Amazon launches QVC-style livestream shopping in India

Amazon has launched a QVC-style livestream shopping in India, broadening its offerings in the key overseas market where it has deployed over $6.5 billion to win customers.

The company on Friday quietly rolled out the new service, called Amazon Live, bringing an army of creators to host livestreams and plug products in the videos. The idea is, influencers, with already a large following, will drive their fans to the shopping app and influence them into buying products. They get a cut each time they are able to make a sale.

Amazon Live is currently hosting livestreams across several categories including electronics, fashion and beauty, and home on the app. The videos are averaging 50 to 1,000 simultaneous views.

The launch follows Walmart-owned Flipkart, Amazon’s chief rival in India, also testing a similar offering on its app early this year. Amazon itself quietly launched Live in the U.S. in 2019, attempting to get a slice of a nascent shopping trend on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.

Live shopping originally gained traction in China, where many influencers consistently sell items worth millions of dollars in a single broadcast. Austin Li, a popular influencer, sells more than $1 billion worth of goods in a session.

But whether the model will work in India remains a big question.

In the meantime, New Delhi is preparing to tighten rules to root out fake and paid reviews of products on e-commerce websites and social media platforms. A framework of regulations targeting people who endorse merchandise will soon be released, the government has said.

Amazon Live section on the Indian shopping app. Image credits: TechCrunch

On an FAQ page, Amazon has identified the influencer program as an extension of its Amazon Associates (affiliate) program. The company requires these influencers to have an account with YouTube, Instagram, TikTok or Facebook to qualify.

Amazon is lagging Flipkart in India on several key metrics and struggling to make inroads in smaller Indian cities and towns, according to a recent report by investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein. Amazon has so far offered “a weaker proposition in ‘new’ commerce” in the country, the report added, pointing to innovations by Flipkart and unicorn social commerce platforms Meesho and DealShare.

At stake is one of the world’s last great growth markets. The e-commerce spending in India, the world’s second largest internet market, is expected to double in size to over $130 billion by 2025.

Amazon launches QVC-style livestream shopping in India by Manish Singh originally published on TechCrunch

It’s a sprint, not a marathon

Here’s a question for you: How seriously should we take Amazon’s home robotics play? Perhaps a better way of framing it is: When do we take Amazon’s home robotics play seriously? I realize these sound like pointed questions, and I should specify that they’re not really specific to Amazon. They’re more a result of having been burned in the past.

The road to the home robot is littered with fine intentions from companies large (Sony) and small (Anki, etc.). For decades, robots have been a kind of industry shorthand for forward-thinking innovation. Want the world (and, more importantly, shareholders) to know you’re focused on the future? Roll a robot out at your press conference, and who cares if it ever comes out?

Amazon’s obviously addressed that last bit of potential criticism. Astro came out. Announced a year ago this week, the company launched the robot as part of its “Day One Edition” program, offering it up with limited availability at a steep price ($1,500). During a call before yesterday’s Alexa event, the company’s head of consumer robotics, Ken Washington, bristled when I implied that the Astro rollout found the company testing the waters of piloting the robot.

Image Credits: Amazon

“[Day One] is a way for us to put these products in their hands quickly,” the executive told me. “Not for us to — not learn their interest — learn what they want to see most to be added to it.… We’ve had hundreds of thousands of inbound requests and we continue to manufacture and deploy Astros to those customers who make those requests. I can’t share the actual sales quantity because we don’t share the data. But we’re off to a great start.”

To a certain extent, I think the pushback is about framing. I see Astro’s early run as an attempt to determine whether people ultimately want this manner of home robot. Amazon appears to take that want as a kind of foregone conclusion and instead looks at the program as a way to determine precisely why people want Astro. With the announcement of a new SDK being offered to the University of Michigan, Georgia Tech and the University of Maryland this year, it’s probably time to start thinking of Astro as a platform first.

Image Credits: irobot

There’s a sense in which the company is almost working backward from the iRobot model. The company determined a need (vacuuming) and made a purpose-built robot for that function. iRobot tends to be extremely deliberate in its approach. That’s why it took so long for the firm to introduce a proper two-in-one vacuuming/mopping robot.

