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Amazon's smart home wonderland

Amazon's smart home wonderland

Good morning! This Wednesday, Amazon focuses on the smart home, Netflix bought a gaming studio, and Microsoft welcomes Epic Games to its app store.

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The Big Story

Amazon's ambient magic kingdom

Amazon's annual fall hardware event used to be a rapid-fire unveiling of what always felt like thousands of new and vaguely interesting things. But during yesterday's virtual version of the event, executives struck a notably less hectic tone, and instead placed more emphasis on the big picture: Amazon's ambitions for the smart home.

Amazon is focused on ambient computing, and its devices and services SVP Dave Limp told journalists that his goal was for devices to fade into the background while AI works its magic.

  • To further that mission, Amazon has teamed up with a company that knows a thing or two about magic: Disney will soon begin installing Echo devices in its Walt Disney World resort hotel rooms that will offer access to a new Mouse-themed assistant, complete with a "Hey Disney" wake phrase.
  • Disney's assistant has been built with Amazon's custom assistant program, and will run alongside Alexa. Companies like Verizon and Fiat Chrysler have used the program to white-label Alexa for their own devices before, but this is the first time that resulting features will become widely available, with "Hey Disney" also heading to existing Alexa devices.

The company has tested a lot of weird things to figure out what the future of ambient computing looks like. (Yesterday's surprise was Astro, a cute little home robot that beatboxed during the presentation.) However, one of the most interesting things announced yesterday was Amazon Glow, a new device for kids.

  • The $250 Amazon Glow combines an 8-inch display with a front-facing camera for video chat as well as a small projector that's capable of turning any table into a 19-inch touchscreen. One of the launch partners for Glow experiences is once again Disney, but Amazon plans to open up Glow to third-party developers next year.
  • The device allows for some interesting use of real-world objects that's reminiscent of the gadgets made by computer vision startup Osmo: Kids can play Tangram with real tiles, or "scan" their own artwork to incorporate it into digital experiences.
  • Glow is an interesting step in the evolution of Amazon's ambient computing ambitions: First, the company ditched the screen for voice-only interaction on its Echo speakers. Then, it built smart displays, because sometimes, screens can be actually quite useful. Now, it's reinventing the screen itself.

And all of this is powered by Amazon services, whether there's a screen or not. Yesterday's event was a good reminder that Amazon is operating a lot of services now, and it's increasingly asking people to pay for them, with prices ranging from $2.99 to $99 per month.

  • Amazon highlighted new content for its Kids+ subscription (formerly known as FreeTime Unlimited), introduced a new professional monitoring service for its Ring cameras, added a new workout service as well as nutrition guidance to its Halo wellness subscription, introduced a new care service for older people called Alexa Together and is starting to sell its Ring Protect plan to construction worksites.
  • That's in addition to Amazon Prime, Amazon Music, Kindle Unlimited, Audible, Ring Protect, Blink, Amazon Drive and probably another 500 services I just can't think of right now.

"Our goal has been to not build gadgets, but devices that are deeply integrated with services," Limp said yesterday. And just like the original Magic Kingdom, Amazon is betting that people are more than willing to fork over a whole lot of money if it gets ambient computing right.

— Janko Roettgers (email | twitter)

Protocol event

Making sense of vaccine mandates

Vaccine mandates were already gaining popularity among tech companies looking to bring their workers back to campus safely. Now, the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to issue a new rule requiring companies with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccines or weekly testing.

What does this mean for tech employers, and how should they be preparing for this new mandate? Join Protocol's Allison Levitsky for a conversation on what the vaccine mandates means for you, your company and your employees with Engage Peo HR consultant Sadiqa Banks-Holsey, Nixon Peabody OSHA partner Rachel Conn and Gartner head of HR research Brian Kropp at 9 a.m PT / 12 p.m. ET tomorrow. RSVP here.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIP MORRIS INTERNATIONAL

By scrutinizing facts and including all voices, we can achieve public consensus faster and take well-informed collective action against the many challenges our world is facing. Embracing facts, new technologies, and science is our shared responsibility and the least we can do to drive positive change for the world.

