Company / division: Amazon
Amazon Channels Launches in UK and Germany (May 23, 2017)
Amazon Channels is one of those slightly under the radar offerings that I suspect many people still aren’t aware of, but which has seen Amazon slowly create a version of a pay TV package alongside its Prime subscription. The US version is now pretty comprehensive, with channels from HBO, Starz, Showtime, and Cinemax to more specialized niche and foreign channels. It’s now launching in the UK and Germany, with a different set of channels more relevant for local audiences, but without some of the more high profile channels that are part of the US version. I’m sure that, like the US version, the European versions will evolve over time with additional channels. I’ve said before that this is a great model for Amazon, which gets to bolt on additional revenue to its Prime subscription while learning lots about how people consume pay TV should it want to launch a self-contained pay TV service at some point in the future, and which is also useful in continuing to flesh out the Prime Video service itself.
Dish Allows Alexa Voice Control of Set Top Boxes (May 22, 2017)
Amazon Updates 7″ Tablet, Lowers Price on 8″ Version (May 18, 2017)
The tablet market continues to be one of the most interesting in consumer electronics. Having grown faster than any other previous new category, it’s been in decline now for several years, with almost all players seeing declines in sales. Amazon’s chunk of the market has always focused on smaller, cheaper tablets, partly a reflection of its inability to compete in premium hardware but also reflective of a broader strategy of selling devices at or below cost to stimulate investment in its ecosystem. It’s now refreshing its 7″ tablet, its cheapest and most popular version, and also lowering the price on its slightly higher end 8″ version, a sign that it’s still very interested in the category. That’s interesting at a time when Apple has said its sub-9.7″ tablets are the only segment of its iPad business that’s declining, and when it’s reported to be considering phasing the smaller iPad mini out altogether. What we’re seeing in some ways is an increasing bifurcation of the market between larger premium tablets used by adults for work and other more sophisticated tasks and smaller cheaper tablets used mostly for video watching and to a greater extent by kids.
Amazon Debating Entry to Online Prescriptions Market (May 16, 2017)
Amazon Announces Alexa Notifications for Apps Coming Soon (May 16, 2017)
Amazon has announced on its developer blog for Alexa that notifications will soon be coming to the platform for Skills (apps) developers which want to proactively serve up information to users (Amazon will also use the platform to deliver updates for Amazon.com orders). This is both an interesting new opportunity for Amazon and Alexa and a potential minefield. On the one hand, every developer wants to proactively re-connect with users rather than merely passively wait for users to re-engage on their own, especially on a voice-only device where there’s no visual prompt or reminder that the app even exists. But on the other, that could lead to fairly spammy behavior from some apps akin to what we already see from some smartphone apps – notifications are a Pandora’s box of possibilities which have many legitimate uses but are also often abused and quickly get out of control. It will have to be very clear to users how they turn these notifications on and off, how many they receive and what for, and so on, something that’s going to be a little tougher to manage on a voice-only device than on a smartphone. It’ll arguably be the best fit on the Echo Show, where users can interact with and control the notifications a little more easily. Both Amazon and its developers will want to tread very carefully in rolling this out.
Amazon Fire TVs Announced by Westinghouse at CES Go on Sale (May 16, 2017)
Amazon Buys Rights for 40 Movies at SXSW Film Festival (May 10, 2017)
Amazon previously invested in Nucleus, a company that makes a tabletop videoconferencing system for the home, and now the company’s CEO is angry because Amazon has just released the Echo Show, which he sees as very similar. Two quick things to say about this: firstly, if you take an investment from a company like Amazon, you have to go in with your eyes open. You have to know that the reason for the investment is that the company is interested in the technology, which might mean to an outright acquisition of your company (best case scenario) or might simply enable it to learn about it and do its own thing (worst case scenario). If you don’t know that going in, that’s your fault. Secondly, it’s not like the Echo Show is a pure clone – it’s first and foremost an Echo, a concept Amazon can quite fairly say it has pioneered, and only secondarily a videoconferencing system. Yes, that element was emphasized in its video and so on, but that’s because it’s a big part about what’s new and different from this device compared with its previous Echo devices. This device does far more than that, though, and anyone suggesting it’s some kind of clone is on the wrong track. It sucks to be Nucleus right now, but it should have known this outcome was a strong possibility from the start.
A tiny, low-res picture of what might be Amazon’s Echo with a screen emerged today, and leaker Evan Blass followed up with a much higher-resolution version later in the day. The device looks vaguely like an old fashioned portable TV set, with a screen above a speaker grille, and a fairly substantial body behind the two. As I’ve said before, this form factor makes a ton of sense for Amazon for a variety of reasons, but it rather undermines the idea that voice and not touch is the next user interface. There’s also a certain irony in the prospect of Amazon announcing an Echo with a screen while Apple announces an Echo competitor without one in the space of a few weeks, as is presently rumored. The reality is that standalone voice assistants fill a useful role, but most people will want their assistants and devices to span several categories, including those with both voice capability and screens.
Amazon Video App May Finally Come to Apple TV in Q3 (May 5, 2017)
HBO Will Pull Shows from Amazon Prime After Next Year (May 3, 2017)
Ecobee Launches Thermostat with Alexa (May 3, 2017)
YouTube and Netflix Dominate Teens’ Video Viewing (May 2, 2017)
Amazon is giving developers of Skills (apps) for Alexa new speech tools which should help them create interactions where the assistant sounds more human through the use of pauses, different intonation, and so forth. Amazon already uses these for Alexa’s first party capabilities, but third party developers haven’t had much control over how Alexa intones the responses in their Skills. This should be a useful additional developer tool for adding a bit more personality and value, but I wonder how many developers will bother – new platform tools like this are always a great test of how engaged developers are and how committed they are to creating the best possible experience rather than just testing something out. I’ve argued from the beginning that the absolute number of Skills available for Alexa (now at 12,000) is far less meaningful than the quality of those apps, and many of them are very basic or sub-par, likely from developers trying something out as a hobby without any meaningful commitment to sustaining or improving their apps. On the other hand, the smaller number of really serious apps for Alexa should benefit from these new tools.