After taking a beating from critics and consumers on its first foray into smartphones with the Fire phone, Amazon has decided to focus its efforts elsewhere.
The company has very recently released a group of engineers retained to work on phones, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal Wednesday evening.
Those engineers worked at Lab126, Amazon’s super-secretive hardware development shop in Silicon Valley, the WSJ reported, citing “people familiar with the matter.” Amazon is said to be scaling back or discontinuing several other high-ambition projects at Lab126, including development of a large-screen tablet.
It’s unclear exactly how many people from the division’s 3,000-person headcount were laid off, the WSJ pointed out. Lab126 is also restructuring itself, and combining certain groups, the report says.
Amazon’s phone was introduced at a splashy media event in Seattle in June of 2014. Not long after the event the negative reviews of the device started coming in (read our review here). The Fire was a well-built device but sported a set of features that were exotic but not very useful.
Many of the features of the new phone, predictably, were aimed at shopping at Amazon. For instance, the Firefly app provided users with links and options for buying items the phone’s camera say or heard in the real world.
It wasn’t hard to see the writing on the wall for the Fire Phone. With its high-end price ($650 retail or $200 on contract), exclusivity to AT&T, and lack of essential features (Amazon’s “3D-like” interface was pretty much a gimmick), the Fire Phone was a tough sell from the beginning.
By October of last year it was estimated that Amazon has sold just 35,000 Fire phones. The company said in a Q3 2014 earnings call with investors that it was taking a $170 million write-off related to lower than expected sales of the device.
Interestingly, as late as December 2014 Amazon was still working on the follow up to the first Fire phone. At the time it had gone back to the drawing board (as one source put it) and was trying to come up with an attractive feature set for the device. But, our sources said, Amazon would not release the new model until 2016.
If the reports today are correct, the Fire phone has been removed from the drawing board and placed in the trash can — a merciful death for one of the biggest smartphone flops in recent memory.
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Today’s marketers have an unprecedented opportunity — yet taking advantage of that opportunity is also a significant challenge.
What is that opportunity? To know who customers are and what they want.
Most marketers have traditionally known very little about their customers or what they care about. What data companies do have is typically limited to historical transactions for individuals and possibly some persona data.
But consumers today create more data than ever… in more channels and on more devices.
The challenge is, there is simply so much customer data available, that it’s not always clear how to find and consolidate the right pieces to understand each customer in the right context.
Tomorrow’s VB Insight webinar, “ID Unification: How top marketers are beating the odds,” tackles that challenge.
The webinar will cover data from a survey of over 500 marketers, like what data they focus on, where they store it, and how they use it. We’ll also be joined by three marketing experts who will offer insight from their own experiences:
- Scott Kabat, CMO of Prezi
- Shawn Burns, SVP at Schneider Electric
- Zouhair Belkoura, CEO at KeepSafe
Most companies tend to be like the proverbial blind men around the elephant: they’re making guesses about their customers based on limited and often inaccurate data. That data is also stored in different places, keeping it in silos.
Yet those marketers who are able to gather, unify, and apply customer insight are boosting engagement throughout the customer journey with relevant conversations, messages, and experiences. Join us to learn how.
Last year, Google was considering purchasing the livestreaming site Twitch. That fell through, but this didn’t stop the company from pushing forward with a gaming initiative all its own: YouTube Gaming. This launched today, and GamesBeat is taking a closer look at all of its slick new features (game hubs) along with its remaining warts (the copyright-protecting algorithm ContentID).
If I were to get reductive about YouTube Gaming, I would call it nothing but a new skin for existing YouTube content. But that’s a bit unfair. This new feature has a totally reworked user interface that enables gamers to keep up with videos — both live and recorded — featuring their favorite games.
That is perhaps the biggest change with YouTube: It turns a site that previously had lots of gaming videos into something that is much closer to a real gaming website. You can see that shift when you first load up gaming.youtube.com or the apps.
On the right side of the YouTube Gaming homepage, you can see a bunch of people who are livestreaming games. Some of the most popular people already have well more than 10,000 viewers.