Learn more

People Are Talking

Adam Rosendorff, a former lab director at Theranos, said he was a source for John Carreyrou's reporting on the company:

  • "I felt obligated to alert the public."

More people are using Slack because they're sticking with remote work, Salesforce's Marc Benioff said:

  • "We're not going back, and that's why we Slack."

In a bid to overturn the EU's antitrust fine, Google lawyer Alfonso Lamadrid argued that people want to use its search engine:

  • "People use Google because they choose to, not because they are forced to."

Crypto is cool but maybe a little overhyped, Elon Musk said:

  • "There's some value in cryptocurrency. I don't think it's like the second coming of the Messiah, which some people seem to think."
  • And he had this to say of the Biden administration: "Not the friendliest administration, seems to be controlled by unions."

Making Moves

Fluence Energy wants to go public. The energy storage tech company is backed by Siemens and AES.

Toyota's research arm bought Renovo, an automotive operating system software company, as the company pushes deeper into self-driving tech.

A Facebook whistleblower will testify next week in front of the Senate. It's related to the Facebook Files investigation, and will focus on child safety on the platform.

Alexei Burkov was deported to Russia. He was extradited to the U.S. in 2019 to face hacking charges, and has been in prison ever since.

Gaurav Kachhawa is heading to Gupshup as chief product officer. He most recently worked at Adobe's Creative Cloud as senior director of product management.

Rob Salvagno joined SentinelOne as SVP of corporate development. He's a former Cisco exec.

In Other News

  • Instagram Kids wasn't Facebook's only idea to attract preteens, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company reportedly built a whole team dedicated to studying preteens and set a goal to create tools aimed specifically at young people.
  • On Protocol: EA is changing the business of gaming. The company has spent billions the last couple of years to get into mobile. And it has helped usher in a future of gaming where the differences between mobile, console and PC don't matter so much anymore.
  • Facebook wants the Oversight Board's help with XCheck, which, as the WSJ reported, is a system that lets high-profile users skirt its rules. The board said it would consider reviewing the request through its "usual process."
  • Microsoft loves Fortnite. The company is allowing third-party apps that have their own storefronts, such as Epic Games, into the Microsoft Store without needing to fork over a cut of sales.
  • On Protocol | Enterprise: Want to know how IBM lost the cloud? Look at the fight between the teams that saw the future IBM needed to build, and a sales-driven culture that made it hard to get the work done.
  • The far-right is making bank off crypto. Many radical right-wing figures are shut out of traditional financial institutions, so they're turning to digital currencies instead, which has made it increasingly difficult to stop their work.
  • Netflix bought Night School Studio, a prominent indie video game developer, as it continues to push into gaming. The company also introduced some mobile games on Android to users in Spain and Italy.
  • Texas cops are suing Tesla after a Model X with Autopilot engaged hit several police officers earlier this year, injuring them. The suit claims that defects "known to Tesla" were at fault in the crash.

One More Thing

It's (Shopify) party time

At this point, you have a few options when it comes to getting in touch with your co-workers, whether it's sending a message on Slack, joining a Zoom or (gasp) sending them an email. There's not a lot of time to have fun when you're on the clock, but Shopify is trying to change that with Shopify Party.

Shopify Party helps people let loose during work with a bunch of different browser-based games that focus on free play rather than rigid rules. People can play the games as icebreakers or even take meetings while playing. You might have to start wearing pants again, but that doesn't mean you can't have some casual fun during your 9 to 5.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIP MORRIS INTERNATIONAL

By scrutinizing facts and including all voices, we can achieve public consensus faster and take well-informed collective action against the many challenges our world is facing. Embracing facts, new technologies, and science is our shared responsibility and the least we can do to drive positive change for the world.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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