Off Brand

How My Doorbell Betrayed Me

Amazon’s Ring kicked off a dark new era of shapeshifting products

Rob Walker
Published in
5 min readJan 28, 2020


Illustration: Fran Caballero

AA little over four years ago, my wife and I moved into a new house (well, new to us; it’s more than a hundred years old but was recently refurbished) with no doorbell. Right around that time I read a post on BoingBoing about a cool-sounding WiFi-connected video doorbell called Ring. I work at home but I can’t always run to the door, so I was attracted to an intercom-like feature that would let me use my phone to tell, say, a delivery guy to just leave the package behind the gate. Although it cost $200, I could easily install it myself. So we bought one. It seemed like a nifty gizmo.

Today, of course, the Ring has, shall we say, a more complicated reputation. For a while, it was a beloved startup story: Back in 2013, founder Jamie Simonoff was turned down when he pitched Shark Tank on what he was calling the DoorBot; five years later, he sold the company to Amazon for more than $1 billion.

Welcome to the era of the stealthy shapeshifter product: The object itself might not change, but software updates can completely transform it.