“The customer is very excited about the convenience of a two-in-one robot, so we needed to build one,” CEO Colin Angle tells TechCrunch. “But, being iRobot, we needed to actually build one, as opposed to doing it in a way that doesn’t deliver on the promise. Right now, most two-in-one robots are really one-plus-one.”

Of course, assuming the FTC doesn’t put the kibosh on the deal (not yet a foregone conclusion), the two are about to be part of one big, happy family. If iRobot does end up rolling into Amazon’s consumer robotics line, it will be impossible not to take the company’s ambitions seriously. Certainly the way the company has accelerated the warehouse and fulfillment robotics categories are a clear indication of what the company is capable of doing with essentially unlimited resources. And while it’s already built its own home robot, it’s easy to imagine the Roomba serving in a similarly foundational capacity as Kiva for its consumer robotics play, going forward.

We got a whole bunch of news to get through this week. Gonna kick things off with a fun one. Back in July 2021, we covered the news that Agility Robotics’s Cassie ran a 5K. It was an impressive feat and a nice feather in the cap of the OSU spinoff. The company has, of course, become better known for Cassie’s follow-up, Digit, but the original ostrich-inspired robot is still involved in some interesting locomotion work in a handful of universities.

Agility CTO Jonathan Hurst tells TechCrunch:

Many dynamic behaviors are hard to represent mathematically, especially any physical interaction like walking or running. Machine learning techniques have the potential to represent that complexity, but so far have struggled to find good solutions or to translate from a simulation to a real machine. We’re figuring out how to use our expertise and knowledge of legged locomotion to guide the machine learning process, and getting results that outperform other techniques. That’s exciting! There’s no free lunch — a machine learning system likely won’t discover useful new behaviors on its own; we have to understand the goals and guide it well.

This week, the Amazon-backed startup announced that the ’bot has captured a world record, running 100 meters in 24.73 seconds (it’s a feat the company teased during a panel at our July Robotics event). That’s still a ways from Usain Bolt’s 9.58 seconds, but is still an extremely impressive feet for a bipedal robot nonetheless (there’s also something to be said for knowing that we can still outrun them for a bit longer).

Avidbots’ NEO in action Image Credits: Avidbots

Big raise for Avidbots this week. The Canadian firm announced a $70 million Series C for its industrial floor-cleaning robots. The round was led by Jeneration Capital and features True Ventures, Next47, SOSV, GGV Capital, BDC Capital, Golden Ventures and Kensington Capital. It brings the company’s total raise up to $107 million.

Avidbots plans to add an additional 100 people in product, engineering, sales and marketing over the course of the next year. Says CEO Faizan Sheikh:

We are very excited about the future as this financing allows us to accelerate our timelines for bringing new products to market as well as continuously improve our autonomous driving software and service for existing customers to deliver an even better experience and greater value.

Image Credits: Livin Farms

One of the more interesting users for robotics I’ve come across in recent weeks is Livin Farms. The Austrian firm raised $5.8 million for its Hive Pro system, which rears black soldier fly larvae for sustainable protein powder.

“[O]ur customers contribute massively to fixing the broken food system and therefore saving the planet,” CEO Katharina Unger said in a comment to TechCrunch. The process takes around 11 days, at which point the larvae “will become half a ton of biomass plus half a ton of fertilizer.”

Natasha has an interesting bit of news out of Europe this week. The EU recently updated liability laws to include artificial intelligence. The new AI Liability Directive will make it easier to sue systems like drones, robots and smart devices.

“The principle is simple,” justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, told TechCrunch. “The new rules apply when a product that functions thanks to AI technology causes damage and that this damage is the result of an error made by manufacturers, developers or users of this technology.”

Meanwhile, Rita wrote about an initiative designed to break China’s reliance on U.S.-designed semiconductors. It’s easy to understand the motivation here, given how much U.S. sanctions during the Trump administration sidelined Huawei in the past few years. Horizon Robotics is leading the way with a massive $3.4 billion in funding thus far.

tesla ai day 2022 logo

Image Credits: Tesla

And finally, we’re ramping up for Tesla’s AI day. The event is tomorrow, and I plan to stay up late to help Kirsten cover it — and get a sneak peek at the company’s long-teased Optimus robot. Let’s just say my expectations are sufficiently tempered, but I’m open to being pleasantly surprised.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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It’s a sprint, not a marathon by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon quietly picked up a cashierless store startup to stock its Amazon Go play in India

Amazon’s steady march to bring Amazon Go-powered instant checkout stores across the U.S. and U.K. has been well-documented. Far less known is that it has also been making some moves to expand the technology in another very key market for the business: India.

