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HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, ALEXA

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amazon-echo

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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Industry

THE FINTECH REVOLUTION IN INSURANCE

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Advancing technology has collided with longstanding customer issues to create a series of deep, lasting, systemic challenges for insurance. How will these trends impact insurers’ businesses and the industry overall?

The rise of fintech, changing consumer behavior, and advanced technologies are disrupting the insurance industry. Additionally, Insurtechs and technology startups continue to redefine customer experience through innovations such as risk-free underwriting, on-the-spot purchasing, activation, and claims processing.

The report from Deloitte Global examines forces that are disrupting the insurance industry and presents four possible scenarios for the future. We explore:

  • Changing the channel: Partnerships with product makers and distributors, and embedding insurance into other products and services may enable customers to select products that best fit their lifestyle.
  • Underwriting by machine: Technology advancements including AI innovations and algorithms will likely individualize risk selection and pricing, and customers can select products based on a wider range of price points.
  • Rise of the flexible product: Time-flexible, event-driven, modular and adjustable coverage may evolve to accommodate life stage, lifestyle, and wellness changes among consumers.
  • E-Z life insurance: Given the growth and shopping patterns in emerging markets, insurers who introduce flexible term products, and master digital distribution without compromising underwriting are likely to win in the marketplace.

Read the report to understand what the future holds for the insurance industry.

Key Contact

Neal Baumann

Neal Baumann

Global Insurance Leader

Neal leads Deloitte’s Global Insurance practice and is the US insurance consulting leader. He has 20 years of experience advising financial services and insurance company clients on corporate and comp… More

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GOOGLE NEVER REALLY LEFT CHINA: A LOOK AT THE CHINESE WEBSITE GOOGLE’S BEEN QUIETLY RUNNING

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More information is leaking out about just how Google is planning to re-enter the Chinese market with a mobile search engine application that complies to the country’s censorship laws.

The Intercept first broke this story when a whistleblower provided them documentation detailing the secret censored search project (codenamed Dragonfly). According to them, an overlooked Google acquisition from 2008 — 265.com — has been quietly laying down the foundation for the endeavor.

In order to run a business in China, tech companies are required to obtain a Internet Content Provider license from the Chinese government. As it’s difficult for foreign businesses to obtain this license, Google has long partnered with Chinese IT company Ganji.com. Back in the early years of Google.cn, Google actually operated directly off of Ganji.com’s license, even claiming the Chinese company was temporarily running its search engine. Facing intense scrutiny from the Chinese government and the media over this license arrangement, in 2007 Google formed a legitimate joint venture company with Ganji.com — the Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co.

Because of the necessity of that license, Google has maintained that joint venture and has been operating in China under the name Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co. ever since. Even after the shut down of Google.cn, Google’s Chinese advertising enterprise has been operating under the joint venture company as well as, low and behold, 265.com. A whois search of the 265.com domain name, which provides a record of the current domain registrant information, pulls up Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co. as the registrant organization.

A significant number of Google employees are reportedly none too happy about Google’s project complying with Chinese censorship laws. This most recent news, that the company has long been collecting data for a moment just like this, surely won’t make morale among these workers any better.

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WHISTLEBLOWER REVEALS GOOGLE’S PLANS FOR CENSORED SEARCH IN CHINA

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Google is reportedly planning to relaunch its search engine in China, complete with censored results to meet the demands of the Chinese government. The company originally shut down its Chinese search engine in 2010, citing government attempts to “limit free speech on the web.” But according to a report from The Interceptthe US tech giant now wants to return to the world’s biggest single market for internet users.

According to internal documents provided to The Intercept by a whistleblower, Google has been developing a censored version of its search engine under the codename “Dragonfly” since the beginning of 2017. The search engine is being built as an Android mobile app and will reportedly “blacklist sensitive queries” and filter out all websites blocked by China’s web censors (including Wikipedia and BBC News). The censorship will extend to Google’s image search, spell check, and suggested search features.

The web is heavily censored in China, with the country’s so-called Great Firewall stopping citizens from accessing many sites. Information on topics like religion, police brutality, freedom of speech, and democracy are heavily filtered, while specific search topics (like the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and Taiwanese independence) are censored completely. Advocacy groups report that censorship in the country has increased under President Xi Jinping, extending beyond the web to social media and chat apps.

The whistleblower who spoke to The Intercept said they did so because they were “against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people.” They also suggested that “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”

Patrick Poon, a researcher with Amnesty International, agreed with this assessment. Poon told The Intercept that if Google launches a censored version of its search engine in China it will “set a terrible precedent” for other companies. “The biggest search engine in the world obeying the censorship in China is a victory for the Chinese government — it sends a signal that nobody will bother to challenge the censorship any more,” said Poon.

In a statement given to The Verge, a spokesperson said: “We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com. But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans.”

According to The Intercept, Google faces a number of substantial barriers before it can launch its new search app in China, including approval from officials in Beijing and “confidence within Google” that the app will be better than its main rival in China, Baidu.

Google previously offered a censored version of its search engine in China between 2006 and 2010, before pulling out of the country after facing criticism in the US. (Politicians said the company was acting as a “functionary of the Chinese government.”) In recent months, though, the company has been attempting to reintegrate itself into the Chinese commercial market. It launched an AI research lab in Beijing last December, a mobile file management app in January, and an AI-powered doodle game just last month.

Although this suggests Google is eager to get a slice of China’s huge market of some 750 million web users, ambitions to relaunch its search engine may yet go nowhere. Reports in past years of plans to bring the Google Play mobile store to China, for example, have so far come to nothing, and Google regularly plans out projects it ultimately rejects.

Notably, relations between China and the US have worsened in recent weeks due to trade tariffs imposed by President Trump. The Interceptreports that despite this Google staff have been told to be ready to launch the app at short notice. The company’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes, reportedly told employees last month that they must be prepared in case “suddenly the world changes or [President Trump] decides his new best friend is Xi Jinping.”

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