Company / division: Amazon
Amazon Considered a Bid for Slack (Jun 15, 2017)
One of Amazon’s big missteps with its launch of calling and messaging features through its Alexa assistant was the assumption that its users would be happy to receive calls and messages from anyone who had their number, without the ability to block or screen those contacts first. It’s now issued a partial fix, which allows users to block others from calling or messaging them, but still doesn’t appear to have moved to a double-opt-in model under which a user would have to accept someone’s request to connect first before communication can occur. That means it still opens users up to calls and messages from exes and others in way many won’t be comfortable with. That’s how this should have worked from the beginning and the model Amazon should be adopting now.
The Trump administration is holding the first meetings of its American Technology Council, led by Trump son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, later this month. Despite the recent contretemps between the tech industry and the administration, it appears most of the largest companies will still send senior leaders to the meetings, including CEOs or chairmen in many cases. Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Intel, Cisco, and others will all send at least one senior representative to the meetings. That’s a sign of the realism that still prevails at these companies despite broad opposition within their ranks to any kind of collaboration with the government. These companies still have policy objectives the government can and likely will help with, and disengaging entirely over those issues where there’s disagreement isn’t likely either to drive meaningfully different policies in those areas or achieve their broader goals. But that will make for some uncomfortable times for these leaders, most of whom looked pretty awkward at the first pre-inauguration meetings with Trump and his team. And these companies will face continued criticism from within Silicon Valley and elsewhere for their perceived compliance with the administration regardless.
I occasionally see Apple criticized for not simply giving away iCloud storage, and some of those critics will occasionally point to Amazon’s generous offering of unlimited storage for $60 per year as evidence that Apple could do more in this direction. However, Amazon has now announced that it’s discontinuing the offer and moving entirely to tiered pricing along the lines of what others offer. I can’t say I’m surprised – unlimited anything is always a dangerous business model, because it will always attract the heaviest users, who will massively skew the overall economics. That’s true for all-you-can-eat buffets, unlimited wireless data plans and unlimited cloud storage. That’s not to say neither Amazon nor Apple shouldn’t be generous in the amount of storage they provide at various priced tiers, but it is to say that giving away either large amounts of storage for free or unlimited amounts for a fixed price are both bad ideas. Charging at least a nominal amount for storage teaches consumers that it has a cost (which across hundreds of millions of users can be substantial), while capping usage at various price tiers avoids abuses of the system. Unlimited as a pricing strategy is always much more about peace of mind that actual usage anyway – literally no-one needs unlimited anything – everyone’s usage tops out somewhere, and providing the right pricing and flexibility between offerings should meet all use cases across the spectrum. Despite this change, both Amazon and Apple are now offering pretty generous allowances of storage at various reasonable prices, which is the way it should be, and the prices per GB will continue to come down over time, as they also should.
via USA Today
Amazon has begun offering a discounted monthly Prime subscription for low income households. Specifically, it will offer those who receive food stamps a $5.99 per month option, compared to the standard $10.99 per month or $99 per year options. In a survey I did just over a year ago, it was very clear that lower income households were far less able to benefit from the subscription explosion and services like Prime than their wealthier counterparts – the chart linked here gives the summary of penetration of Prime by income, and the article here explains the rest of the detail, though it’s behind the Techpinions paywall. The reality is that it’s tough for households with low or unpredictable incomes to commit to annual subscriptions and even monthly subscriptions, so lowering the cost of the monthly option will make it more palatable while giving customers the flexibility to start and stop their subscriptions on a monthly basis. The WSJ article here focuses on Walmart as the target here, and that’s obviously a reasonable angle given Walmart’s success with lower-income shoppers, but this is really about expanding the addressable market for Prime, regardless of who’s currently capturing those customers. The Prime “flywheel” continues to be Amazon’s strongest competitive weapon, and bringing more households and the people who live in them into the base of Prime subscribers will continue to benefit Amazon enormously.
Amazon Reportedly Working on Cheap Smartphones for India (Jun 5, 2017)
I haven’t really seen this picked up anywhere yet, as it’s coming from a lower-profile news site, but it’s a fascinating bit of reporting. It suggests that Amazon is working on low-cost smartphones for India and potentially other markets, which would run the standard version of Android rather than Fire OS. That’s a huge shift from the Fire Phone strategy, but a sensible one given how poorly that phone performed and how hard breaking into the smartphone market is for brand new operating systems. But the target would also be very different, with a focus on low-end phones in emerging markets. Given how hard Amazon is pushing to take a major share of the Indian e-commerce market right now, building its ecosystem in other ways makes a ton of sense. The one part of this that seems a little odd is that Alexa allegedly isn’t on these phones. That’s likely partly because it’s not available in India at all at the moment, but this whole strategy only really makes sense if these phones put Amazon services front and center. Otherwise, Amazon is entering a crowded and fiercely competitive market increasingly dominated by Chinese companies, so it’s not worth it unless it’s going to meaningfully benefit the Amazon ecosystem and help grow its base of loyal customers in India and elsewhere.
Amazon Adds Reminders and Named Timers to Alexa (Jun 2, 2017)
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.