TechCrunch has learned that Amazon quietly picked up the founders of a cashierless store startup out of the south of India, hired at least 100 more people to bolster the effort, and is still hiring more to build out the team even further.

The hires have included support and software engineers, embedded system experts, computer vision scientists and program managers, all of whom now indicate on LinkedIn profiles that they are working on Amazon Go in the country. Current Amazon recruitment posts point to the company to bring on more to join the effort.

Amazon has set up Just Walk Out technology operations units across cities including Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai to work extensively on Amazon Go stores. Those operations are being underpinned by what looks like a quiet acquisition the Seattle-headquartered company made of Nayasale Retail, the parent of a startup called Watasale. Watasale is/was a Kochi, Kerala-based startup that claimed to be India’s first Amazon Go-style cashierless store, which it launched in the South Indian state back in January 2018.

Watasale employees have joined Amazon, but it is not fully clear if Amazon has “acquired” or “acqui-hired” the business. Watasale’s website is still functioning, although it appears that a number of links (such as to its app on Google Play, and explanations of how its tech actually works) are no longer active.

The site points to a lot of different technology it was building around the idea of automated check-outs. It notes that the startup had developed technology for operating “micro stores”: vending-style machines that worked using smartphones and QR codes that could be placed into any shop.

It was also working on larger whole-store implementations that, according to the site, leveraged cameras and computer vision and “sensor fusion” to understand shoppers’ actions, along with big data analytics and deep learning to gain insights into consumer behavior, with the idea being to build more complete pictures around purchasing patterns that would be more complicated (if not impossible) to ascertain from more traditional shopping environments.

In both scenarios, Watasale’s technology lets shoppers select items and have them be automatically charged and paid for by way of a prepaid wallet — all of it handled by Watasale, without any need for a cashier or a physical check-out process.

Watasale was also, it seems, working on further technology too, including robot-powered delivery services. Automated delivery, it writes on its site, was a “first in class completely autonomous online delivery concept in the making” in which orders from Watasale stores would be dispatched by robots to a requested nearby location.

Watasale store

A Watasale store in Kochi

“We use a combination of touch sensors, AI and computer vision—pretty much the same technology as in a self-driven car,” Richu Jose, who was at the time the COO of Watasale, said in a pitch-style interview published in an Indian publication StartupTalky. The startup actually started working on its technology in 2015, before Amazon Go was launched, but it seemed to credit the e-commerce giant for essentially confirming their hunch that the area was worth pursuing.

“We started working on the technology in the start of 2015,” Subhash Sasidharakurup, who had been the CEO and CTO of Watasale, said in the same interview. “It was after the announcement by Amazon that they were going to [launch] Amazon Go, similar to our technology, that we were reinstated about our correct direction.”

By January 2020, Jose, Sasidharakurup, and another Watasale director, Subhash Shanoop Sivadas, had all joined Amazon, according to their LinkedIn profiles. Two other directors of the startup, who were based in the U.S., Dileep Elipe Jacob and Vinci George Mathews, exited the board in December 2021, according to the filings with the Indian regulatory body Registrar of Companies.

Amazon and the directors of Watasale did not respond to requests for comment about what, exactly, Amazon has purchased here, but in January 31, 2022, Nayasale Retail requested the Registrar of Companies to remove its name from official records through the provisions of Section 248 (2) of the Companies Act, 2013, filings show. The same filings appear to indicate that the company itself was bootstrapped.

A source told TechCrunch that employees at the startup were offered the option to join Amazon and work with the team building the technology behind Amazon Go stores. But it’s not clear whether that is to build technology for stores in existing Go markets like the U.S. and U.K., or for India; nor is it clear what the timing might be for a launch if it’s the latter of those.

