July 22, 2021
Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: Amazon is making Alexa more attractive for developers and India's BYJU's is spending $500 million on the reading app Epic. Plus: Birding!
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Amazon held its annual Alexa Live developer event yesterday, which the company used to announce approximately a bajillion new features and developer tools. Honestly, it was a lot — too much to dive into here. However, it's worth highlighting a few key themes coming out of the event:
In addition to announcing all these new features, Amazon also used Wednesday's event to put a stake in the ground and signal the world that we will see a lot more of Alexa — even if we won't always recognize her.
During our conversation, Rubenson also admitted that there are still challenges ahead, some of which Amazon addressed in two new white papers released yesterday. What happens, for instance, when one person asks Alexa to set a timer, and then a family member walks in and asks another assistant to stop it?
Rubenson's answer: The second assistant should be able to stop the timer. "That doesn't mean that every agent has knowledge [of] what the timer is about," he said. Voice assistants should be able to cooperate, but limit and be transparent about data sharing, Rubenson said, adding: "We are just stepping very slowly into these use cases as they are getting more complicated."
"Being compared to Google and Facebook is Netflix's worst nightmare." —Bloomberg journalist Lucas Shaw, pointing out that Netflix would prefer to avoid the kind of regulatory scrutiny Big Tech has been facing.
"It's a multi-year effort. We're going to start relatively small. We'll learn, we'll grow, we'll refocus our investment." —Netflix Chief Product Officer Greg Peters on the company's entry into gaming.
When it comes to hybrid work, let's be honest: People don't know what to think. Are two or three days a week in the office the sweet spot? Are five days a dealbreaker? We repeat what we hear others say or go with our gut, but how do any of us really know?
Indian educational software giant BYJU's has acquired the Bay Area-based reading app maker Epic (not to be confused with Epic Games) in a stock and cash deal valued at $500 million. Epic will continue to operate as a standalone service, and its two co-founders, Suren Markosian and Kevin Donahue, as well as their staff of 160 will all join BYJU's.
Never heard of Epic? Then you probably don't have any primary school-age children.
That aligns well with the plans of BYJU's, another fast-growing company you may have never heard of. Founded a decade ago in India, BYJU's has become an educational tech powerhouse whose apps are being used by 100 million students.
And there's an AR angle, too: Two years ago, BYJU's spent $120 million on OSMO, the visual computing startup that had figured out how to use an iPad's front-facing camera to expand the play time beyond the screen. OSMO and BYJU's have since been busy working on their own learning-centric tablets and smart displays, and I wouldn't be too surprised if those devices eventually run Epic apps as well.
A version of this story first appeared on Protocol.com.
Years ago, Shazam's developers received emails with an interesting feature request: In addition to identifying songs with their phone, people also wanted the app to tell them which birds were chirping in their neighborhoods. "We wanted to, but couldn't invest/distract to pull off this massive feat," recalled former Shazam VP Katie McMahon. The good news: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology just added a "Shazam for birds" feature to its own bird-watching app. The app immediately got a wholehearted endorsement from McMahon, who knows a thing or two about audio recognition. "So impressive," she tweeted. But don't take her word for it: The app is free, so install it, have it download a few necessary extra files and you're ready to get a lot more familiar with those winged little friends in your backyard. Happy birding!
Thanks for reading — see you next week!