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Taken together with the news that Amazon is one of the potential bidders for American Apparel, this is yet more evidence that it’s very serious about the clothing space. Activewear is one of those categories where some people definitely care about brands and are willing to pay for them, but others just want functional clothing at a decent price, and Amazon could do very well among the latter segment. The rise of activewear at stores like Gap and sister company Old Navy over the last several years is a great illustration of this opportunity, and Amazon is smart to try to tap into it.
BlackBerry QNX Launches its Most Advanced and Secure Embedded Software Platform for Autonomous Drive and Connected Cars – BlackBerry (Jan 4, 2017)
BlackBerry’s QNX is one of the leading in-car operating systems, acquired by BlackBerry from Harman some years ago. In the context of the demise of BlackBerry’s hardware business, this is one of several software businesses that forms the core of what the company will be going forward. It seems to be moving fast in providing support for some of the new things carmakers are doing, including autonomous driving, and QNX is definitely one of several big tech names to watch in the car tech space.
Google Assistant is coming to Android TV – The Verge (Jan 4, 2017)
One of the weirdest things about the Google Assistant from the day it launched was that it wasn’t immediately part of Android, but was exclusive to Pixel and Home for at least some period of time (how long exactly has been something of a mystery). We are, now, starting to see signs of the Assistant making its way to some third party devices, notably those cited in this article, but still “in the coming months”. Meanwhile, Alexa is in almost every new voice device announced at CES, highlighting the folly of Google’s strategy to prefer its own devices rather than going straight to an open platform.
Flipkart salaries: Documents reveal high pay of employees at bleeding Indian startup — Quartz (Jan 4, 2017)
In case you’re not familiar with it, Flipkart is the big homegrown competitor to Amazon in India, where the two companies are going head to head in an aggressive fashion, paying (according to this article) high salaries, but more broadly losing lots of money in the process. Amazon, of course, has deep pockets filled by its businesses elsewhere and more recently by AWS, whereas the Indian business makes up most of Flipkart, so if this becomes a game of chicken, Amazon may well come out on top.
Tesla fails to come through on its promise to deliver 80,000 to 90,000 cars in 2016 – Recode (Jan 3, 2017)
The shortfall mentioned here was modest, and was entirely due to delivery rather than production issues. The bigger issue is that, even if it had hit 80 or 90k deliveries in 2016, its targets for 2017 and especially 2018 are higher still, with 2018 apparently ramping to 400,000. That’s still an incredibly steep hill to climb, and I’m doubtful Tesla can up production that quickly. There may be a lot of disappointed Tesla 3 reservers come 2018…
Well, Faraday Future does actually seem to have a car, which seems to be able to drive fairly quickly in a straight line, and is sometimes able to park itself automatically. That much is clear after its press event tonight at CES. But its financial situation, the eventual price and exact launch date of the car, and much else besides remain unclear. The event seems to have gone fairly well, which was in doubt after some recent stories, but it’s still far from certain that we’ll actually see a production vehicle from FF next year.
We’ve arrived remarkably quickly at the specialization phase of voice assistant technology – this usually only arrives once the generic version of a technology has gone mainstream. This device looks clever – though the article is frustratingly silent on when or where it might be available – but the broader point is that we’re going to see lots of companies playing in this space, leveraging Microsoft, Amazon and other platforms and technologies combined with their own expertise. Voice is hot, and that means a rapid entry into the market of dozens of new competitors, many of whom won’t survive there long.
Although Zuckerberg sets himself a personal goal every year, this one feels like a more corporate one than those he’s set in the past, and it’s hard not to read it as an attempt to understand and assuage concerns about Facebook’s increasing power and its role in our lives. I’m curious to see how Zuck goes about connecting with ordinary people and what he hears from them (and who else will be present to hear that feedback). It’s hard to tell at the outset whether this will be more of a stunt or PR exercise or a true listening tour, but Facebook and Zuckerberg definitely need to do more of the latter.
Qualcomm’s new chip may finally get you to try VR – CNET (Jan 3, 2017)
Qualcomm’s new high-end mobile chip moves its product forward across a number of different categories, but it seems to be emphasizing the AR and VR aspects at its CES presentation. I’m looking forward to getting some more detail on this chip in a briefing later this week, but it looks like extending Qualcomm’s lead in this space at the high end.
LeEco had a big launch in the US in October, which felt overwhelming but at the same time short on details – many of the products weren’t available yet, weren’t priced, or were described insufficiently to allow observers to evaluate them. In many ways, LeEco has felt like it’s mimicking other big successful ecosystems, but trying to get there very much more quickly, which has been at the root of its financial challenges. These bikes definitely set them apart from the competition, but can also be seen as yet another sign of a lack of focus and excess of ambition.
