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HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, ALEXA

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Amazon is developing a premium version of its Alexa-powered Echo speaker, which will have a 7-inch touchscreen, in a bid to stave off competition from Google and other companies developing rival offerings, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

Designed for use in the kitchen, the new device would have an upward-tilting touchscreen that would permit a user to swipe controls from a standing position. Current plans call for it to hit the streets by the first quarter of 2017.

The development would mark an important moment for integrating artificial intelligence with automated home devices. Amazon has seen its line of Alexa digital assistant-based products take off, with the ability not only to stream music wirelessly and deliver news, stocks and traffic information, but also to manage more complicated and sensitive tasks, like controlling home security and automobile ignition, and adjusting everything from thermostats to the amount of light in the living room.

Robust Sales

Amazon Echo and Google Home were among the most buzzed-about items on Cyber Monday, according to Adobe Digital Insights spokesperson Melissa Chanslor.

In fact, Amazon on Tuesday reported a record-breaking Cyber Monday, with sales of the Echo family of devices up seven times compared with Cyber Monday 2015.

The company sold millions of Alexa-related devices over the Thanksgiving weekend, with the Echo Dot, the Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, the Fire tablet and the Amazon Echo ranking as the best-selling products from any manufacturer across the site, said Dave Limp, senior vice president, Amazon devices and services.

Amazon sold more than 5.1 million Echo devices in the U.S. since the product was launched in 2014, according to a Consumer Intelligence Research Partners report released earlier this month. Approximately 2 million of the estimated 5.1 million devices sold in the first nine months of 2016 alone, with awareness of the device on the rise.

More than 40 percent of Echo users streamed music on the device, and one-third used it to ask Alexa questions, the report shows.

A touchscreen would be a strong addition to the Echo, which operates mainly through voice controls, noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group .

“There are times when having something respond visually rather than verbally is more useful,” he told TechNewsWorld. For example, checking news and weather at night, or looking for video, photos or lyrics to go with music, would make voice controlled devices more compelling.

Amazon is selling tablets in the US$30 range to lead into holiday sales, Enderle noted, so the addition of a touchscreen likely would not mean a significant cost increase for the home hub.

A visual option also would help Amazon link Alexa devices to the music store, the retail website and Amazon Fire TV, he added.

A Bigger Pie

A touchscreen addition for the Echo would serve to expand the audience of consumers to those who might want mobile device, suggested Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“It will simply extend the Alexa options into the realm of a tablet,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It could be popular with a certain niche that is already hooked on the Alexa voice interface.”

A touchscreen might not be enough to hold back competitors for the digital assistant space, but “the more places Alexa is used, the better for Amazon,” said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“The first thing to consider is that companies that have advanced digital assistants, like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, are going to be looking to use these in any and every device in the future,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The technology behind Google’s digital assistant likely will be used not just in Google Home, McGregor noted, but in every mobile device that uses the Android operating system.

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GOOGLE MAKES $550M STRATEGIC INVESTMENT IN CHINESE E-COMMERCE FIRM JD.COM

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Google has been increasing its presence in China in recent times, and today it has continued that push by agreeing to a strategic partnership with e-commerce firm JD.com, which will see Google purchase $550 million worth of shares in the Chinese firm.

Google has made investments in China, released products there and opened offices that include an AI hub, but now it is working with JD.com largely outside of China. In a joint release, the companies said they would “collaborate on a range of strategic initiatives, including joint development of retail solutions” in Europe, the U.S. and Southeast Asia.

The goal here is to merge JD.com’s experience and technology in supply chain and logistics — in China, it has opened warehouses that use robots rather than workers — with Google’s customer reach, data and marketing to produce new kinds of online retail.

Initially, that will see the duo team up to offer JD.com products for sale on the Google Shopping platform across the word, but it seems clear that the companies have other collaborations in mind for the future.

JD.com is valued at around $60 billion, based on its NASDAQ share price, and the company has partnerships with the likes of Walmart and it has invested heavily in automated warehouse technology, drones and other “next-generation” retail and logistics.

The move for a distribution platform like Google to back a service provider like JD.com is interesting since the company, through search and advertising, has relationships with a range of e-commerce firms, including JD.com’s arch rival Alibaba.

But it is a sign of the times for Google, which has already developed relationships with JD.com and its biggest backer Tencent, the $500 billion Chinese internet giant. All three companies have backed Go-Jek, the ride-hailing challenger in Southeast Asia, while Tencent and Google previously inked a patent-sharing partnership and have co-invested in startups such as Chinese AI startup XtalPi.

 

 

Source: Tech Crunch.

