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Amazon Roundup: Hardware Event, Amazon Care, Music, Alexa, Partnerships, Acquisitions, Climate Change

Sejuti Banerjea

Amazon AMZN had a great product launch event, announced a new wireless standard, Amazon Care for Seattle employees, an initiative to bundle digital voice assistants, etc. Read on to know more-

Products Galore at Hardware Event

At its now-customary Annual hardware in September, Amazon announced a slew of devices that will promise greater ease of use and experiences while helping the company “listen” to you better. The retailer has been simply superb at listening to its customers and trying to get them everything they desire.

But of course it isn’t free. Amazon’s Alexa is always listening, and using your data in the most profitable way possible (for Amazon). The company seems to have woken up to a general unease about technology companies however, because for the first time, it paid lip service to privacy concerns, even saying that it was developing regulations for its facial recognition technology, while launching things that will help it pick up even more data.

So here they are, all the Echos-

-All-new Echo with new fabric design; new Twilight Blue, Charcoal, Heather Grey and Sandstone colors; and better sound at old price of $99.99.

-Echo Flex, the wireless smart speaker that can be plugged into any electrical socket to empower Alexa to answer queries about sports scores and other things, just in case you couldn’t wait to get out of the bathroom (or wherever else you want it). It must be a pressing need for you to want to shell out $24.99.

-At “only” $59.99 comes Echo Dot with clock. It has a bright LED display for things like the time, or the temperature outside, a morning alarm or pasta timer. Amazon wants you to put it on your nightstand or countertop. After all, it adjusts with the light in the room, and wouldn’t Alexa be a nice addition to these places?

-With a vivid 8-inch HD display, crisp and powerful audio and a built-in camera shutter, Echo Show 8 brings you your favorite shows, whether entertainment or cookery, or whatever, all for $129.99. Just give Alexa a shout. Remember to pull the shutter when you’re done to keep peeping toms out.

-With five directional speakers for immersive three-dimensional (3D) audio experience using Dolby Atmos and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, the Echo Studio automatically senses the acoustics of your space and fine-tunes audio playback to deliver optimal sound, no matter where you put the device in the room. Listen to music with Amazon Music HD or pair with Fire TV devices for audio playback with multi-channel sound and support for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Audio 5.1, and stereo audio. The built-in Zigbee smart home hub can be used to control compatible smart home devices. Price $199.99.

-Finally, the champ, Echo Buds, which you can buy for $129.99. This is one of the devices that Amazon will use to capture your data while you’re on the move. Lack of mobility data has been a pain point for the company, since it doesn’t have smartphone success. So pair this with Android or iOS for access to Alexa and you’re all set. Call your Uber, order coffee, or listen to your favorite music. Anything is possible, as long as its microphones are doing their magic in your ear and your phone is in your hand.

On-the-go products available by invitation only include-

Echo Frames: All-day glasses with hands-free access to Alexa, for $179.99.

Echo Loop: A smart ring that provides quick access to Alexa, for $129.99.

Longer-range Wireless Network for IoT

Also at its hardware event, Amazon said it is developing a longer-range wireless protocol than Bluetooth and WiFi wireless protocols, called the Amazon Sidewalk. A protocol is essentially a set of standards that facilitates communication between devices.

Sidewalk’s primary advantages over the other two are its longer range, better building penetration and lower battery usage.

With adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices expected to accelerate over the next few years, Amazon hopes its longer-range standard will gain popularity, especially since it also extends its range by forming networks (something like Wi-Fi networks),

.Amazon Care

Seattle employees will be the first to taste Amazon Care services, including Care Chat, where their concerns will be addressed online by a nurse; Video Care, which provides a "video visit" (conversation/checkup) with a doctor or nurse practitioner; Mobile Care, where a nurse can visit them at home or in the office; and Care Courier, from where prescriptions can be delivered to their home or office. Oasis Medical, a local provider has signed up to provide the services and manage the program on Amazon’s behalf.

The goal is to get employees and their dependents fast access to healthcare without an appointment, at the convenience of their schedules and at their preferred location, while also eliminating travel time and minimizing wait time. The virtual clinic will in turn ensure that doctor appointments or illness take up minimum amount of employee time, thus improving their productivity.

Amazon intends to learn from the Seattle pilot before expanding all over the country.

Amazon Music

The company also launched Amazon Music HD, a premium tier of more than 50 million songs high definition and ultra-high definition It is now available to stream in the U.S., UK, Germany, and Japan.

The service is priced at $12.99 a month for Prime members and $14.99 a month for Amazon customers. Current subscribers (Individual or Family Plan) can pay an additional $5 for the service. Both existing and new subscribers to Amazon Music can take a 90-day free trial.

Bundling Virtual Assistants

Amazon, along with a host of other technology companies like Baidu, BMW, Cerence, ecobee, Microsoft MSFT, Orange, Salesforce CRM, SFR, Sonos, Spotify SPOT, Sound United, Tencent and Verizon have launched what they call the Voice Interoperability Initiative. The idea builds upon what Amazon and Microsoft have been working on for some time, i.e. their voice assistants talking to each other.

In the current initiative, a single device, with hardware support from Intel INTC, MediaTek, NXP and Qualcomm QCOM, will respond to multiple wake words, to invoke the voice assistant the user wants at a particular time. So it could be Google for Maps, Amazon for shopping and Microsoft for office tasks.

Alphabet GOOGL said it had just been notified and would take some time to evaluate, although it was generally open to such things. Apple AAPL hasn’t commented although it’s usually not open to such things. They are the notable exceptions, the companies that haven’t signed on yet.

General Motors, McDonalds Welcome Alexa

These are bad times for traditional suppliers of vehicle infotainment and navigation systems like Telenav. General Motors, one of the largest automakers, is doing away with old systems and going with Alexa and Google Assistant instead. The company sees the future with more customer options and so wants to let them choose between the car's standard voice controls, Alexa, Google and an app embedded in a smartphone. The deal extends Alexa’s reach to millions of cars all over the world except China, where GM has other plans.

McDonalds is using Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in a completely new way. Now, if you want to work at the company, you can tell any of these assistants, “Talk to McDonald's Apply Thru," or “OK Google, help me get a job at McDonald’s” or “Alexa, help me get a job at McDonald’s.” On providing certain additional information in Apply Thru, such as your name, location and job area of interest and depending on vacancies, you’ll be sent a link where you can complete the application. The experience is now available in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK.

INLT Acquisition

Amazon has acquired software startup INLT, for its cost-control and customs clearance solutions for cross-border shipments. The company said that it’s now an Amazon company and will continue to work with existing customers but not accept new ones during the transition.

An Amazon spokeswoman said that “INLT is a smart, nimble team that is helping companies simplify and lower the cost of importing goods into the U.S.” So it’s basically an acqui-hire that will facilitate its ecommerce operations.

Crunchbase says INLT is a seed-stage company that last raised $1 million in April 2018. Amazon declined to say what it’s paying.

Climate Goals

Amazon is buying 100,000 electric vehicles from fledgling EV maker Rivian that will help make it carbon neutral by 2040. All the vehicles will be on the road by 2024. The prototype is expected to be available next year with the first batch shipping the following year.

Bezos said Amazon will meet the goals of the Paris climate accord 10 years ahead of its schedule. It will also use 100% renewable energy by 2030, up from 40% today. He also promised to invest $100 million to restore forests and wetlands, while carefully considering political campaign contributions going to politicians that deny climate science.

Recommendation

Amazon shares carry a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).See the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

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