But the left sidebar is more interesting, as it enables you to star and follow certain games that you like. I chose Super Mario Maker, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, and Counter-Strike. Clicking on one of those games from my sidebar takes me to its hub page. Again, Google uses its algorithm to fill in the data. This includes a game description ripped from Wikipedia as well as a number of recorded and live videos. Most interestingly, each game hub also has a tab where you can find “let’s plays” or reviews. The let’s plays — where gamers record themselves playing a game from beginning to end — automatically fills with playlists. The review page naturally pulls in video reviews for said game.
Does it work?
For people who prefer watching videos over reading text, I could see YouTube Gaming easily taking over as the go-to site for content. Some games, like Super Mario Maker, aren’t even out yet, but you can head to its page and get a ton of videos from a variety of different people in an instant.
Some people might miss the editorial control you get from a website run by humans and not algorithms, but I’m thinking most won’t even notice the difference.
How it compares to Twitch
Of course, YouTube Gaming doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it is very difficult to see it as anything but a reaction to Twitch. So let’s go ahead and make the inevitable comparisons.
How it’s better than Twitch
- YouTube Gaming seems so much more modern than Twitch.
- The UX is cleaner and better looking.
- The gaming hubs have so much more content.
- YouTube has a built-in advantage in that it has way more recorded content, which Twitch doesn’t save for long.
- With a click of a button you know you can get live broadcasts, let’s plays, or reviews.
- Just about anyone can start earning money from YouTube in an instant.
- Streaming to YouTube instantly uploads a video once you’re finished.
- It doesn’t have Twitch chat.
How Twitch is still better
- Twitch is still going to have the most live content.
- Software like OBS and Xsplit (which is how most people broadcast gameplay) have more support for Twitch.
- YouTube’s ContentID works on live broadcasts, where Twitch doesn’t interfere with live shows.
- That means that a developer could potentially use ContentID to shut down a stream if you’re saying something you don’t like. That’s something that hasn’t happened on Twitch yet.
- Twitch’s community efforts are still ahead of YouTube. Proof of that includes the upcoming TwitchCon event next month.
- Twitch doesn’t have YouTube comments.
YouTube Gaming does not spell the immediate doom of Twitch. While I like some aspects of what Google is doing better, it’s not perfect. And Twitch didn’t get to the top of broadcasting by accident. It has a smart team that knows what gamers want, and now it also has some real competition that should make everything about this space better.
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Facebook is testing a personal digital assistant to run inside its Messenger mobile application, an early step toward a challenge to artificial intelligence-based services like Apple's Siri, Google's Google Now and Microsoft's Cortana. The service, called M, can carry out tasks on a user's behalf, such as making purchases, booking appointments and travel, or sending gifts, according to a posting on the social network by David Marcus, Facebook's vice president of messaging products.
Intel just announced a more than $60 million investment into Shanghai-based drone maker Yuneec. The news comes the same week that fellow Chinese drone company Ehang raised $42 million, and Sony unveiled its own drone prototype due out in early 2016.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich called Yuneec’s technology “a game changer in the drone industry,” and said the investment falls in line with Intel’s vision of a “smart and connected world” propelled in part by the evolution of drone technology.
Yuneec’s main rival in China, SZ DJI Technology, also raised $75 million at an $8 billion valuation earlier this year. Intel has notably previously invested in drone companies PrecisionHawk (a $10 million Series B in November) and Airware (an undisclosed amount in April).
Yuneec’s chief executive Tian Yu said that a controller with a built-in screen, as well as a smart mode, makes the hardware “very easy to learn” for beginners. He added that new users will be able to “take off in five minutes” of getting their hands it.
“Together, we believe we can make drones that will truly change the world,” Krzanich said. Yuneec’s Typhoon Q500 model, which comes with 4K video recording, can be set up to automatically follow a user’s movements on the ground.
Amazon, Facebook, and Google all testing their own drones. Intel’s move is unlikely to be the last big investment we hear of in the space this year.
While neither company specifically stated what the news funds will be used for, we have reached out to Yuneec for comment, and will update you if we hear back.