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GOOGLE LAUNCHES A PODCAST APP FOR ANDROID WITH PERSONALIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

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Google today is introducing a new standalone podcast app for Android. The app, called simply Google Podcasts, will use Google’s recommendation algorithms in an effort to connect people with shows they might enjoy based on their listening habits. While podcasts have previously been available on Android through Google Play Music and third-party apps, Google says the company expects Podcasts to bring the form to hundreds of millions of new listeners around the world. (Google Listen, an early effort to build what was then called a “podcatcher” for Android, was killed off in 2012.)

“There’s still tons of room for growth when it comes to podcast listening,” said Zack Reneau-Wedeen, product manager on the app. Creating a native first-party Android app for podcasts “could as much as double worldwide listenership of podcasts overall,” he said.

Google Podcasts will look familiar to anyone who has used a podcast app before. It lets you search for new podcasts, download them, and play them at your convenience. More than 2 million podcasts will be available on the app on launch day, Google says, including “all of the ones you’ve heard of.”

Open the app, and a section called “For you” shows you new episodes of shows you’ve subscribed to, episodes you’ve been listening to but haven’t finished, and a list of your downloaded episodes. Scroll down, and you’ll see top and trending podcasts, both in general and by category. The podcast player has fewer fine-grained controls than you might be used to from apps like Overcast. You can’t customize the skip buttons or create playlists of podcasts to listen to, for example.

The Podcasts app is integrated with Google Assistant, meaning you can search for and play podcasts wherever you have Assistant enabled. The company will sync your place in a podcast across all Google products, so if you listen to half a podcast on your way home from work, you can resume it on your Google Home once you’re back at the house.

In the coming months, Google plans to add a suite of features to Podcasts that are powered by artificial intelligence. One feature will add closed captions to your podcast, so you can read along as you listen. It’s a feature that could be useful to people who are hard of hearing or for anyone who is listening in a noisy environment. (I usually miss a few minutes of the podcasts I listen to every day, thanks to a noisy subway ride.)

Closed captions also mean that you’ll be able to skip ahead to see what’s coming up later in a show. Eventually, you’ll be able to read real-time live transcriptions in the language of your choice, letting you “listen” to a podcast even if you don’t speak the same tongue as the host.

Google also wants to expand the number of people making podcasts. The company’s research showed that only one-quarter of podcast hosts are female, and even fewer are people of color. In an effort to diversify the field, Google formed an independent advisory board that will consider ways to promote podcast production outside of the handful of major metropolitan areas in the United States that currently dominate the field.

Google will not pay any creators to make podcasts directly, the company said, but it will likely explore ways of giving podcasts from underrepresented creators extra promotion. It’s also examining ways to make recording equipment more accessible to people who can’t afford it.

If you already listen to podcasts on Google Play Music, nothing will change today. But the company made it clear that it plans to focus its future efforts around podcasting in the standalone app.

The Android app can be downloaded here. There are currently no plans for an iOS app.

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HUAWEI MATE 20 PRO TIPPED TO SPORT A 6.9-INCH SAMSUNG OLED DISPLAY

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arlier this month, Huawei introduced the Watch 2 smartwatch with an eSIM and voice call support. Now, a new development claims that the company is procuring OLED displays from Samsung. The South Korean giant is said to have already sent out samples to Huawei, and if all goes well, full scale production is expected to start by Q3 2018. The smartphone to sport these 6.9-inch OLED panels is said to release sometime in the fourth quarter or even early 2019, and we largely expect to see them on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

South Korean media The Bell reports that Samsung is in the process of finalising samples with Huawei for its order of 6.9-inch OLED displays. These large-sized displays are usually seen on Huawei’s P series or Mate series. While the P30 series is not expected to arrive before MWC 2019, the Mate series traditionally arrives sometime in Q4. Furthermore, with the screen size being so large, we expect the Pro version to sport the 6.9-inch display, while the Mate 20 could sport a 6.1-inch or some such.

If Huawei is indeed bringing a 6.9-inch display smartphone, it should easily win the screen size battle, as the iPhone X Plus is expected to sport a 6.5-inch display, while the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is expected to sport a 6.4-incher. These large sized displays are very popular in the Chinese market, and Huawei wants to meet expectations in its home market. Bigger screens are popular also because of the large text area used by the Chinese language, the report adds. Huawei wouldn’t want to lose its momentum in its biggest market by not staying ahead of its game.

Of course, all of this is based on sheer speculation, and we expect you to take everything with a pinch of salt, till Huawei makes things official.

 

 

Source: Gadget360

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