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A catalogue of exciting products are set to the hit the American market in the new year but experts warn that 2019 could bring trust-related challenges for the tech industry.
US retail revenue is expected to climb to a record high of $398 billion this year, with upcoming releases such as 8K TVs, Alexa-controlled pianos and motion-detecting drones. The trade group behind The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) predicts sales of gadgets will be unaffected despite the privacy scandals and ongoing geopolitical tensions.
"There are so many cool things happening in the consumer electronics industry right now," said CTA vice president of market research Steve Koenig. "We are fast approaching a new era of consumer technology."
The Las Vegas trade fair will showcase an array of futuristic innovations; including foldable phones, super high resolution 8K televisions, driverless cars, gunfire-blocking drones, and will even demonstrate child-monitoring Lovot robots.
The 2019 event will focus on artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, smart homes, smart cities, and health wearables. They will feature 4,500 exhibitors across 2.75 million square feet of exhibit space, with 182,000 trade professionals expected to attend.
The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) predict revenue growth in the US for smart phones, speakers, homes and watches along with televisions, drones, 'in-vehicle tech,' and streaming services, despite an array of 2018 scandals involving technology giants.
Last year, Amazon was forced to explain how virtual assistant Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent it to an Echo user without their knowledge. Facebook have also seen their shares plummet in the wake of privacy issues and face lawsuits in regards to their lax security of user data.
Amazon’s facial recognition software Rekognition has come under fresh scrutiny after a group of US lawmakers demanded more information into how the tool is tested and audited.
Amazon has announced that Amazon Echo will now support Apple music.
As of December 17th, Apple music’s 50 million tracks will be available to play on Amazon's Alexa-powered speakers. It comes as a turning point for the two competing tech giants, as they broaden their service offerings to users of rival devices.
Apple – who has around 50 million subscribers to its music streaming service – is hoping the merge will bring a key service to consumers who do not have an iPhone or other Apple device, and will help the California giant's efforts to diversify its revenue base and reduce dependence on smartphone sales.
Apple currently have their own speaker device, the Homepod, which is voice activated by Siri. But with less than 6% market share, and smart speakers quickly becoming mainstream media platforms, it is hoped their collaboration will help expand its audience in its competition against market leader Spotify.
Music is one of the most popular features on Alexa -- since we launched Alexa four years ago, customers are listening to more music in their homes than ever before," said Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices.
"We're thrilled to bring Apple Music -- one of the most popular music services in the US -- to Echo customers this holiday."
"Customers will be able to ask Alexa to play their favorite songs, artists, and albums -- or any of the playlists made by Apple Music's editors from around the world, covering many activities and moods," Amazon's statement said.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Google is reportedly set to purchase significant amounts of real estate throughout New York City, which could provide an extra 12,000 tech workers to multiply its workforce.
Parent company, Alphabet Inc. is nearing a deal to buy or lease three new properties in the city, including a 1.3 million-square foot building in St. John’s Terminal.
Earlier this year, the tech giant spent $2.4 billion buying New York City’s historic Chelsea Market, with plans to add a community space, winter garden and a public water taxi landing. It closely resides to their 111 Eighth Avenue headquarters, which they purchased in 2010.
Over the last two years Google has spent a reported $2.8 billion on real estate, and earlier this month paid $1 billion for a property in Mountain View, California.
Amazon is also set for expansion in New York, with plans set to split its headquarters between Long Island City in Queens and Arlington County VA, providing a further 25,000 jobs for the company. HQ2 is set to be the largest economic development project in New York State history, bringing billion of dollars in tax revenue.
PLDT, NTT Communications, PCCW Global, SoftBank, Facebook and Amazon have selected TE SubCom to install a high-capacity transpacific cable system scheduled to launch in 2020. TE SubCom, a TE Connectivity Ltd. Company, is an industry pioneer in undersea communications technology.
“The demand for bandwidth in the Pacific region continues to grow at a remarkable rate, and is accompanied by the rise of capacity-dependent applications like live video, augmented and virtual reality, and 4k/8k video,” said Koji Ishii of SoftBank, co-chairperson of JUPITER consortium.
The JUPITER cable system will connect the following locations: Maruyama, Japan; Shima, Japan; Los Angeles, California; and Daet, Camarines Norte, Philippines. The new transpacific route will provide greater diversity of connections and enhanced reliability for customers, as well as optimal connectivity to data centers on the West Coast of the United States.
“JUPITER will provide the necessary diversity of connections and the highest capacity available to meet the needs of the evolving marketplace,” Ishii added. “TE SubCom has a proven record of success in the design and implementation of innovative, scalable and robust transoceanic cable systems, making the company the most reliable choice for the JUPITER supply partner.”
Sanjay Chowbey, president of TE SubCom, said submarine cables continue to have a critical impact on the global economy, as well as cultural, educational and medical advancement around the world.