Introduced in beta in 2016, Amazon Go was first launched in Seattle. The company later expanded the partially automated stores to other parts of the U.S., including Chicago, San Francisco and New York, as well as to London. In 2020, it also started selling its cashierless store technology to other retailers.

While Amazon has pulled back on some of its brick-and-mortar retail strategy, it appears to be doubling down on stores that are built around its more cutting-edge cashierless tech. Currently, there are 28 Go in the U.S. alone, with two Starbucks Pickup with Amazon Go stores that were launched in November last year.

Amazon Go store

Amazon Go’s first store in Seattle

Opening up brick-and-mortar stores is a logical extension for Amazon’s bigger play in India, where it has deployed over $6.5 billion to grow its presence in the country.

Although e-commerce is definitely on the rise in the tech-savvy, mobile-friendly country, brick-and-mortar retail remains a huge business. The IBEF, citing data from Payoneer, estimates that e-commerce accounted for 4% percent of both food- and non-food retail in 2020, and that the figure would rise to just 8% by 2025.

That leaves a lot on the table for physical commerce. To that end, Amazon has aggressively explored partnerships with neighborhood stores in recent years. That is, however, a long bet for the company. A report by investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein said last month that Amazon’s spending for growth in India has made its local division’s prospects of turning a profit “elusive.”

And Amazon faces a tough fight with Walmart-owned Flipkart, as well as Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail, which has been expanding of late and outwitted the U.S. firm’s attempt to acquire India’s second biggest retail chain Future Retail.

Yet Amazon is working hard to increase its presence in the country, which is expected to double its e-commerce spending to over $130 billion by 2025, according to Bernstein’s estimates.

Other than inking partnerships with neighborhood stores, Amazon has also acquired stakes in physical retail chains in the country in recent years.

In 2018, Amazon and private equity firm Samara Capital acquired Aditya Birla Group’s food and grocery retail chain More to enter offline retail in the country. The investment arm of the U.S. company also in 2017 bought a 5% equity (PDF) in departmental store chain Shoppers Stop. Nevertheless, it’s not apparent if either of the moves have helped Amazon make inroads with consumers making the majority of their expenses in brick and mortar shops.

Ankur Bisen, senior partner and head of retail, consumer products and food products and services at consulting firm Technopak, told TechCrunch that how the Indian ecosystem evolves socially, politically, policy and policy-wise determine a lot of the decisions that Amazon takes.

His estimates are a little brighter than those of IBEF: as much as 85% of the retail sector in the country still comes under traditional retail, he said. Nothing has so far impacted the sustainability of local neighborhood stores in the country, he added.

Amazon quietly picked up a cashierless store startup to stock its Amazon Go play in India by Jagmeet Singh originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon raises hourly wages by about $1 amid increasing union pressure

Last year, Amazon spent over $4.3 million on anti-union consultants alone, to which labor advocates asked, why not just pay that money to workers? Now, Amazon will do just that.

Over the next year, Amazon will dedicate nearly $1 billion to increasing the average wages of its warehouse and transportation workers from about $18 to $19 per hour. Amazon will also expand access to Anytime Pay, a tool that allows employees to access up to 70% of their paychecks sooner than once every week or two. The company also added additional investment in career development programs, including the Amazon Intelligence Initiative. This program offers a 12- to 14-month course to help employees develop technical skills, with the ultimate goal of transitioning them into AWS-related engineering roles.

After Amazon workers won their first union in Staten Island earlier this year, fulfillment centers from Albany to Southern California have launched their own union drives. These employees have raised concerns about overheating warehouses, poor COVID-19 working conditions, illegal intimidation tactics and low pay. Amazon has also received numerous citations from the National Labor Relations Board for illegally interfering in employee labor organizing.

So, workers at KSBD, Amazon’s Inland Empire air freight fulfillment center in San Bernadino, California, are not satisfied by this $1 hourly increase.

KSBD plays a key role in Amazon’s supply chain. Last month, a group of employees organizing as Inland Empire Amazon Workers United walked off the job to demand higher pay and safer conditions.

“Whether we’re suffering from heat exhaustion, not getting paid enough to afford rent, or being retaliated against for speaking up, we know we deserve better,” the group wrote in a tweet. One of their core demands is for Amazon to increase wages by $5 per hour.