Amazon’s Fire TV devices have sold pretty well, but as with Alexa the company is clearly willing to license its technology to appear in third party devices too, in this case TVs sold under three brands owned by a single Chinese company, Tongfang. These aren’t the biggest brands in the market, but this is a starting point, and could lead to more meaningful partnerships in future. However, with Roku also doing well (and perhaps perceived as less of a threat for some of these companies), it’s a competitive space. Amazon, though, can also offer prime placement (no pun intended) on Amazon.com, something Roku can’t.
Roku has done well with standalone players in the past, but is also doing increasingly well in the smart TV space as a platform vendor. It claims 13% share of smart TV platforms in the US, and its TCL partnership seems to be really paying off. With Amazon also entering the market, this is going to be an increasingly competitive space, but it seems more and more TV vendors (with the notable exception of Samsung) are willing to consider outsourcing rather than owning the platform and interface.
Dish unveils a 4K Android TV streaming box with Netflix, Sling TV, and local channels – The Verge (Jan 3, 2017)
Though cord-cutting is often seen as “breaking the bundle”, in reality many cord cutters end up creating their own stitched-together bundles of multiple streaming services, and in many cases an antenna for over the air content is part of the mix too. DISH’s Sling recognizes that, and this box combines the Sling service, Netflix, YouTube, and OTA channels into a single box running Android TV. That makes it a fairly compelling box – arguably more so than most of the other Android TV boxes out there.
This is a fairly damning review of the latest set of Kaby Lake chips from Intel, some of which were announced late last year. The thrust is that in desktops in particular but also in the rest of the lineup Intel is making only incremental improvements over its Skylake processors. This is particularly interesting in the context of Apple’s recent MacBook Pro upgrades, which used the Skylake chips because they couldn’t do what they wanted to with Intel’s newest. Without meaningful competition in PC chips, this isn’t as dangerous as it might be, but it doesn’t bode well that Intel isn’t pushing the envelope in what’s still its core market.
Intel is buying into maps because it can’t afford to miss out on self-driving cars – Recode (Jan 3, 2017)
HERE has walked an interesting path since its acquisition by a consortium of carmakers. It’s already had an investment from several big Chinese tech names, and now here comes Intel. Intel is likely responding here to Nvidia’s early lead in car chips, though I’m not sure how much this play makes sense there: mapping is, of course, generally integrated into devices well above the chip level. But kudos to the carmakers for getting a range of other investors to buy in and recoup some of their investment.
Amazon has done enormously well with the Echo over the past couple of years, but its biggest challenge remains letting it leave the house. It looks like CES is going to be a showcase of many third party integrations, some of which will make sense and many of which won’t. This is a big success for Amazon, but the big question is still whether it can get Alexa into the most personal and portable of devices: the smartphone. Until that happens, Alexa will be competing with assistants like Siri and Google Assistant which are truly ubiquitous.
This will arguably be the year of piling on in VR, with many companies jumping on a bandwagon led by Sony, HTC, and Oculus. Lenovo, of course, has two possible routes to VR – mobile and PC-based. This article is about a PC solution, but at a price closer to some mobile VR technology than most of the PC stuff out there today. Microsoft does seem to be getting some big names on board, though of course we’re months from seeing how these products actually perform in the wild. See also this piece from The Verge with some more details.
On Creativity and Imagination –Magic Leap (Jan 3, 2017)
This blog post from the founder and CEO of Magic Leap is a clear attempt to reclaim and reshape the narrative surrounding the company since reports began to surface a few weeks back. There has been lots of skepticism – and some “next Theranos” hyperbole – about the company, and it clearly feels the need to fight back. ML definitely invited criticism with its misleading concept videos and and the hype it has deliberately created about a product few have yet seen. Those who have seen it think it’s amazing, so I’m inclined to cut them something of a break, but it’s a useful reminder that hyping yourself too much can easily backfire.
via Magic Leap
Most of the smart home coverage I’ve seen has given HomeKit short shrift, and rightly so – it took well over a year from the initial announcement for products to start shipping in any kind of numbers, and meanwhile Amazon’s Echo has grabbed lots of attention in the same space. However, HomeKit devices are now starting to emerge in larger numbers, and HomeKit as a platform is much smarter than Echo, which is essentially a dumb front end which merely passes through requests to the real brain, which lives elsewhere. HomeKit has some way to go, but it is finally starting to gain traction. However, see also this contrary take from the Verge.
Qualcomm Cutting-Edge Automotive Solutions Power Next Generation Infotainment for Volkswagen Vehicles – Qualcomm (Jan 3, 2017)
Qualcomm is one of three big chipmakers to have announced new automotive deals at CES this week, along with Intel and Nvidia. Given how similar many in-car infotainment systems are to the smartphones and tablets Qualcomm already powers, it’s always been a natural player in this space, and is starting to make some headway here. As Android starts to make more of an appearance in these systems, Qualcomm will be a natural partner too – I saw a Panasonic concept system that married Android and a Qualcomm chip on display at CES.