“It is our privilege to help facilitate the growth of global connectivity and provide reliable, high-capacity and low-latency transmission to regions where bandwidth is at a premium,” Chowbey said. “We look forward to the next phases of what will be a high quality and industry leading system implementation.”
Saudi Telecom Company (STC), Saudi Arabia’s largest telecom company, announced the company’s interim financial results for the period ending at 30 September 2017. The group’s net income for the 3rd quarter of 2017 increased 18.2 percent compared to the comparable quarter last year, and for the 9 months period of 2017, net income reached SR 7.5 billion, an increase of 10.4 percent compared to the comparable period last year.
The company’s operating profit for the 3rd quarter increased 23 percent compared to comparable quarter last year, while earnings per share for the 9 months period of 2017 grew to reach SR 3.76 compared to SR 3.41 for the comparable period last year.
STC CEO, Dr. Khalid Biyari, said the results reflect growth in enterprise and wholesale sectors which achieved revenue despite a decline in consumer revenue during the period. The results were also achieved, he said, despite various economic and regulatory conditions in the domestic market.
STC adopted a strategy years ago to focus on diversifying sources and introducing innovative programs to achieve operational efficiency. Therefore, net income for the 3rd quarter increased 18.2 percent compared to the comparable period last year, and for the 9 months period of 2017 net income increased 10.4 percent compared to the comparable period last year.
Dr. Biyari said that STC, through its various subsidiaries, works “hard and steadily side by side with public and private sector in the Kingdom to establish a contemporary environment for the digital transformation in Saudi Arabia and to establish a modern environment that contributes to the spread of the digital environment.”
STC’s growth strategy adopted recently seeks to achieve the kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the NTP 2020 which means entering into major transformation. The telecom sector, said Dr. Biyari, is seeking new opportunities outside of traditional services. The transformation will provide STC with new opportunities outside its core business, and thus its market capitalization will rapidly increase.
“As an example of a new era for Sales and Distribution, (STC channels) was re-launched recently with an innovative digital vision and new spirit as an important selling and distribution arm of the group, which is an important part of the transition to digital channels in the service of our clients and providing innovative new services,” Dr. Biyari said. “This will be followed by successive steps in the near future that will bring us closer to our objectives in meeting the customers’ needs and achieve attractive returns for the investors.”
In accordance with the approved dividend policy for three years starting from the 4th quarter 2015 which was announced on 11 November 2015, and have been ratified during the General Assembly Meeting on April 4th 2016, STC will distribute a total of SR 2,000 million in cash dividend for Q3 2017, representing SR 1 per share.
France is leading a push to increase the taxation of tech giants in Europe, backed by Germany, Italy and Spain. The countries’ finance ministers said in a joint letter that they want multinational technology companies like Google and Amazon to be taxed based on their revenues in Europe, rather than only profits as now.
Other European nations have expressed their support for the tax change, Reuters reported, because of the low tax they receive under the current international rules. Some nations are missing out on their share because tech giants are often taxed on profits booked by subsidiaries in Ireland, a low-tax haven, even though the revenue generated came from other EU countries.
In the letter written by the four European finance ministers it says, “We should no longer accept that these companies do business in Europe while paying minimal amounts of tax to our treasuries.”
The letter, seen by Reuters, was sent to the European Union’s Estonian presidency with the bloc’s executive Commission in copy. It was written by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, Wolfgang Schaeuble of Germany, Pier-Carlo Padoan of Italy, and Luis de Guindos of Spain.
In the letter the ministers express the need to create an “equalization tax” on turnover that would bring taxation to the level of corporate tax in the country where the revenue was generated. The ministers said, “The amounts raised would aim to reflect some of what these companies should be paying in terms of corporate tax.”
The ministers will reportedly present their case to other EU counterparts at a meeting in Tallinn from Sept. 12-16. A discussion has been scheduled by the EU’s current Estonian presidency to consider the concept of “permanent establishment” with the goal of being able to tax companies on where they generate their revenue, not only where they have their tax residence.
France has faced setbacks trying to obtain payments for taxes on tech giants’ activities in the country, hence its move to put pressure on the EU to change tax rules. In July a French court ruled that Alphabet’s Google should pay 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in back taxes because it has no “permanent establishment” in France but ran its operations there from Ireland.
Amazon and Microsoft announced that Alexa, Amazon’s AI personal assistant, will soon be able to communicate with Cortana, the personal assistant for Windows 10, and vice versa. Users of Amazon’s Alexa-controlled Echo speaker will be able to turn on their device and say, “Alexa, open Cortana,” or turn to their Windows 10 device and say, “Cortana, open Alexa.”
The two US technology giants said Alexa and Cortana will begin talking to each other later this year. Under the agreement, Microsoft customers first will be able to access Alexa via Cortana on Windows PCs, and later on Android and iOS devices, said Andrew Shuman, corporate vice president, Cortana Engineering.