“We know that the reason Amazon has announced it will raise our pay by about $1 Wednesday is because of us, Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, and Amazon workers across the country standing up for better jobs,” the group wrote in a statement yesterday. “While we know Amazon wouldn’t have raised pay if we had not demanded it, we need $5 an hour to meet the rising costs in the Inland Empire.”

These changes in pay will take effect beginning in October.

“Continuing to invest in pay, providing easy access to earned wages at any time during the month, and offering great benefits and career advancement opportunities are all part of our long-term efforts to be the best employer in the world,” said Amazon Senior Vice President John Felton in a statement.

Amazon raises hourly wages by about $1 amid increasing union pressure by Amanda Silberling originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon’s iRobot deal faces renewed scrutiny from Dems

A new letter penned by Senate and House Democrats accuses Amazon of “anticompetitive” practices in its bid to purchase Roomba-maker, iRobot, for $1.7 billion. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is leading the charge to convince the Federal Trade Commission to reject the deal, according to a report from Axios.

“Rather than compete in a fair marketplace on its own merits, Amazon is following a familiar anticompetitive playbook: leveraging its massive market share and access to capital to buy or suppress popular products,” notes the letter cosigned by fellow congressional Democrats, Mondaire Jones, Mark Pocan Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia, Pramila Jayapal and Katie Porter.

The report arrives during a moment of increased regulatory scrutiny for the online retail giant. Both the planned iRobot and One Medical deals have raised antitrust concerns among lawmakers. The FTC has notable already been investigating both. Amazon has seemingly been more aggressively pursuing acquisitions under new CEO Andy Jassy, at a time when the regulatory body has pushed to block similar deals by big tech. Most notably, FTC chairwoman Lina Khan recently sued to block Meta/Facebook’s acquisition of VR firm, Within Unlimited, citing anticompetitive concerns.

The deal is at the center of Amazon’s plans to aggressively push into the home robotics category, in much the same way its 2012 acquisition of Kiva Systems helped it become a dominant force in industrial robotics. Amazon’s offering in the category is currently limited to the home robot Astro, but folding iRobot into the department would find the firm dominating the space overnight. iRobot’s Roomba is the rare home robot that has managed to break into mainstream use.

Given Amazon’s history and iRobot’s home mapping, the deal has also raised concern among privacy advocates.

TechCrunch has reached out to both Amazon and Senator Warren’s office for comment.

Amazon’s iRobot deal faces renewed scrutiny from Dems by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Streaming service Epix will get a facelift and relaunch as MGM+ in 2023

On the same day that Lionsgate renamed Starzplay to Lionsgate+, MGM’s Epix announced it would also get a “+” in its brand title. Epix, the ad-free streaming service, announced today that it will relaunch as MGM+ in early 2023.

While the new name is hardly original, mainly the plus sign, the rebranding comes as streaming services continue to take on the name of their larger brands. This, of course, includes Lionsgate’s new Lionsgate+. Can we stop with the plus signs now?

Also, it’s doubtful that the timing of MGM’s news and Lionsgate’s announcement is just a coincidence. Epix was previously owned by Lionsgate and Viacom. In 2017, MGM acquired full ownership of Epix in a $1 billion deal.

Amazon completed its acquisition of MGM this past March.

“This rebrand is a promise to existing and new viewers that MGM+ is the place to find television that reflects and celebrates the legacy of the iconic MGM brand – cinematic programming with sophisticated storytelling that entertains, delights, surprises, and transports. MGM is television for movie lovers,” said Michael Wright, head of MGM+, in a statement.

As part of the rebranding, MGM+ also greenlit four original series, coming to the service next year. The list includes “Hotel Cocaine,” an 8-episode drama series, the second season of “Belgravia” called “Belgravia: The Next Chapter,” an untitled four-part docuseries about the Amityville murders and a two-part documentary series “San Francisco Sounds” (working title).

MGM+ will continue to have the same content as Epix, including features from MGM’s film lineup.

The streamer will also continue to be available on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S., along with other devices and the rebranded MGM+ app.

