the Alexa app to call your own Echo Show. If you grant yourself drop in privileges, it means you can check in on your own live Echo Show camera feed anytime from anywhere. This essentially doubles the Echo Show as a makeshift home security camera.
Another use case for the drop in feature is for elderly and/or tech illiterate users. If you have an older family member with health concerns, it might be a good idea to have the option, which you’ll hopefully never need to use, to force their Echo Show to automatically answer in the event they can’t be reached and you’re worried something bad might have happened. For tech illiterate family members, it might be worth initially enabling the drop in feature so you can force your way through if they’re having trouble figuring out how to answer a regular video call.
One more scenery where drop in would be useful is if you have multiple units in your home. You could then use one Echo Show to drop in on the other and have a nice video intercom system in your house. I suspect many people buying two Echo Show’s with the $100 off “SHOW2PACK” promocode will be doing this.
The drop in feature may seem a bit invasive on the surface, but when used correctly, it can add additional functionality to the Echo Show. In addition to selecting which contacts can make drop in calls, you’re going to be able to specify which Echo Shows are allowed to receive drop in calls. This means, for example, you can allow certain people to drop in on you cooking in the kitchen, but keep everyone out of your living room or other more personal spaces. That granular control makes drop in a feature of the Echo Show that you might actually want to use.