Alexa customers will be able to access Cortana's unique features like booking a meeting or accessing work calendars, reminding you to pick up flowers on your way home, or reading your work email – all using just your voice. Similarly, Cortana customers can ask Alexa to control their smart home devices, shop on Amazon.com, interact with many of the more than 20,000 skills built by third-party developers, and much more.
"Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us," said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. "Bringing Cortana's knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal."
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, said, "The world is big and so multifaceted. There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience.”
Tractica analyst Mark Beccue speculates that Amazon and Microsoft have mutual interest in developing the ability for their AI assistants to communicate, because neither company has enough presence in the mobile space to stand alone.
He told TechNewsWorld: “Neither Microsoft nor Amazon have the market penetration that Apple and Google do. Their virtual assistants are not very multimodal yet. Maybe they feel stronger together.”
Both Amazon and Microsoft have their own strengths that they can bring to the table; for example, Microsoft is stronger in productivity and search, whereas Amazon is known for e-commerce and has a vast ecosystem of skill applications, including many related to smart home technologies.
South Korean conglomerate Samsung have announced that its voice-based assistant entitled ‘Bixby’ is now available for Galaxy S8 users in over 200 countries worldwide following its release in the US last month.
The world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer had launched Bixby domestically and in the US, but now voice-assistant technology is available in countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia and South Africa. Samsung developed the feature in an attempt to catch-up with Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.
Bixby currently only supports English and Korean, and issued a statement highlighting the fact that not all accents, dialects and expressions will be recognized. It stressed that it will take time for Bixby to adapt and understand regional dialects.
The statement read, “Natural language understanding allows Bixby to continuously improve its ability to interpret regional dialects. But since Bixby learns more frequently used command terms more quickly, it will take more time for Bixby to fully understand regional dialects that are used less frequently.”
The electronics colossus has revealed that Bixby’s features include Quick Commands which allows users to create a custom voice command to use instead of a sequence of one or more demands. In addition to this, Samsung’s voice-assistant can also grasp the understanding of cross-application commands and features deep learning technology which can improve over a period of time which can then recognize personal preferences and ways of talking.
The statement added that when an application becomes Bixby-enabled, the platform will support every task the application is capable of performing using voice, touch or text. EVP and Head of Research and Development at Samsung Electronics mobile, Injong Rhee has predicted that the emergence and evolution of Bixby will lead to a more seamless connection for users across a range of devices.
Rhee said, “The expansion of Bixby’s voice capabilities is an initial step in the continued rollout of Bixby functionality. In the future, Bixby will have the learning power to offer more intelligent and personalised interactions and seamless connections across more devices.”
It has also been disclosed that Samsung is intending on expanding Bixby’s voice capabilities to additional countries, languages, devices, features and third-party applications. Samsung first unveiled its voice-assistant back in March, but it suffered some teething problems when the launch of the English version of the product was delayed. It then targeted a launch date in May, but that was pushed back to the end of June, before Bixby was eventually launched in the US in July.
However, it now places Samsung amongst the ever-competitive AI voice-assistant market and analysts are predicting Bixby to be a biggest success for the South Korean colossus.
E-commerce giant Amazon has launched ‘Instant Pickup’ in the US – a free service where goods purchased online can be picked up by consumers from select locations within two minutes or less, instead of waiting hours for an item to be delivered, in the company’s latest move into brick-and-mortar retail.
“As shopping behaviors continue to evolve, customers consistently tell us that they want items even faster,” said Ripley MacDonald, Director, Student Programs, Amazon. “Whether it’s a snack on-the-go, replacing a lost phone charger in the middle of a hectic day or adding Alexa to your life with an Echo, Instant Pickup saves Prime members time. While Instant Pickup is available at select pickup locations today, we’re excited about bringing this experience to more customers soon.”
Items can be picked up at five of Amazon’s fully staffed pickup locations in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Berkeley, Calif., Columbus, Ohio, and College Park, Md. Items available with Instant Pickup include snacks, drinks and electronics, as well as some of Amazon’s most popular devices.
The Amazon App lists hundreds of “need-it-now” items like food, cold drinks, personal care items, technology essentials and Amazon devices like the Echo, Echo Dot, Fire TV and a selection of Fire tablets and Kindle e-readers. Users can browse the selection, place an order, even add last-minute items to an online order and pick it up from a self-service locker – all within two minutes or less.
Amazon said it would purchase Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion in June, and has come to realize that certain transactions such as buying fresh produce are difficult to shift to online buyers. The company is betting on shifting shopping habits and catering to impulse buying.
Regular brick-and-mortar retailers struggle to keep up with e-commerce giants like Amazon, who offer more convenient options for shopping, even more so now with its Instant Pickup service. Before the launch of the new service, the fastest shoppers could expect to have an item delivered was one hour via the company’s Prime Now program, or within 15 minutes for grocery orders via AmazonFreshPickup.
Instant Pickup is available at five select pickup locations in the US and will be available at more locations in the coming months, Amazon said. The company operates a total of 22 staffed pickup locations on or near college campuses across the country.