Streaming service Epix will get a facelift and relaunch as MGM+ in 2023 by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch

BMW will use Amazon Alexa to build its next voice assistant

Amazon Alexa will be the foundation of BMW’s next-generation voice assistant, the companies announced Wednesday at Amazon’s annual Devices and Services launch event.

The German automaker and Amazon are have had a relationship for years now. BMW started offering the Alexa assistant in select cars starting in 2018 and the partnership has grown from there.

This announcement stands out because BMW won’t just embedded Alexa into vehicles. It will use the Amazon technology to build its own assistant. The first vehicles with the new generation of BMW’s voice assistant will launch within the next two years.

The idea, if executed well, will be for BMW to use the underlying Amazon tech that it couldn’t develop on its own to focus on what automotive and maybe even model specific features.

Stephan Durach, senior VP of the connected company and development technical operations at BMW Group, said this approach will bring the digital experience to an entirely new level.

It also shows how Amazon is attempting to capture more marketshare within the automotive industry, which Dave Limp, senior VP of devices and services at Amazon, hinted at in his remarks.

“This cooperation with BMW is a great example of what Alexa Custom Assistant was designed for — to make it faster and easier for companies to develop custom intelligent assistants for virtually any device, without the cost and complexity of building from the ground up,” Limp said.

In other words, Amazon sees this as the next step in its plan to dominate — or at least try to — the experience in the car. Amazon also introduced the second-generation of Echo Auto, a more compact device with new features that aim to broaden the e-commerce giant’s reach by bringing its Alexa voice assistant into more vehicles.

Notably, customers will still be able choose to use either the BMW voice assistant, Alexa individually, or have both assistants work alongside each other.

BMW will use Amazon Alexa to build its next voice assistant by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon expands Eero line and introduces Internet Backup

Amazon showed its Eero Wi-Fi lineup some love this morning during a hardware event, announcing the Eero PoE 6, a Wi-Fi 6 Power over Ethernet (PoE) access point that can provide up to 2,000 square feet of coverage and support up to 100 devices. A complementary new product, the Eero PoE Gateway, delivers up to 100 watts of pooled power for multiple PoE devices.

Amazon says that the Eero PoE 6 can go almost anywhere Ethernet cable can be pulled, including mounted on walls or ceilings. As for the the Eero PoE Gateway, it’s Amazon’s first device with 10 Gigabit Ethernet, delivering what one would assume is a speedy wired experience.

Amazon Eero PoE

Image Credits: Amazon

Both new and existing Eero devices will be able to tap into Eero Internet Backup, a new software feature that allows customers to set up a “backup” internet connection — like a phone or mobile hotspot — and have their network automatically attempt to switch over when an outage occurs. Eero Internet Backup will begin to roll out in coming months as a software update for subscribers to Eero Plus, Eero’s premium service plan, and select ISP customers with a compatible Eero device.

Amazon Eero PoE

Image Credits: Amazon

Eero PoE 6 will be available in October through authorized installers starting at $299.99; it’ll come to ISP partners and Amazon in early 2023. Meanwhile, the Eero PoE Gateway will come to market early next year through ISP partners and Amazon priced at $645.99.

read more about Amazon's fall event, September 28, 2022

Amazon expands Eero line and introduces Internet Backup by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

The new Echo Dot is also an Eero

You already know whether you’re an Amazon Echo type person. If so you’re probably looking at one right now, thinking “should I upgrade that thing or is it pointless?” Probably the latter — unless you also have Amazon’s Eero mesh wi-fi product, in which case: it’s probably still pointless, unless it’s pretty old. In which case, you can get a new or lightly used Dot that will now act as a wi-fi range extender.

The new Dot and other Echo products were announced at Amazon’s hardware event today; the Dot has been lightly redesigned with a better speaker and a couple monster-themed prints for the ones that go in the kids’ room.

No one really expects such a small device to offer anything but serviceable sound, so that part of the upgrade isn’t particularly notable. But the next piece is interesting: the latest Dot will automatically connect to your Eero network and extend its range. The 4th-gen Dots and spherical Echo will also gain this ability after a software update soon.

It won’t push the coverage as far as a dedicated router, but there are tricks that a stationary, powered transceiver can do with wi-fi that a phone or laptop can’t, and that means it can act as a repeater even when signal is weak. Then it can pass that signal on to your other devices.