The announcement video, which includes footage of Yu test flying the drone, is included below.
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Intel has poured more than $60 million into Yuneec International Co., a Shanghai-based drone and aerospace company, as a broad range of technology companies investigate the possible commercial uses of unmanned aircraft. Venture capitalists and companies are investing in drone technology on the expectation that unmanned aerial vehicles will prove beneficial for consumers and industrial customers.
The Securities and Exchange Commission obtained a preliminary injunction freezing $118 million in assets of Iftikar Ahmed, a former investment professional with Oak Investment Partners in Greenwich. The SEC accused Ahmed in May of reaping $65 million in ill-gotten gains by by altering documents to overstate the value of companies presented to Oak for potential investment.
Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab S2 tablet isn’t the coolest looking tablet on the market, but it is thin and sleek, pretty powerful, and comes with some nice software onboard.
The S2, the new flagship in Samsung’s tablet line, became available for preorder today and will go on sale in the U.S. September 3. Samsung was kind enough to loan me a tablet to play with today, and my first impressions were overall pretty good.
Thin and light
The first thing you notice is that the tablet (I played with the 9.7-inch version; there’s also an 8-inch version) is very light at 13.8 ounces. It’s also very thin at 5.6mm — 16 percent thinner than the last Tab. The tablet I tested was all black with a thin, bevelled silver line running around the front edge of the device. The tablets also come in white and gold.
The 4:3 aspect ratio display looks great. This is expected in a flagship tablet from Samsung, which leads the industry in display technology. The Super AMOLED shows colors in both still images and videos that are rich and vivid. Text looks sharp (but not too sharp) and well-defined. Above all, the display is bright and pleasing to the eyes.
The 2-mega pixel front-facing camera is more than sufficient for video chatting and selfies. But I have some doubts about the S2’s rear-facing camera. The below image was shot from the VentureBeat office using the S2’s rear-facing camera. The image seemed well-detailed, but a bit washed out by bright sunlight in the upper-middle of the frame.
The tablet comes with 32GB of standard memory, and is expandable up to 128GB with the microSD memory card. Samsung execs said in a press briefing that it looked at how individuals used tablets in the office, and did a survey with other people, which revealed that people are storing things in the cloud, not on the device. So 32GB should be adequate, Samsung said.
One of the main selling points of the tablet is the multi-tasking functions it offers, with the Octa-core processor to make it work well. I tested the feature by streaming some video and reading email simultaneously, and was satisfied with the performance. I saw no drag in the email app, and no drag, pixelation, or audio-video syncing problems in the video. However, I noticed that the OS does not allow you to multi-task some of the more processor-intensive apps at the same time; for example you can’t stream video and play a game simultaneously.
Another selling point is the fact that the tablet comes with a small suite of Microsoft apps. They include Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Actually, when you tap on the Microsoft apps you’ll have to download an update before they’ll run, but it doesn’t take long on a Wi-Fi connection.
I came away impressed after my first hour of using the new Tab. I liked the svelte design and appreciated the new multi-tasking functions. I doubt these features would be enough to get the owner of the last generation Tab to upgrade, but it seems worth the price for someone who doesn’t already have a tablet. And I think the S2 might provide a user a few years of use before having to trade up. The 9.7-inch tablet I tested might be especially attractive to buyers in enterprise settings, too.
Beating the iPad
Based on the S2’s specs, it looks like Samsung is trying to win over people who might normally buy an iPad. The Korean tech giant says it’s actively working with retailers to “offer a limited time tablet bonus trade-in offer” on “qualifying tablets.”
This will see shoppers potentially secure $100 (or more) off the price of the Galaxy Tab S2. And you can bet your bootlaces the iPad is one of the aforementioned “qualifying” devices.
Price and purchasing options
Wi-Fi only: 9.7-inch, 32GB (MSRP: $499.99) and 8.0-inch (MSRP: $399.99).
Wi-Fi and LTE: 9.7-inch, 32GB. Color options: Black – AT&T, Sprint, US Cellular, T-Mobile; White –Verizon. The carriers will confirm specific pricing and availability, Samsung says.
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