Amazon’s latest trick turns a smart display into a TV set
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday, we’re taking a closer look at some of the announcements Amazon made at its fall hardware event. Also: Within is selling Wonderscope, and the surprising secret behind QR codes.
What’s a TV, anyway?
When Amazon executives unveiled the company’s fall hardware lineup during an online-only press event yesterday, they also showed off a number of new devices meant to help people stream their favorite movies and shows. And while devices like a 3rd-generation Fire TV Cube and a new Fire TV voice remote held few surprises, there was an interesting trend emerging across multiple device categories.
Your smart display is a TV now. Amazon revealed yesterday that through a software update it is bringing the Fire TV experience to its Echo Show 15 smart displays, which now effectively double as TV sets.
- Amazon Entertainment Devices and Services VP Daniel Rausch told Protocol that 70% of Echo Show owners had watched video content on their smart displays in the past month.
- “We were frankly surprised by the amount of entertainment content [people were consuming],” Rausch said. “That's what led us to this conclusion to bring the full catalog of Fire TV to [the Echo Show 15].”
- The Echo Show 15 isn’t just the first device that’s basically turning into a TV with a simple software update; for many customers, it will also be their first-ever TV with a touch screen.
- Rausch told me that Amazon actually first brought touch to Fire TV when it incorporated the platform into cars like the new BMW 7 Series.
- Some Fire TV apps already support native touch input, Rausch said, while others can be controlled with a virtual remote that is being displayed on the same screen. Plus, there’s always voice control.
- Rausch declined to say whether Amazon had any plans to bring the Fire TV experience to any of its other Echo Show smart displays.
Amazon isn’t done blurring the lines between TVs and other devices. The company also announced a new line of flagship Fire TVs called the Omni QLED Series that comes with integrated sensors to detect your presence in the living room. Once you walk into the room, the TV turns on, displaying a new default ambient experience.
- This ambient mode includes a rotating gallery of big-screen-friendly works of art, and an option to show off family photos — features that may sound familiar to anyone who has ever used Google’s Chromecast devices.
- In addition, Amazon is also bringing dedicated Alexa widgets to the new TV’s ambient experience.
- These include a calendar widget, sticky notes with messages from family members, quick access to smart home controls, video viewing recommendations, and more.
- The widgets do look very similar to those Amazon first debuted on the Echo Show 15 home screen earlier this year, but Rausch suggested that there were some subtle differences.
- “It's a real 10-foot experience that we built around those widgets,” he said.
- Rausch again wouldn’t say whether Amazon had any plans to bring this ambient experience and widgets to other Fire TV devices.
TVs are becoming smart displays, smart displays are becoming TVs, and cars are doubling as living rooms. All of this led me to ask Rausch whether it was time for Amazon to merge all of its smart and entertainment display platforms. Why not make all of it Fire TV, with an ambient mode for the moments when you don’t want to watch TV?
Rausch insisted that this wasn’t the right approach. “Each of those experiences is highly tuned to the device and the context we see customers using it in,” he told me. That may be true, but I suspect we’ll still see a lot of those devices and contexts merging over time.
— Janko Roettgers
A MESSAGE FROM QUALCOMM
Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.
Ahead of its Meta deal, Within sells Wonderscope app
Within, the immersive media startup best known for its VR fitness app Supernatural, is selling off a prior bet: Educational software maker Amira Learning has struck a deal with Within to acquire Wonderscope, an interactive AR storytelling app Within first released in 2018.
- Wonderscope is an app for iPhones and iPads that makes use of Apple’s ARKit technology to let stories come alive in people’s living rooms.
- Wonderscope’s stories include a version of “Little Red Riding Hood” and a Halloween-themed story about house ghosts, among others.
- The stories encourage kids to read aloud and have dialogues with their animated protagonists, which complements Amira’s approach of using AI for guided reading exercises.
- Amira now wants to “iterate on an app that leverages Wonderscope's AR tech and Amira's AI,” according to a Within spokesperson.
- That’s good news for fans of Wonderscope: The app had essentially been dormant since 2019, when Within pivoted to focus on Supernatural.
Meta’s acquisition of Within, meanwhile, remains on hold. Meta announced its intention to buy Within last year; Meta was reportedly willing to spend $500 million to get its hands on Supernatural. The FTC sued in July to stop the acquisition. Hearings for the case are scheduled for December.
— Janko Roettgers
In other news
The SEC sues former MoviePass execs for fraud. Mitch Lowe and Ted Farnsworth, the two execs that slashed the service’s cost to $10 a month, allegedly misrepresented the valuation and monetization potential of the service to investors.
Razer wants in on the handheld gaming boom. Razer on Wednesday announced an Android 5G gaming device in partnership with Verizon and Qualcomm. It’s part of a new wave of Switch and Steam Deck-like handhelds focused on cloud gaming.
OnlyFans launches a comedy competition for its porn-free offshoot. The jokes write themselves … and are worth a total of 100,000 pounds.
Cyberpunk’s comeback results in a big sales bump. CDPR’s revitalized Cyberpunk 2077 just crossed the 20 million sales milestone, up from 18 million in April, thanks to a Steam sale, the “Edgerunners” Netflix anime, and nearly two years’ worth of bug fixes and patches.
Netflix is testing more aggressive anti-sharing measures. The company has been logging out some users across Latin America, and is asking them to sign up for their own plans.
Epix is being rebranded as MGM+. The name change will go into effect in early 2023, according to MGM’s new owner Amazon.
Ubisoft’s pirate game hits another snag. Skull & Bones, a major new gaming property from Ubisoft, has been delayed from November to March of next year, Kotaku reported. The title has been stuck in development since 2013.
Only 50.5% of U.S. households subscribe to cable anymore. Pay TV penetration has reached the lowest level in more than 30 years according to MoffettNathanson, and services like YouTube TV and Sling aren’t able to stop the erosion.
How QR codes are made
A MESSAGE FROM QUALCOMM
If we want our nation’s rich history of innovation to continue, experts say, we must create an IP protection ecosystem that helps ensure that tech innovation will thrive.
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