We haven’t had a chance to test this, though we know the Eero is probably the leading consumer mesh wi-fi brand and it’s unlikely Amazon would half-ass this, even with the cheapest Echo.

You can probably expect lots more devices to offer “Eero Built-in,” as it seems to be a thing now, having started with the Ring Alarm Pro. Don’t all rush out to buy Echo Dots as cheap-ish ($50) wireless extenders.

The new Echo Dot is also an Eero by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon’s Echo Show 15 gains support for Fire TV along with other Alexa updates

In addition to a new lineup of Alexa-enabled devices, Amazon at its fall event today also introduced a series of Alexa updates aimed at users of its Echo Show devices with a screen. The features include those focused on entertainment — like bringing Fire TV to Echo Show 15 — as well as others for personalizing the Alexa experience, staying in touch with family, and more.

The company has been working to push Alexa device owners to use the virtual assistant for more than just the basic tasks — like setting alarms or timers, asking for the weather or news, or managing their smart home. Some of today’s updates push into new areas that haven’t gained as much traction, like shopping and communication, while others augment more standard features in new ways.

But one of the biggest updates is the addition of Fire TV on the existing Echo Show 15 in the U.S., allowing users to stream not only Amazon’s own video content, but also from third-party providers like Paramount+ and Showtime for the first time. It will also now be able to access the content you want to see via Alexa, as you can simply ask the assistant to play a show by its title, rather than worrying about which service it’s on. For instance, if you say “Alexa, play ‘The Rings of Power,'” it will launch the program or pick up where you left off.

While thousands of streaming apps can be controlled via Alexa, Amazon says there are over 70 partners who have made an effort to more deeply integrate voice into their streaming apps to allow customers to do things like play, pause, stop, rewind, search and more.

Amazon prioritized bringing Fire TV to Echo Show 15 because it found that the device is already being used in customers’ homes in some sort of central location, like the kitchen or family room, and over 70% of device owners had used it to watch videos in the last month.

The company could not yet say if it would make Fire TV available to other Echo Show devices in a later update.

A new Fire TV widget will be available, too, allowing users to view shortcuts to recently streamed apps, recently watched content, and their personal watchlist.

And to browse Fire TV, you can either use your voice, touch the screen, or even pair the device with the Fire TV Alexa Voice Remote (3rd Gen.), Amazon notes. This remote — the same that ships with Fire TV today — will be offered as an add-on and later, in a bundle.

Outside of streaming Fire TV on the Echo Show 15, the Echo Show lineup more broadly will also gain other enhancements.

One is a new feature aimed at entertaining children, dubbed Creative AI. By following prompts on the screen, kids will be able to either choose or customize an animated character like a pirate, monster or astronaut, and Alexa will then create a story for them to watch with visuals and music. Kids can use included templates and other A.I features to customize the story so it’s personalized to them.

Image Credits: Amazon

Another new feature will allow Echo Show device owners to use the device to share video messages with others in their home. This could serve as an alternative to leaving a Post-it note on a fridge, for instance. To use the feature, you can say something like “Alexa, make a video note” or “Alexa, record a sticky note.” The message will be displayed on the Echo Show screen or viewed in the Alexa mobile app.

The company will try to encourage Echo Show users to shop through the device with a “Shop the Look” feature that will allow them to describe the fashion item they want to see, like “Alexa, show me green yoga pants,” or “Alexa, show me similar pants with pockets.”

Two other features aim to better personalize the device and its content to end users — and are not limited to Echo Show, in fact.

One will allow multi-person households will be able to kick off Alexa Routines — a way to combine tasks into a single voice command — using the same start phrase as someone else in their household. For example, partners may both have a routine that begins by saying “Alexa, good morning.” This feature will leverage Alexa Profiles to return personalized results within Routines for things like calendar updates, music, and traffic reports.

Alexa will also now include weather insights into users’ calendar views and can send notifications about rain or snow up to 10 days out.

The company additionally ported the Echo Show’s call captioning feature to the Alexa app in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Brazil, supported in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, it said.

read more about Amazon's fall event, September 28, 2022

Amazon’s Echo Show 15 gains support for Fire TV along with other Alexa updates by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch