Amazon’s Echo Buds get new fitness tracking features

I wasn’t super impressed when I reviewed the Echo Buds around this time last year, but Amazon’s first shot at Alexa-powered fully wireless earbuds was passable. And while they’ve already been on the market for a while now, the company’s continuing to deliver some key updates, including today’s addition of new fitness features.

Say “Alexa, start my workout” with the buds in, and they’ll begin logging steps, calories, distance, pace and duration of runs. Like many new software additions, this one will take a few days to roll out for everyone. This one also requires users to enable the new tracking feature using the Alexa app.

Once enabled, you can state/ask follow-ups, like:

  • “Alexa, start my run”
  • “Alexa, pause my walk”
  • “Alexa, end my workout”
  • “Alexa, how far have I run?”
  • “Alexa, what’s my pace?”
  • “Alexa, how was my workout?”

Asking, “Alexa, how was my workout?” After the fact will pull up your historical running stats.

As I noted previously, the Echo Buds didn’t really do much to set themselves apart from myriad other earbuds, though there certainly was a lot to be said for the price — then $130. At the moment, they’re discounted much further, now running $80 — which makes them a solidly competitive deal.

#alexa, #amazon, #echo, #echo-buds, #hardware, #health, #wearables, #wireless-earbuds

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India approves Reliance’s $3.4 billion deal with Future Group, brings a new headache to Amazon

The Indian watchdog said on Friday it has approved the $3.4 billion deal between the nation’s two largest retail giants, Future Group and Reliance Retail, posing a new headache for American e-commerce group Amazon in the key overseas market.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI), the Indian watchdog, said in a brief statement that it had approved the proposed acquisition of retail, wholesale, logistics, and warehousing businesses of Future Group, India’s second largest retail chain, by Reliance Retail, the largest.

Reliance Retail and Future Group announced their proposed deal, worth $3.4 billion, in late August. Amazon, which owns a stake in a Future Group’s subsidiary, has protested the deal, alleging the Indian firm of engaging in insider trading and violating contracts.

Late last month, a Singapore arbitration court issued an order to temporarily halt the deal between the two Indian retail giants, but it has been unclear ever since how much water that order holds in India. Shortly after the court issued the order, Future Group and Reliance Retail said they were working to complete their deal “without any delay.”

Friday’s announcement is crucial. Amazon, which has invested over $6.5 billion in its India business, had requested the CCI and SEBI, the regulator of the securities and commodity market in India, to consider Singapore International Arbitration Centre’s order and block the deal.

Future Group is currently fighting with Amazon in a court in Delhi, where a lawyer for the Indian firm has used bizarre language to charge the American firm. On several occasions, the lawyer has likened Amazon’s effort to block Future Group’s deal to the East India Company, the British trading house whose arrival in India kicked off nearly 200 years of colonial rule.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

More to follow…

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #future-group, #government, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance, #reliance-retail

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Amazon’s drone delivery team hit with layoffs amid reorganization

Amazon has confirmed an early Financial Times report outlining layoffs at the retail giant’s Prime Air drone delivery program.

“As part of our regular business operations, we are reorganizing one small team within our larger Prime Air organization to allow us to best align with the needs of our customers and the business,” spokesperson Kristen Kish said in a statement offered to TechCrunch. “For affected employees, we are working to find roles in the areas where we are hiring that best match their experience and needs.”

The statement echoes similar sentiment from Amazon departments that have undergone headcount reduction, including the bit about attempting to shift employees around inside the company. Among other things, it’s an attempt to get out in front of suggestions that the project could be struggling. The company adds, however, that it is committed to the Prime Air project.

The initial report points to dozens of layoffs, though Amazon, unsurprisingly, is loath to give an exact figure. Understandably, the ambitious project, which would add rapid air delivers to Amazon’s existing robust delivery structure, hasn’t exactly been a quick launch.

In a blog post tied to the company’s RE:Mars conference last June, consumer head Jeff Wilke noted, “[W]ith the help of our world-class fulfillment and delivery network, we expect to scale Prime Air both quickly and efficiently, delivering packages via drone to customers within months.”

Certainly the health risks to essential workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a prime candidate for such a launch, but there are a number of hurdles for the program, including both regulatory and technological. In August, the service received FAA approval for trials.

#amazon, #amazon-drone-delivery, #amazon-prime-air, #ecommerce, #hardware, #layoffs, #personnel

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Tech in the Biden era

President-elect Joe Biden may have spent eight years in an administration that doted on the tech industry, but that long honeymoon, punctuated by four years of Trump, looks to be over.

Tech is on notice in 2020. The Russian election interference saga of the 2016 election opened the floodgates for social media’s ills. The subsequent years unleashed dangerous torrents of homegrown extremism and misinformation that either disillusioned or radicalized regular people. A cluster of tech’s biggest data brokers further consolidated power, buying up any would-be competitor they stumbled across and steamrolling everything else. Things got so bad that Republicans and Democrats, in uncanny agreement, are both pushing plans to regulate tech.

Suddenly, allowing the world’s information merchants to grow, unmolested, into towering ad-fed behemoths over the last decade looked like a huge mistake. And that’s where we are today.

Biden and big tech

Biden didn’t make attacking tech a cornerstone of his campaign and mostly avoided weighing in on tech issues, even as Elizabeth Warren stirred the big tech backlash into the campaign conversation. His attitude toward the tech industry at large is a bit mysterious, but there are some things we do know.

The president-elect is expected to keep the Trump administration’s antitrust case against Google on track, potentially even opening additional cases into Facebook, Amazon and Apple. But his campaign also leaned on former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for early fundraising, so the relationship to Google looks a bit more complex than the Biden team’s open contempt for a company like Facebook.

As Biden picked up the nomination and the months wore on, it became clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s chumminess with Trump’s White House was unlikely to continue into a Biden administration. By September, the Biden campaign had penned a scathing letter to Mark Zuckerberg denouncing Facebook as the “foremost propagator” of election disinformation, and that frustration doesn’t seem to have dissipated. His deputy communications director recently criticized Facebook for “shredding” the fabric of democracy. It appears that Facebook could come to regret the many decisions it’s made to stay in the Trump administration’s good graces over the last four years.

Still, it’s not doom and gloom for all tech — big tech isn’t everything. There are plenty of potential bright spots, from Biden’s climate plans (lack of Senate control notwithstanding), which could crack open a whole new industry and shower it in federal dollars, to his intention to revitalize the nation’s infrastructure, from telecommunications and transportation to energy-efficient housing. 

And antitrust legislation, usually framed as an existential threat to “tech” broadly, actually stands to benefit the startup scene, where the largest tech companies have walled off many paths to innovation with years of anti-competitive behavior. If Congress, states and/or the Justice Department manages to get anywhere with the antitrust actions percolating now — and there are many things percolating — the result could open up paths for startups that would prefer a more interesting exit than being bought and subsumed (best case) or shuttered (worst case) into one of five or so tech mega-companies.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is another wildcard. Hailing from tech’s backyard, Harris brings a distinctly Bay Area vibe to the office. Most interesting is Harris’s brother-in-law Tony West. West is Uber’s chief legal officer and played a prominent role in pushing for California’s Proposition 22, which absolved gig economy companies like Lyft and Uber from the need to grant their workers benefits afforded to full-time employees. Siding with organized labor, Harris landed on the other side of the issue.

The extent of her relationships in the tech world isn’t totally clear, but she apparently has a friendly relationship with Sheryl Sandberg, who was a frontrunner for a Treasury or Commerce position four years ago in the advent of a Hillary Clinton win. 

The Biden administration will also have all kinds of quiet ties to power players in the tech world, many of whom served in the Obama years and then made a beeline for Silicon Valley. Apple’s Lisa Jackson, formerly of Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, and Jay Carney, a former Obama spokesman who sits comfortably as SVP of global corporate affairs at Amazon, are two examples there.

Transition names from tech

The Biden administration’s transition list is generously peppered with names from the tech industry, though some of them are likely grandfathered in from the Obama era rather than pulled directly for their more recent industry experience. The list named Matt Olsen, Uber’s chief trust and security officer, for his prior experience in the intel community under Obama rather than his ridesharing industry insights, for example.

The list doesn’t include any names fresh from Facebook or Google, but it does include four members from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and one from Eric Schmidt’s philanthropic project Schmidt Futures. The list also suggests a degree of continuity with the Obama era, with the inclusion of Aneesh Chopra, the first U.S. CTO, and Nicole Wong, a former deputy chief technology officer under Obama who previously worked at Twitter and Google. The transition also includes a smattering of names that served in the digital services agency 18F and some from the USDS, which borrows talent from the tech world to solve public problems.

Other names from the tech world include Airbnb’s Divya Kumaraiah and Clare Gallagher, Lyft’s Brandon Belford, Arthur Plews of Stripe, Dell CTO Ann Dunkin and quite a few more. These transition figures will help the administration fill the many open slots in a new government, but they’re less telling than who gets called to the cabinet. 

Tech in the cabinet? Maybe.

Beyond reading the tea leaves of the transition team and Biden’s previous statements here and there, we’re in for a wait. The administration’s picks for its cabinets will say a lot about its priorities, but for now we’re mostly left with the rumor mill. 

What does the rumor mill suggest? Meg Whitman, the former HP and eBay CEO most recently at the helm of failed short-form streaming platform Quibi, keeps coming up as a symbolic across-the-aisle pick for the Commerce Department, though Quibi’s spectacular dive probably doesn’t bode well for her chances.

Eric Schmidt’s name has bubbled up to lead some kind of White House tech task force, but that seems ill-fated considering the federal antitrust case against Google and the broader legislative appetite for doing something about big tech. But Alphabet board member Roger Ferguson, whose name has been floating around for Treasury Secretary, just stepped down from his current position at a finance firm, kicking up more speculation.

Seth Harris, who served in Obama’s Labor Department, made at least one list suggesting he could land a cabinet position. Harris, who is already involved in the Biden transition, also has the controversial distinction of proposing a “new legal category” of worker “for those who occupy the gray area between employees and independent contractors.” Lyft apparently cited his paper specifically after Prop 22 passed. With labor a hot issue in general right now — and Bernie Sanders himself potentially in the running for the same role — Harris would likely ignite a firestorm of controversy among labor activists if appointed to helm the department. 

On the other side of the coin, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra could be considered for a cabinet-level role in the Department of Justice. Becerra isn’t from the tech world, but as California’s AG he’s been stationed there and his department currently has its own antitrust case against Google simmering. In a recent interview with Bloomberg about antitrust issues under the Biden administration, Becerra denounced “behemoths” in the tech industry that stifle innovation, noting that state AGs have “taken the lead” on pressing tech companies on anti-competitive behavior.

“At the end of the day we all want competition, right?” Becerra said. “But here’s the thing, competition is essential if you want innovation.” Becerra, who succeeded Vice President-elect Kamala Harris when she left the Attorney General’s office for Congress, could also again follow in her footsteps, filling the vacant seat she will leave in the Senate come January.

All told, we’re seeing some familiar names in the mix, but 2020 isn’t 2008. Tech companies that emerged as golden children over the last ten years are radioactive now. Regulation looms on the horizon in every direction. Whatever policy priorities emerge out of the Biden administration, Obama’s technocratic gilded age is over and we’re in for something new.

#amazon, #antitrust, #apple, #facebook, #government, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #tc, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #white-house

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Amazon’s smart glasses get an upgrade, as its smart ring is discontinued

As strange as they are, you would be forgiven for getting about the existence of Echo Frames. Amazon announced the smart glasses among a deluge of Alexa-focused products at an event last year that also included an even stranger smart ring.

The experimental product was  Day 1 Edition device — meaning it was available to users on an invite-only basis — a kind of hardware beta test with a fairly wide net. “If customers liked them, we’d double down,” the company noted. “If not, we’d move on.” Seems there was enough interest around the Frames to graduate them to wide release.

The second generation of the smart glasses will be available through Amazon starting December 10. They’re not cheap — running $250 (also available in five monthly installments). Basically the whole thing is a way of putting Alexa on users’ faces, with built-in mics and open ear audio on the stems that give feedback without the need for headphones.

The updated models feature 40% longer battery life, auto volume that adjusts to environmental noise and auto shut off to save battery. They’re also available in more colors.

Amazon’s Echo Loop ring, which Frederic called “maybe the oddest product Amazon demoed at its event today,” won’t be moving past the beta. The system paired up with a smartphone and let users access audio by holding it up to their ears. Amazon’s not the first company to explore a ring form factor — Oura and Motiv are probably the two best-known examples — but it seems pretty clear that there’s more juice to be squeezed from the head-mounted form factor.

Production and sales will be ending for the Loop, though the company says it will continue to offer sales and updates for existing customers.

#amazon, #echo, #echo-frames, #echo-loop, #hardware, #smartglasses, #wearables

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SellerX raises $118M to buy up and grow Amazon marketplace businesses

As Amazon’s Marketplace continues to grow and mature, a new opportunity has emerged in the world of e-commerce for a new breed of startups to consolidate the most promising of the smaller businesses that sell via Amazon’s platform, and build out their own economies of scale within that ecosystem. In the latest development, SellerX — a new outfit in Berlin — has closed a round of $118 million (€100 million) that it plans to use to roll up smaller enterprises that use Fullfilment by Amazon for payments, logistics and delivery for their products.

The round is being co-led by Cherry Ventures, Felix Capital and TriplePoint Capital, with participation also from Village Global, with Zalando co-founder David Schneider, Shutterfly CEO and former Amazon UK CEO Chris North, and the founders of KW Commerce, a big Amazon seller out of Germany (selling mobile phone accessories and home goods), also participating.

Notably, this $118 million is a seed round for the company, the first real money that it has raised to date, and it comes in the form of some equity, but mostly debt, which SellerX will use for acquisitions to play out its strategy, in the words of Malte Horeyseck (who co-founded the startup with Philipp Triebel) to become “the digital Procter & Gamble.”

SellerX’s focus will be “evergreen consumer goods,” said Triebel, in areas like household, pets, garden supplies, goods for kids and beauty. It has made one acquisition to date; and although it declined to disclose to me what it is, Horeyseck said that it, combined possibly with other acquisitions it will make in the coming weeks, will give SellerX a revenue run rate of €20 million by the end of this year.

The horse has well and truly bolted in the world of Amazon marketplace roll-ups: the last several months have seen a number of startups raise large rounds of funding, with sizable proportions of the sums in debt, in order to go out and consolidate the most interesting smaller companies that are selling and getting their orders fulfilled by Amazon.

Just yesterday, another player in this space based out of the U.S. called Heyday announced a round of $175 million. Earlier this week, London-based Heroes announced a $65 million round. Perch raised $123 million last month. Thrasio, another big player in this area, was valued at $1.25 billion in its own debt round earlier this year.

The opportunity is a clear one: the Amazon marketplace has quickly become a major player in the world of e-commerce — a position that has become even more apparent this year, during the Covid-19 global health pandemic, which has led to many people turning away from in-person shopping either out of choice or requirement (in the UK, for example, all ‘non-essential shops’ are currently closed for in-person shopping). In the last quarter the company, which reported revenues of $98 billion, saw product sales of $52 billion, with estimates putting the number of marketplace sellers at just over 50% of that figure. By some accounts Amazon is already responsible for 50% of all online retail, Felix founder and investor Frederic Court noted.

“It is the new high street,” he said in an interview.

At the same time, we’ve seen a flourishing of the concept of “D2C” where companies are bypassing traditional retailers and building their own brands for selling their own unique products on their own terms. Amazon has played a big part in that. Just as a writer can now self-publish on Amazon and bypass getting book deals, you can list your products on Amazon and theoretically get access to a huge audience of shoppers without having to pitch your goods to a buyer who may or may not do your bidding.

On the other side, however, you have huge fragmentation on the platform. As Amazon gets more popular, it makes it harder than ever for individual sellers to get themselves seen, or to differentiate themselves once they are found.

There is also a ton of junk sold on Amazon — there is a whole industry of those who buy off wholesale sites and resell on Amazon, which is one reason why so many merchants seem to sell identical anonymous products.

For the unassuming shopper, it’s nearly impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff — not least also because of the ongoing problems that Amazon has had with the integrity of its review system, and the selling of iffy products (it has worked hard to try to fight all of this, but it still remains an issue).

This makes for a challenging landscape on Amazon, which sometimes feels more held together by its Prime delivery promises and the fact that you can still usually find something to fill your needs not because the goods are great, but because of the sheer size of it being an everything store.

Horeyseck said that the idea behind SellerX (and its many competitors, hopefully) is not to find the most successful companies of all, regardless of how they get there. Rather, its mission is to build a thriving business by focusing on the more interesting sellers that are doing well legitimately and using the Amazon framework to do it, but might lack the capital, expertise or appetite to stick with their enterprises longer term. The idea is to pick these up and apply SellerX’s own analytics and processes, and production relationships that it is building, to pick up these saplings and grow them into trees.

Horeyseck believes that this ultimately can be a win-win on all sides, for SellerX, the smaller merchant, and Amazon itself.

“I think basically everything we are doing will help Amazon have a better quality marketplace,” he said. “This is about creating strong D2C brands, where you get quality every time. Amazon needs that in its marketplace right now.”

Filip Dames, founding partner of Cherry Ventures, said in a statement, “The diverse seller landscape on Amazon provides a unique opportunity to acquire some category-winning, highly profitable products, empower them through technology, and build them into the next-generation consumer brands. The founders Malte and Philipp combine decade-long e-commerce and buy-and-build expertise, which uniquely positions them to capture this opportunity.”

#amazon, #ecommerce, #europe, #funding, #sellerx

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African fintech startup Chipper Cash raises $30M backed by Jeff Bezos

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has raised a $30 million Series B funding round led by Ribbit Capital with participation of Bezos Expeditions — the personal VC fund of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Chipper Cash was founded in San Francisco in 2018 by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled. The company offers mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in seven countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

Parallel to its P2P app, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout — a merchant-focused, fee-based payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business. The company has scaled to 3 million users on its platform and processes an average of 80,000 transactions daily. In June 2020, Chipper Cash reached a monthly payments value of $100 million, according to CEO Ham Serunjogi .

As part of the Series B raise, the startup plans to expand its products and geographic scope. On the product side, that entails offering more business payment solutions, crypto-currency trading options, and investment services.

“We’ll always be a P2P financial transfer platform at our core. But we’ve had demand from our users to offer other value services…like purchasing cryptocurrency assets and making investments in stocks,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch on a call.

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash has added beta dropdowns on its website and app to buy and sell Bitcoin and invest in U.S. stocks from Africa — the latter through a partnership with U.S. financial services company DriveWealth.

“We’ll launch [the stock product] in Nigeria first so Nigerians have the option to buy fractional stocks — Tesla shares, Apple shares or Amazon shares and others — through our app. We’ll expand into other countries thereafter,” said Serunjogi.

On the business financial services side, the startup plans to offer more API payments solutions. “We’ve been getting a lot of requests from people on our P2P platform, who also have business enterprises, to be able to collect payments for sale of goods,” explained Serunjogi.

Chipper Cash also plans to use its Series B financing for additional country expansion, which the company will announce by the end of 2021.

Jeff Bezos’s backing of Chipper Cash follows a recent string of events that has elevated the visibility of Africa’s startup scene. Over the past decade, the continent’s tech ecosystem has been one of the fastest growing in the world by year year-over-year expansion in venture capital and startup formation, concentrated in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch/Bryce Durbin

Bringing Africa’s large unbanked population and underbanked consumers and SMEs online has factored prominently. Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

As such, fintech has become Africa’s highest-funded tech sector, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to startups in 2019. Even with the rapid venture funding growth over the last decade, Africa’s tech scene had been performance light, with only one known unicorn (e-commerce venture Jumia) a handful of exits, and no major public share offerings. That changed last year.

In April 2019, Jumia — backed by investors including Goldman Sachs and Mastercard — went public in an NYSE IPO. Later in the year, Nigerian fintech company Interswitch achieved unicorn status after a $200 million investment by Visa.

This year, Network International purchased East African payments startup DPO for $288 million and in August WorldRemit acquired Africa focused remittance company Sendwave for $500 million.

One of the more significant liquidity events in African tech occurred last month, when Stripe acquired Nigerian payment gateway startup Paystack for a reported $200 million.

In an email to TechCrunch, a spokesperson for Bezos Expeditions confirmed the fund’s investment in Chipper Cash, but declined to comment on further plans to back African startups. Per Crunchbase data, the investment would be the first in Africa for the fund. It’s worth noting Bezos Expeditions is not connected to Jeff Bezo’s hallmark business venture, Amazon.

For Chipper Cash, the $30 million Series B raise caps an event-filled two years for the San Francisco-based payments company and founders Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled. The two came to America for academics, met in Iowa while studying at Grinnell College and ventured out to Silicon Valley for stints in big tech: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr and Yahoo! for Moujaled.

Chipper Cash founders Ham Serunjogi (R) and Maijid Moujaled; Image Credits: Chipper Cash

The startup call beckoned and after launching Chipper Cash in 2018, the duo convinced 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to back their company with seed funds. The startup expanded into Nigeria and Southern Africa in 2019, entered a payments partnership with Visa in April and raised a $13.8 million Series A in June.

Chipper Cash founder Ham Serunjogi believes the backing of his company by a notable tech figure, such as Jeff Bezos (the world’s richest person), has benefits beyond his venture.

“It’s a big deal when a world class investor like Bezos or Ribbit goes out of their sweet spot to a new area where they previously haven’t done investments,” he said. “Ultimately, the winner of those things happening is the African tech ecosystem overall, as it will bring more investment from firms of that caliber to African startups.”

#500-startups, #africa, #amazon, #america, #apple, #banking, #bezos-expeditions, #chipper-cash, #e-commerce, #facebook, #financial-services, #ghana, #goldman-sachs, #ham-serunjogi, #hsbc, #interswitch, #iowa, #jeff-bezos, #joe-montana, #kenya, #liquid-2-ventures, #maijid-moujaled, #mastercard, #mobile-payments, #nigeria, #online-payments, #p2p, #paystack, #ribbit, #ribbit-capital, #rwanda, #san-francisco, #series-b, #south-africa, #stripe, #tanzania, #tc, #tesla, #uganda, #united-states, #venture-capital, #visa, #worldremit, #yahoo

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Amazon brings Alexa Routines to Fire TV

Amazon announced today it’s bringing Alexa Routines — the feature that allows users to create their own Alexa shortcuts that combine multiple actions — to its Fire TV platform. Starting today, Amazon customers will be able to include Fire TV commands in their Alexa routines, including those that power on or off the TV, open a Fire TV app, or play, pause, or resume content on the Fire TV.

For example, you could create an Alexa Routine for movie night that would pause the program and turn on the lights for your snack break, and another to again dim the lights and resume the movie when you return. Or you could incorporate Fire TV into your bedtime routine, by powering off the TV while also dimming the lights and turning on your morning alarm. This could be useful for those who like to wind down at night by falling asleep to their TV.

You can configure your own voice commands for these custom routines, too, like, “Alexa, I’m getting a snack,” or “Alexa, I’m back,” for example.

Amazon says these two use cases would address activities that, according to a Morning Consult survey it commissioned, are already common in the U.S. The survey found that 75% of U.S. consumers pause their TV show or movie at least once per night to grab a snack or a drink, and 32% said they fall asleep watching movies and TV shows more in 2020 compared with last year.

Plus, if you create a Routine you think others may find useful, you can share it with friends and family via the sharable URLs Amazon introduced in September.

These new “Entertainment Routines” are launching today across all Fire TV devices including Fire TV Edition smart TVs and Fire TV Cube. However, if you’re using a Fire TV Stick, you need a TV that supports Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) to use powering on and off your TV as Routine actions.

The feature will be globally available, Amazon says.

#alexa, #amazon, #amazon-fire-tv, #fire-tv, #routines, #smart-tv, #tc

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GoodRx, Walgreens, CVS shares all down on Amazon’s Pharmacy news

Consumer healthcare stocks are plummeting this morning on news that Amazon has finally launched its integrated pharmacy service.

The news, which could dramatically reshape the healthcare landscape by offering deep discounts on prescription medication and two-day delivery services for Amazon Prime customers, has already taken a toll on the share price of companies like GoodRx, Walgreens, and CVS.

GoodRx was hit the hardest, with its shares slumping 19% in pre-market trading. Walgreens Boots Alliance was down nearly 10% before market open and CVS Health slid 7%.

Amazon has been steadily encroaching on pharmacy businesses in the same way the company has moved into grocery delivery and everyday consumer staples.

The convergence of food and pharmacy has been a decades-long evolution for mega-retailers on both sides of the divide — with grocers building out pharmacy services and pharmacies adding food to their shelves.

Since its acquisition of Pillpack in 2018, Amazon has been adding additional pharmaceutical and healthcare services. It launched its own over-the-counter drugs in 2019, and rolled out a healthcare network for its employees — Amazon Care for its workers in Seattle.

In August, Amazon launched its fitness tracker, Halo. The personal health and wellness monitoring and advice service includes a $64.99 wrist tracker and an application suite for monitoring health.

As TechCrunch noted, the service includes more than the standard health tracking gadget/app combo, by taking a comprehensive look at various measures of health, including body fat percentage, as measured at home with just your smartphone’s own camera and the Amazon Halo app.

Taken together, Amazon’s array of hardware, software, pharmacy services and healthcare network represents the most complete package of health services across industries.

It’s a powerful pitch to consumers, and one that could ultimately significantly drive down healthcare costs. And drive down the revenue of other pharmacies, which investors are not stoked to imagine.

#amazon, #cvs, #tc, #walgreens

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Reliance Retail buys Urban Ladder for $24.4 million

Reliance Retail has acquired a majority stake in furniture and decor platform Urban Ladder, making a broader push into e-commerce as the largest retail chain in India gears up to fight Amazon and Flipkart.

In a filing to the local stock exchange, Reliance Retail said it had acquired a 96% stake in Urban Ladder for about $24.43 million. The Indian retail giant, which retains the option to acquire the remainder stake in the seven-and-a-half-years-old startup, said it has proposed to invest up to $10.06 million more in Urban Ladder by December 2023.

Founded in early 2012, Urban Ladder sells home furniture and decor products online. It also operates a chain of physical retail stores in several Indian cities. The deal size suggests that it was a fire sale.

The startup had raised about $115 million from Sequoia Capital, SAIF Partners, Steadview Capital, and MIT and other investors, according to Crunchbase and Tracxn. In the financial year that ended in March, the Indian startup reported a loss of $6.63 million on a turnover of $58.2 million.

Reliance Retail said (PDF) the investment “will further enable the group’s digital and new commerce initiatives and widen the bouquet of consumer products provided by the group, while enhancing user engagement and experience across its retail offerings.”

Urban Ladder is the latest acquisition for Reliance Retail, which earlier this year said it had entered into a $3.4 billion deal with Future Group to buy several of India’s second largest retail chain’s businesses. In August, Reliance acquired a 60% stake in pharma marketplace Netmeds’ parent firm Vitalic for about $83.2 million.

Reliance Retail, which is part of Reliance Industries (India’s most valued firm), has raised about $6.4 billion in recent months after its sister subsidiary, Jio Platforms, secured over $20 billion this year from Facebook and Google among other high-profile investors.

Reliance Retail, which serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country, entered the e-commerce space with JioMart through a joint venture with Jio Platforms. JioMart now has a presence in over 200 Indian cities and towns, and it also maintains a partnership with Facebook for WhatsApp integration.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #fundings-exits, #india, #reliance-retail, #urban-ladder, #walmart

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Amazon begins shifting Alexa’s cloud AI to its own silicon

Amazon engineers discuss the migration of 80 percent of Alexa’s workload to Inferentia ASICs in this three-minute clip.

On Thursday, an Amazon AWS blogpost announced that the company has moved most of the cloud processing for its Alexa personal assistant off of Nvidia GPUs and onto its own Inferentia Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC). Amazon dev Sebastien Stormacq describes the Inferentia’s hardware design as follows:

AWS Inferentia is a custom chip, built by AWS, to accelerate machine learning inference workloads and optimize their cost. Each AWS Inferentia chip contains four NeuronCores. Each NeuronCore implements a high-performance systolic array matrix multiply engine, which massively speeds up typical deep learning operations such as convolution and transformers. NeuronCores are also equipped with a large on-chip cache, which helps cut down on external memory accesses, dramatically reducing latency and increasing throughput.

When an Amazon customer—usually someone who owns an Echo or Echo dot—makes use of the Alexa personal assistant, very little of the processing is done on the device itself. The workload for a typical Alexa request looks something like this:

  1. A human speaks to an Amazon Echo, saying: “Alexa, what’s the special ingredient in Earl Grey tea?”
  2. The Echo detects the wake word—Alexa—using its own on-board processing
  3. The Echo streams the request to Amazon data centers
  4. Within the Amazon data center, the voice stream is converted to phonemes (Inference AI workload)
  5. Still in the data center, phonemes are converted to words (Inference AI workload)
  6. Words are assembled into phrases (Inference AI workload)
  7. Phrases are distilled into intent (Inference AI workload)
  8. Intent is routed to an appropriate fulfillment service, which returns a response as a JSON document
  9. JSON document is parsed, including text for Alexa’s reply
  10. Text form of Alexa’s reply is converted into natural-sounding speech (Inference AI workload)
  11. Natural speech audio is streamed back to the Echo device for playback—”It’s bergamot orange oil.”

As you can see, almost all of the actual work done in fulfilling an Alexa request happens in the cloud—not in an Echo or Echo Dot device itself. And the vast majority of that cloud work is performed not by traditional if-then logic but inference—which is the answer-providing side of neural network processing.

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#ai, #amazon, #aws, #gpu, #inference, #inferentia, #machine-learning, #nvidia, #tech, #uncategorized

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Amazon faces lawsuit alleging failure to provide PPE to workers during pandemic

Christian Smalls, a former Amazon warehouse employee, filed a lawsuit against the company today alleging Amazon failed to provide personal protective equipment to Black and Latinx workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The class action suit alleges Amazon failed to properly protect its warehouse workers and violated elements of New York City’s human rights law, as well as federal and state laws.

“I was a loyal worker and gave my all to Amazon until I was unceremoniously terminated and tossed aside like yesterday’s trash because I insisted that Amazon protect its dedicated workers from COVID-19,” Smalls said in a statement. “I just wanted Amazon to provide basic protective gear to the workers and sanitize the workplace.”

Amazon did not specifically comment on the lawsuit but said it stands in solidarity with Black employees, customers and its partners.

“Amazon’s mission is to be the earth’s most customer-centric company, and this mission is central to our work in diversity and inclusion,” Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski told TechCrunch. “Diverse teams help us think bigger, and differently, about the products and services that we build for our customers and the day-to-day nature of our workplace – this is reinforced within our 14 Leadership Principles, which remind team members to seek diverse perspectives, learn and be curious, and constantly earn others’ trust.”

The lawsuit suit has support from Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said he stands in solidarity with Smalls and other Amazon warehouse workers.

“COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities on so many levels, from warehouses to jailhouses,” Rev. Jackson said in a statement. “It’s an invisible enemy that is killing our communities. Chris ‘case is a classic example of how corporate greed and insensitivity can literally expose communities to untold and unnecessary risks.”

Smalls was fired from Amazon in March after organizing a walkout at one of the company’s fulfillment centers in Staten Island. As a result, New York’s attorney general is investigating if Amazon violated federal worker safety laws and New York state’s whistleblower protections laws by firing Smalls.

Smalls’ termination helped galvanize other warehouse workers who later organized formed an international organization to demand change inside Amazon’s warehouses. Organizers pointed to worker retaliation as one of the driving factors for the formation of Amazon Workers International. Meanwhile, Amazon executives reportedly discussed discrediting Smalls and making him the face of the organizing movement.

An Amazon spokesperson previously told TechCrunch the company did not fire Smalls for organizing a protest. Instead, Amazon said it fired him for “putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of employment.”

“Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines,” the spokesperson said. “He was also found to have had close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was asked to remain home with pay for 14-days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world. Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite further putting the teams at risk.”

#amazon, #covid-19, #diversity, #labor

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Amazon’s in-garage delivery is now available in 4,000 US cities

For all the myriad ways Amazon has made shopping more convenient, the last-mile delivery can be an issue. The company’s Key service is an attempt to address those issues, offering a way for packages to get delivered even when residents aren’t home or are otherwise unreachable.

Currently the company offers home, car and garage delivery options. The latter, which launched in 2019 with 50 cities, now reaches more than 4,000, according to the company. The cities include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Houston, Boston, Atlanta and Phoenix. There are thousands of nearby smaller cities and towns on the list, as well. Shout out to Astoria, New York.

The feature is open to Prime members who have a myQ garage door opener, which drivers can access. In addition to the existing delivery features, Amazon is adding in-garage grocery delivers in a handful of cities starting today, including Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. The feature will be limited to select areas and will be expending to other U.S. cities at some unspecified point in the future.

#amazon, #amazon-key, #delivery, #e-commerce, #ecommerce

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Amazon sues online influencers engaged in a counterfeit scheme

Amazon on Thursday announced a lawsuit against over a dozen bad actors, including online influencers and other businesses, who attempted to evade Amazon’s anti-counterfeiting measures by promoting luxury counterfeit products on social media sites, like TikTok and Instagram, as well as on personal websites, then using Amazon seller accounts to fulfill those orders.

The suit alleges that defendants, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Sabrina Kelly-Krejci, conspired with sellers to run a scheme that involved posting side-by-side photos of a generic, non-branded product which could be found on Amazon, and a luxury counterfeit product. The text on the posting would read “Order this/Get this.”

The “Order this” pointed to a generic product being falsely advertised on Amazon. “Get this,” meanwhile, was referencing the luxury counterfeit products the consumer would receive instead.

Image Credits: Amazon court filing

By only posting generic product photos on Amazon.com directly, the defendants and the sellers they worked with, were aiming to bypass Amazon’s anti-counterfeiting measures while making claims about the counterfeit goods elsewhere across social media and the web. They also promoted the high quality of their luxury counterfeit goods using videos on Instagram, TikTok, and personal websites, and sent users to Amazon and other e-commerce websites, like DHgate, to transact.

Of note in this case is the fact that Fitzpatrick had been a member of Amazon’s Influencer Program while the counterfeiting scheme was underway. From Nov. 23, 2019 through March 6, 2020, she participated in the program under the username Kellyfitz02-20. When Amazon detected her activities, she was banned from the program and it closed her Associates account.

She then attempted to open new Associate accounts and continued to advertise the counterfeit items on social media, where she directed her followers to her own website for purchases, as well as to other e-commerce sites.

Instagram had shut down Fitzpatrick’s prior accounts, but she would create new ones when that occurred.

Though Fitzpatrick made her current Instagram account private, her website is still online where it shows her promoting the so-called “hidden links” on Amazon where consumers could buy the counterfeits.

Image Credits: styleeandgrace.com

Similarly, Kelly-Krejci used her website to direct users to “hidden links” on Amazon where they could buy counterfeit products, saying in one video, she “know[s] some people feel weird ordering from hidden links but in this case you will get something fabulous.”

Image Credits: budgetstylefiles.com

The lawsuit alleges the defendants ran their schemes from around November 2019 through the filing of the complaint.

Investigators working on Amazon’s behalf were able to confirm the scheme by placing orders through the links and receiving the advertised counterfeit goods. The court filing shows several examples of these items, which included wallets, purses, belts, and sunglasses, which were designer dupes of brands like Gucci and Dior.

Among the other defendants in the case are businesses and sellers in China who helped source the dupes. In some cases, the sellers took steps to hide their identities and whereabouts from Amazon by using fake names and contact information and unregistered businesses, Amazon says..

Amazon has been working over the past several years to take a harder stance on counterfeiting, having acknowledging the practice harms consumer trust in its online store. In 2017, it launched the Amazon Brand Registry, which gives a rights owner tools to proactively locate and report infringing items. The following year, it launch a product serialization service, Transparency, that helps to eliminate counterfeits for enrolled products.

And last year, Amazon launched Project Zero, a self-service counterfeit removal tool for brands to remove counterfeit product listings on Amazon in minutes. Over 10,000 brands are now enrolled.

The retailer has increasingly engaged in lawsuits against counterfeiters as well, to dissuade others from participating in counterfeiting schemes.

The current lawsuit asks the court to ensure the defendants are barred from ever advertising, promoting and selling on Amazon, opening Amazon Vendor, Selling, and Associate accounts, aiding or abetting counterfeiters, and pay damages, attorneys’ fees, and other relief.

#amazon, #amazon-com, #china, #counterfeit, #designer, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #instagram, #social-media

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On-demand delivery app Glovo is spinning up a b2b logistics unit for super speedy urban delivery

Spain’s on-demand delivery app, Glovo, is gearing up to be able to deliver a much wider range of products within a 30-minute timeframe by rolling out a b2b logistics play — drawing on a network of city centre warehouses that it plans to massively expand over the next twelve months.

It’s just announced the launch of a new business unit, called Q-Commerce — the ‘Q’ standing for quick — to accelerate development of a b2b service that will see it offer to stock third parties’ products in its warehouses and have the couriers that operate on its on-demand platform make deliveries for other businesses too — offering what it bills as a “turn-key” logistics solution for businesses of all sizes to underpin their own online stories. 

It is already working with retail brands like Unilever, Nestle and L’Oreal and supermarkets including Walmart, Carrefour and Kaufland to stock and sell their goods from its network of so-called ‘dark stores’ — which are currently located in Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon and Milan — offering users there speedy delivery for selected groceries and other items under its ‘Glovo Market’ brand (currently with the carrot of free 24-hour delivery and no minimum spend). But it’s aiming to ramp up across the board — expanding the reach of its Glovo Market offer to more cities and launching a b2b offer to power others’ online stores — saying it plans to have more than 100 dark stores up and running by the end of 2021.

Commenting in a statement, Daniel Alonso, global director of Q-Commerce at Glovo — and former ecommerce director at Walmart — said: “With shops closing down and lockdowns globally, consumers now want and expect more items than ever to be delivered to their doorstep. With this has brought new demands — it is no longer a case of waiting 24-48 hours for a delivery. Rather, the expectation for this is now a matter of minutes. At Glovo we’re committed to thirty minutes or less with all products available on Q-Commerce. As we continue to expand our enhanced offering, we’re excited to launch Q-Commerce in other parts of Spain and the rest of Europe, Eastern Europe and Africa over the next 12 months.”

Glovo says it wants Q-Commerce to power delivery of a wide range of products — not just meals and food from restaurants and supermarkets but anything sold in toy, music, book, flower, beauty and pharmacy stores.

There are some obvious gaps in that list: Clothes and shoe stores, for example, which are more likely to have their own online shopping infrastructure already. Plus clothes shopping is also more complex — given the propensity for returns when items don’t fit or suit. But it looks like Glovo is going after almost everything else.

It says its Glovo Market service has more than 50,000 active users, at this point — touting the delivery of around two orders every minute. It also says it’s delivered more than 12 million “multi-category” orders globally to date, while in Spain the number of orders for grocery items doubled this year to more than 1 million. Its overall growth rate in 2019 was more than 300% year-on-year, it added.

The Deliveroo and Uber Eats rival has always touted itself as a ‘deliver everything’ app because it offers the option for users to request anything (within bike-able reason) be brought to your door by one of its gigging couriers, even though the majority of the business involves biking fast food around cities.

Meal deliveries were making up three-quarters of its revenues at the start of this year — but Glovo has ambitions to beat Amazon at the urban convenience game of delivering all sorts of stuff really, really fast. And it’s got investors on board with the plan. Last year it raised a $169M Series D and a $166M Series E in quick succession.

It’s further beefed up its balance sheet this (pandemic) year by offloading its LatAm ops — selling them to European rival Delivery Hero for $272M — which means it’s concentrating its market focus on Southern and Eastern Europe (it also has a small footprint in sub-Saharan Africa, in Kenya and Ivory Coast).

Presumably it sees that footprint as a better fit for the ‘get stuff now’ convenience push it’s making with Q-Commerce combined with a network of its own city center warehouses (aka dark stores). Though last year it also said it wanted to work on building a path toward profitability over the next year+ so fierce competition in LatAm may have pushed those markets out of reach.

Glovo says it has more than 9 million monthly active users, at this point — and 55,000 “associated partners” globally; aka the gig workers who do the heavy lifting of making actual deliveries for its platform.

The startup is facing ongoing legal uncertainty in its home market over its classification of ‘glovers’ (as it calls couriers) as ‘self-employed’. Spain’s supreme court recently found a rider to be in a laboural relationship with the platform — and any move to force the business to reclassify the thousands of couriers it relies upon in the country would radically rework its push for profitability, to put it mildly.

#amazon, #ecommerce, #europe, #food, #glovo, #logistics, #on-demand-delivery

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Ring doorbells recalled over fire threat

Amazon -owned Ring devices have long been under scrutiny of privacy advocates. Now the brand is dealing with another issue entirely, as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has posted a recall notice for its second-generation doorbell. Some 350,00 units in the U.S. and 8,700 in Canada are being recalled over fire and burn concerns. The devices were on sale through Amazon’s sites and retail locations.

The recall comes in the wake of 23 reports of fire and eight reports of minor burns related to the model. According to the CPSC, the issue relates specifically to the use of incorrect screws during the smart doorbell’s installation. Ring says the issue should not impact users, so long as they only use the screws included with the system. Incorrect use, on the other hand, could directly damage the doorbell’s battery, leading to the aforementioned issue, which, in turn, can cause bodily harm or property damage.

The commission’s site lists the specific details for units impacted by the news and adds that Amazon is voluntarily conducting the recall. Per the CPSC, “Consumers should immediately stop installing the recalled video doorbells and contact Ring for revised installation instructions.”

After purchasing Ring in 2018, the brand has been a source of controversy for both privacy and security concerns. In September, the company promised to add end-to-end encryption for videos captured with the devices.

#amazon, #hardware, #product-recall, #ring

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Amazon’s new ‘Care Hub’ lets Alexa owners keep tabs on aging family members

Amazon today announced a set of new features aimed at making its Alexa devices more useful to aging adults. With the launch of “Care Hub,” an added option in the Alexa mobile app, family members can keep an eye on older parents and loved ones, with their permission, in order to receive general information about their activities and to be alerted if the loved one has called out for help.

The idea behind Care Hub, the company explains, is to offer reassurance to family members concerned about an elderly member’s well-being, while also allowing those family members to maintain some independence.

This is not a novel use case for Alexa devices. Already, the devices are being used in senior living centers and other care facilities, by way of third-party providers.

Amazon stresses that while family members will be able to keep an eye on their loved ones’ Alexa use, it will respect their privacy by not offering specific information. For example, while a family member may be able to see that their parent had played music, it won’t say what song was played. Insted, all activity is displayed by category.

In addition, users will be able to configure alerts if there’s no activity or when the first interaction with the device occurs on a daily basis.

And if the loved one calls for help, the family member designated as the emergency contact can drop in on them through the Care Hub or contact emergency services.

Image Credits: Amazon

These new features are double-opt in, meaning that both the family member and their loved one need to first establish a connection between their Alexa accounts through an invitation process. This is begun through the new Care Hub feature in the Alexa app, then confirmed via text message or email.

That may seem like a reasonable amount of privacy protection, but in reality, many older adults either struggle with or tend to avoid technology. Even things seemingly simple — like using a smartphone, email or texting — can sometimes be a challenge.

That means there are scenarios where a family member could set up the Care Hub system by accessing the other person’s accounts without their knowledge or by inventing an email that becomes “the parent’s email” just for this purpose.

Alternately, they could just mislead mom or dad by saying they are helping them set up the new Alexa device, and —  oh, can I borrow your phone to confirm something for the setup? (Or some other such deception.)

A more appropriate option to protect user privacy would be to have Alexa periodically ask the loved one if they were still okay with the Care Hub monitoring option being enabled, and to alert the loved one via the Alexa mobile app that a monitoring option was still turned on.

Of course, there may certainly be older adults who appreciate the ability to be connected to family in this way, especially if they are located at a distance from their family or are feeling isolated due to the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing requirements that’s keeping family members from being able to visit.

Amazon says Care Hub is rolling out in the U.S. The company notes it will learn from customer feedback to expand the feature set over time.

#alexa, #alexa-devices, #amazon, #amazon-alexa, #email, #privacy, #tc, #united-states

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Ring doorbells installed with the wrong screws may catch fire

The issue isn't really the Ring device itself—it's the use of improper screws. Specifically, long pointy ones that might reach places they shouldn't, and electrically short circuit things that absolutely should not be short circuited!

Enlarge / The issue isn’t really the Ring device itself—it’s the use of improper screws. Specifically, long pointy ones that might reach places they shouldn’t, and electrically short circuit things that absolutely should not be short circuited! (credit: Amazon / Jim Salter)

Approximately 350,000 Ring doorbells sold in the North American markets are subject to a safety recall issued yesterday. Specifically, improperly installed 2nd-generation Ring doorbells can catch fire, causing property damage and potential burn hazards. This is a fairly unusual recall, however—and one that doesn’t require consumers to return their devices.

As long as the Ring doorbells were installed using the screws provided with the devices themselves, they’re fine. The issue is that quite a few homeowners substituted their own screws for the ones included in the package—and longer screws may reach places inside the Ring device that they shouldn’t, causing a short circuit which can lead to overheating or fire.

Ring reports to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission that it has received eighty-five incident reports involving use of improper screws, with twenty-three cases of ignition involving minor property damage and eight cases of minor personal burns.

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#amazon, #iot, #ring, #tech, #uncategorized

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Josh.ai launches a ‘nearly invisible’ Amazon Echo competitor that’s the size of a coin

In the past several weeks we’ve seen refreshes and product expansions from about every facet of the smart home virtual assistant world. Apple launched the HomePod Mini, Google offered a long-overdue refresh of the Google Home, and Amazon found even more speaker shapes to shove Alexa into.

Today, we’re getting an addition from a startup competitor. Josh.ai has aimed to build out a niche in the space by building a smart assistant product that’s designed to be professionally installed alongside other smart home wares and they announced a new product this afternoon.

The device, Josh Nano, fully buys into a more luxury home-focused niche with a low-profile device that appears to be a little bit bigger than a half-dollar, though the bulk of the device is embedded into the wall itself and wired back to a central unit via power-over-ethernet. The device bundles a set of four microphones eschewing any onboard speaker, instead opting to integrate directly with a user’s at-home sound system. Josh boasts compatibility with most major AV receiver manufacturers in addition to partnerships with companies like Sonos . There isn’t much else to the device, a light for visual feedback, a multi-purpose touch sensor, and a physical switch to cut power to the onboard microphones in case users want extra peace of mind.

Image via Josh.ai

The aim of the new hardware is to hide the smart features of a home and move away from industry standard touch screen hubs with dated interfaces. By stripping down a smart home product to its essential feature, Josh.ai hopes it can push more users to buy in more fully with confidence that subsequent hardware releases won’t render their devices outdated and ugly. The startup is taking pre-orders for the device (available in black and white color options) now and hopes to start shipping early next year.

Powering these devices is a product the company calls Josh Core, a small server which basically acts as a hub for everything Josh talks to in a user’s home, ensuring that interactions between smart home devices can occur locally, minimizing external requests. The startup will also continue selling its previously released Josh Micro which integrates a dedicated speaker into the wall-mounted hardware.

Though Josh.ai partners directly with professional installers on the hardware, the startup has been scaling as a software business, offering consumers a license to their technology on an annual, 5-year or lifetime basis. The price of that license also differs depending on what size home they are working with, with “small” rollouts being classified as homes with fewer than 15 rooms. In terms of hardware costs, Josh.ai says that pricing varies but for most jobs, the average cost for users works out to be something like $500 per room.

Massive tech companies naturally design their products for massive audiences. For startups like Josh.ai this fact provides an in-road to design products that aren’t built for the common needs of a billion users. In fact, the selling point for plenty of their customers comes largely from the fact that they aren’t buying devices from Google, Amazon or Apple and hard-wiring microphones that feed back to them inside their home.

Though 95% of the startup’s business today focuses on residential, going forward, the company is also interested in scaling how their tech can be used in commercial scenarios like conference rooms or even elevators, the startup tells me.

#alexa, #amazon, #amazon-echo, #apple, #apple-inc, #assistant, #av, #companies, #computing, #ethernet, #google, #google-nest, #home-automation, #homekit, #homepod, #homepod-mini, #micro, #nano, #smart-devices, #smart-home-devices, #smart-speakers, #software, #sonos, #speaker, #tc

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Amazon’s use of marketplace data breaks competition law, EU charges

A sign outside an Amazon warehouse in Germany.

Enlarge / A sign outside an Amazon warehouse in Germany. (credit: Thorsten Wagner | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

Europe’s top competition regulator filed charges today against Amazon, alleging that the company has abused its size, position, and access to data to gain an unfair advantage over the competition.

The European Commission’s statement of objections against Amazon is centered on the firm’s “dual role” in e-commerce, where it is both a retailer and also a platform for third-party retailers. As a platform, Amazon has access to proprietary data about all those other merchants’ online business, which it then gathers and uses anticompetitively to get a leg up in its own retail operations, the EU alleges.

This is not just an infrequent or occasional lapse, the EC determined, finding instead that “very large quantities of non-public seller data” are available to Amazon and “flow directly into [Amazon’s] automated systems.” Amazon then allegedly uses that data to make its own determinations, “to the detriment of the other marketplace sellers.”

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#amazon, #antitrust, #competition, #europe, #european-commisison, #european-union, #policy

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Europe lays out antitrust case against Amazon’s use of big data

The European Commission has laid out a first set of antitrust charges against Amazon focused on its dual role as a platform for other sellers but also a retailer itself on its own platform — and its cumulative use of third party merchant data to underpin Amazon’s own retail decisions.

Competition chief Margrethe Vestager said its preliminary conclusion is the ecommerce giant has abused its market position in France and Germany, its biggest markets in the EU, via its use of big data to “illegally distort” competition into online retail markets.

“We do not take issue with the success of Amazon. Or its size. Our concern is very specific business conduct which appears to distort genuine competition,” she said at a press conference announcing the formal charges.

The action stems from a 2015 sectoral ecommerce enquiry carried out by the bloc’s competition division. The Commission subsequently announced a formal investigation of Amazon’s use of data from sellers on its platform in July last year, though it had begun looking into concerns about whether third party sellers were being placed at a data-disadvantage by the ecommerce giant as far back as 2018.

As part of the investigation, EU regulators obtained a massive data set from Amazon — covering over 80M transactions and more than 100M product listings on its European marketplaces — to analyse how its business uses merchant data.

“Amazon is data driven. It’s a highly automated company — where business decisions are based on algorithmic tools,” said Vestager. “Our investigation shows that very granular, real-time business data relating to third party sellers’ listings and transactions on the Amazon platform systematically feed into the algorithm of Amazon’s retail business. It is based on these algorithms that Amazon decides what new products to launch, the price of each individual offer, the management of inventories, and the choice of the best supplier for a product.”

The competition chief said its preliminary concern is thus that third party sellers are unable to compete on the merits as a result of the big data advantage Amazon gleans from its access to third party sellers’ data.

“Amazon has, for example, access to data on the number of ordered and shipped units of sellers’ products, revenues on the marketplace, the number of visits to sellers’ offers, information relating to shipping — including the past performance of the seller, the consumers’ claims on the sellers’ products including the activated guarantees. And Amazon gets this data from every seller, every listed product, every purchase on its platform,” she said. “Our concern is not about Amazon retail — about the insights that Amazon retail has into the sensitive business data of one particular seller. Rather they are about the insights that Amazon retail has about the accumulated business data of more than 800,000 active sellers in the European Union covering more than 1BN products.

“In other words this is a case about big data.”

Vestager said the investigation has shown Amazon is able to aggregate and combine individual seller data in real time and to draw what she described as “precise and targeted” conclusions from it.

That capability gives is a huge advantage over individual sellers on its platform who do not have access to the same level of big data to help their business decisions, is the contention.

“Many retailers will have to invest heavily to identify products of interest and bring them to the consumers — taking risks when they invest in new products or when choosing a specific price level. Our concern is that Amazon can avoid some of those risks by using the data that it has access to,” added Vestager.

Reached for comment on the charges, an Amazon spokesperson sent this statement:

We disagree with the preliminary assertions of the European Commission and will continue to make every effort to ensure it has an accurate understanding of the facts. Amazon represents less than 1% of the global retail market, and there are larger retailers in every country in which we operate. No company cares more about small businesses or has done more to support them over the past two decades than Amazon. There are more than 150,000 European businesses selling through our stores that generate tens of billions of Euros in revenues annually and have created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Amazon will now have a chance to respond to the charges, after which the Commission will assess the evidence and take a decision on whether it believes there has been an infringement of EU competition law. If it believes there has it has the power to order an end to infringing conduct and impose a fine of up to 10% of a company’s annual worldwide turnover.

In the two markets EU regulators found Amazon to be dominant, with more than 70% of consumers in France and more than 80% in Germany who made online purchases bought something from Amazon in the last 12 months.

Vestager specified the Commission is defining the market as “platforms providing marketplace services” rather than more general retail.

Also today, the commissioner announced a second competition investigation into Amazon — this one focused on the Buy Box and Prime loyalty program. Vestager said regulators decided to split the Amazon cases so an ongoing investigation into the Buy Box and Prime doesn’t slow down progress on the big data probe.

Detailing the concerns around Buy Box and Prime she said: “Looking into Amazon’s data use revealed that Amazon may have set certain rules on its platform that artificially favors both its own retail offers as well as the offers of sellers that use Amazon’s logistics and delivery services. For this reason we have decided to open a second investigation into these business practices.”

The Buy Box appears on Amazon product listing pages — letting Amazon users click to add a product directly to their shopping cart. This means the choice of seller for the product which appears in the box is a key detail.

“The Buy Box is essential,” said Vestager. “It prominently shows you offers for one single seller of a chosen product with the possibility for the consumer to purchase it directly. So winning the Buy Box is crucial for the marketplace sellers as it seems that more than 80% of all transactions on Amazon are channelled through it.”

She also said it’s “of the essence” for retailers to be able to sell their products under Amazon’s Prime label.

“Amazon’s Prime consumers are very important to sellers — not only because they’re a constantly increasing number but also because Prime consumers spend significantly more on Amazon than others would do.”

“Our concern is that Amazon may artificially push retails to use its own related services,” she added — pointing to its logistics and delivery arms — which she said “may potentially lock them deeper into Amazon’s own ecosystem”.

Regulators will therefore be looking into “the potential effects” of the rules set by Amazon for the Buy Box and for Prime. “We want to make sure that sellers that do not use the Amazon logistic and delivery program also have a chance to compete on the merits on Amazon’s platform. We also want to make sure that retailers can shift to competing marketplaces without being locked into the Amazon ecosystem.”

While European regulators move forward with antitrust action related to Amazon’s marketplace practices, the ecommerce giant is also in the antitrust crosshairs of US lawmakers.

Last month it was one of a number of tech giants called out in an antitrust report by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. The report argues Amazon wields monopoly power over SMEs via its dominance of online retail — which in turn enables it to “self-preference and disadvantage competitors in ways that undermine free and fair competition”.

Amazon’s response to the US committee’s scrutiny was a fierce rebuttal — saying it accounts for only a tiny fraction of global retail and isn’t even the largest US retailer by revenues. It also claimed its interests align with the third party sellers on its platform, denying there’s any conflict of interests.

This story is developing — refresh for updates…

#amazon, #antitrust, #competition, #ecommerce, #eu, #margrethe-vestager, #tc

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Indian logistics startup Xpressbees raises $110 million

Xpressbees, an Indian logistics firm that works with several e-commerce firms in the country, said on Monday it has raised $110 million in a new financing round as online shopping booms in the world’s second largest internet market.

The Pune-headquartered startup’s Series E financing round was led by private equity firms Investcorp, Norwest Venture Partners and Gaja Capital, the five-year-old startup said. Xpressbees, which concluded its Series D round three years ago, has raised $175.8 million to date, according to research firm Tracxn. The new round valued the startup at more than $350 million.

Xpressbees helps more than 1,000 customers — including financial and e-commerce services giant Paytm, social commerce startup Meesho, eyewear seller Lenskart, phone maker Xiaomi, online pharmacy NetMeds and online marketplace Snapdeal — deliver their products across the country. It has presence in over 2,000 cities and towns, and it processes more than 2.5 million orders a day — up from about 600,000 daily orders last year.

“We have been truly impressed by their strong customer centricity and capital efficiency which has resulted in exceptional feedback from top players in the e-commerce sector!” said Niren Shah, managing director and head of Norwest Venture Partners in India, in a statement.

Xpressbees started its journey within FirstCry, an e-commerce for baby products, in 2012. But in 2015, it became an independent company with Amitava Saha, co-founder and chief operating officer of FirstCry, moving out of FirstCry to become chief executive of Xpressbees. Supam Maheshwari, who co-founded FirstCry and serves as its chief executive, is the other co-founder of Xpressbees.

The startup said it plans to deploy the fresh capital to further automate its hubs and sorting centres, and expand its delivery footprint to cover the entire country. “I am delighted to see the impact we are making in the logistics ecosystem in the country,” said Saha in a statement.

At stake is India’s growing logistics industry, which NVP’s Shah estimated to be worth $200 billion. “We continue to believe that new age technology led logistics players such as Xpressbees will continue to play a pivotal role both in the growth of the e-commerce sector in India,” he added.

E-commerce sales, which account for less than 5% of all retail sales in India, skyrocketed during the pandemic after New Delhi enforced a two-month nationwide lockdown. During their festival sales last month, Amazon India and Walmart-owned Flipkart reported a record surge in their sales. The firms have created more than 150,000 seasonal jobs to accommodate the growing demand of orders. Xpressbees works with over 30,000 delivery staff.

Xpressbees competes with a handful of established firms and startups, including SoftBank-backed Delhivery, which became a unicorn last year, and Ecom Express, which has presence in about 2,400 Indian cities and towns. 

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #delhivery, #flipkart, #funding, #gaja-capital, #india, #investcorp, #logistics, #norwest-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #startups, #walmart, #xpressbees

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Transportation on the ballot, Softbank parks its money in REEF and Tesla Tequila arrives

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

What.A.Week. Shall we dig in?

Email me anytime at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Transportation on the ballot

Joe Biden NAIAS Auto Show 2014

Image Credits: Getty Images

Election Day turned into Election Week as the presidential race tightened and the world waited to see if President Trump would remain in office or if Joe Biden would become the 46th leader of the country.

On Saturday morning, AP, Fox News and every other major news outlets called the race, naming Joe Biden president-elect. The ballot counts will still continue and eventually lead to each state’s Electoral College electors formally casting their votes for president and vice president on December 14, as dictated by our election process.

Assuming Biden is sworn in as the next president of the United States, transportation will likely not be his first area of focus. However, it will be interesting to see how his personal experience of losing his first wife and daughter in a car crash, views on climate change and love for Corvettes as well as Amtrak might shape federal transportation policy. The country has deep infrastructure needs, a rail service in crisis and an emerging tech sector focused on commercializing automated vehicle technology.

Election Day was, of course, about more than Trump and Biden. Ballots throughout the U.S. contained dozens of transportation-related measures, including public transit funding, a car owner’s right to repair and whether gig economy workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors. 

Prop 22, the California ballot measure, might have been the most visible campaign thanks to the tens of millions of dollars that Uber, Lyft and other gig worker-reliant companies contributed to help garner support and get it passed. Voters approved Prop 22, which means that gig workers will continue to be classified as independent workers. Companies that use gig workers will be required to provide an earnings guarantee of at least 120% of minimum wage, 30 cents per engaged miles for expenses, a healthcare stipend, occupational accident insurance for on-the-job injuries, protection against discrimination and sexual harassment and automobile accident and liability insurance.

Fresh off of its success on Election Day, Uber signaled that it will continue to push laws similar to the Prop 22. The ride-hailing company’s ambitions for laws that preserve its business model are global. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Thursday during an earnings call with analysts that the company will “more loudly advocate for laws like Prop 22.” He later added that it will be a priority of the company “to work with governments across the U.S. and the world to make this a reality.”

There were at other transportation-related measures that were decided by voters in California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan Oregon and Washington. Of the 19 measures related to public transit, 15 passed, two failed and one in Gwinnett County, Georgia is still “too close to call.” The Center for Transportation Excellence created a handy spreadsheet tracking Election 2020 ballot measures related to public transit.

telematics, concept of smart car technology

Image Credits: Jackie Niam / Getty Images

Finally, another ballot measure, which received a lot of attention and lobbying dollars, was Question 1 in Massachusetts. The ballot measure, which was approved by 75% of voters, amends and broadens a law that gives consumers in Massachusetts the right to repair the vehicles they own.

Automakers that sell vehicles with telematics systems in Massachusetts will now have to equip them with a standardized open data platform beginning with model year 2022. This standardized open data platform has to give vehicle owners and independent repair facilities direct access and the ability to retrieve mechanical data and run diagnostics through a mobile-based application.

Importantly, this measure covers the data that telematics systems collect and wirelessly transmit. And it not only gives access to the mechanical data, it allows owners and independent mechanics to send commands to the vehicle for repair, maintenance and diagnostic testing.

The upshot? While this ballot measure is restricted to Massachusetts, there is precedent that it will expand to the rest of the country. The initial Right to Repair law went into effect in Massachusetts in 2013. By 2014, the industry agreed in a memorandum of understanding to expand that bill and cover the rest of the country.

Deal of the week

money the station

Transportation isn’t just about the movement between places; it’s also about the less active moments like parking. Which brings us to one eye-popping deal this week.

REEF Technology, the Miami-based company that started its life as ParkJockey, raked in $700 million from a group of investors that included Softbank and Mubadala Corp.

REEF provides hardware, software and management services for parking lots. But it more recently added other services such as providing infrastructure for cloud kitchens, healthcare clinics, logistics and last-mile delivery and even brick-and-mortar retail and experiential consumer spaces.

The company said that the money will be used to scale from 4,800 locations to 10,000 new locations around the country and to transform the parking lots into “neighborhood hubs,” according to Ari Ojalvo, the company’s co-founder and chief executive. Private equity and financial investment giants Oaktree, UBS Asset Management and the European venture capital firm Target Global also participated in the round.

As TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber noted in his coverage of the REEF round, like WeWork, REEF leases most of the real estate it operates and upgrades it before leasing it to other occupants (or using the spaces itself). Unlike WeWork, the business actually has a fair shot at working out — especially given business trends that have accelerated in response to the health and safety measures implemented to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other deals that got my attention …

ANOTHER LIDAR SPAC! Aeva is the latest company to eschew the traditional IPO path and go public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. It’s also the third lidar company, following Velodyne and Luminar, to take this route to the public markets.

Aeva is a Mountain View, California-based lidar company started by two former Apple engineers and backed by Porsche SE. The company announced it was merging with special purpose acquisition company InterPrivate Acquisition Corp., with a post-deal market valuation of $2.1 billion. The deal with InterPrivate is expected to close by early 2021.

Logisly, a Jakarta-based startup that describes itself as a “B2B tech-enabled logistics platform,” announced today it has raised $6 million in Series A funding to help streamline logistics in Indonesia. The round was led by Monk’s Hill Ventures.

Marshmallow, a UK startup aiming to take on legacy insurance giants with a new approach to determining risk, raised $30 million in a Series A round. The company has a post-fundraising valuation of $310 million.

Pony.ai, the autonomous vehicle company that operates in California and China, is now valued at $5.3 billion following a fresh injection of $267 million in funding. The round was led by TIP, an innovation fund within the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board that focuses on late-stage venture and growth equity investments in companies that deliver disruptive technology. Existing partners Fidelity China Special Situations PLC, 5Y Capital (formerly Morningside Venture Capital), ClearVue Partners and Eight Roads also participated in the round.

Provizio, which developed a sensory platform it says can perceive, predict and prevent car accidents in real time and beyond the line-of-sight, closed a seed investment round of $6.2 million. Bobby Hambrick, the founder of Autonomous Stuff, the founders of Movidius, the European Innovation Council (EIC) and ACT Venture Capital participated in the round.

Scale AI, a startup that uses software and people to process and label image, lidar and map data for companies building machine learning algorithms such as Toyota and Zoox, is on the brink of becoming a company valued $3 billion, The Information reported. The company founded and led by 230year-old Alexandr Wang reportedly received an offer of investment from Tiger Global Management valuing Scale at $3.2 billion pre-money, or triple its prior valuation.

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

All the other stuff you should know about …

Amazon has started operations at its first European Amazon Air hub, based out of the Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany. The new facility spans 20,000 square meters and will host two Amazon-branded Boeing 737-800 aircraft, bringing the company’s total operational air fleet to more than 70 aircraft.

Bentley Motors has begun its long farewell to the 12-cylinder combustion engines that have been the cornerstone of the 100-year-old company. The ultra luxury automaker under VW Group said it will only produce plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars starting in 2026 with an aim to drop all combustion engines in the next decade. Its entire lineup will be all-electric by 2030. The British manufacturer said two plug-in hybrid models will come out next year and its first all-electric vehicle will come to market in 2025.

CarGurus’ 2020 Pickup Truck Sentiment Study revealed that COVID-19 pandemic might have helped spur sales, thanks to young buyers. More than 26% of pickup truckers owners surveyed for the study said they had not planned to buy this category of vehicle. Other results, include 34% said they will  probably/definitely own an electric pickup truck in the next 10 years and 23% in the next five years.

Gen Z/millennial truck owners are over two times more likely to expect to own an electric truck in the next five years when compared to older truck owners (30% vs. 12%). The same age cohort of younger consumers are also two times more likely to consider a truck from category-newcomers like Tesla (32% vs. 14%), Rivian (11% vs. 4%) or Hummer (13% vs 6%) when compared to older truck owners, the study found.

GM is starting to hire people for more than 1,100 new jobs for its nearly 3 million-square-foot Ultium Cells LLC battery cell manufacturing facility in Lordstown, Ohio. Ultium Cells LLC is a joint venture with LG Chem that will mass-produce Ultium battery cells for electric vehicles. The plant is still under construction, but GM said it will begin actively hiring for “key positions.”

Tesla officially launched Teslaquila, a company-branded liquor that originally co-starred in CEO Elon Musk’s controversial April Fool’s Day joke about the automaker filing for bankruptcy. The Tesla Tequila costs $250 and is already sold out.

Uber reported earnings this week. As Alex Wilhelm and I wrote, the company’s two core segments were a tale of two cities: Uber’s ride-hailing (Mobility) business shrank, but made money, while Uber’s food delivery (Delivery) business grew, but continued to lose money.

#amazon, #automotive, #gm, #lyft, #softbank, #tesla, #transportation, #uber

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Amazon to invest $2.8 billion to build its second data center region in India

Amazon will invest about $2.8 billion in Telangana to set up a new AWS Cloud region in the southern state of India, a top Indian politician announced on Friday.

The investment will allow Amazon to launch an AWS Cloud region in Hyderabad city by mid-2022, said K. T. Rama Rao, Minister for Information Technology, Electronics & Communications, Municipal Administration and Urban Development and Industries & Commerce Departments, Government of Telangana.

The new AWS Asia Region will be Amazon’s second infrastructure region in India, Amazon said in a press release. It did not disclose the size of the investment.

“The new AWS Asia Pacific (Hyderabad) Region will enable even more developers, startups, and enterprises as well as government, education, and non-profit organizations to run their applications and serve end users from data centers located in India,” the e-commerce giant said.

“Businesses in India are embracing cloud computing to reduce costs, increase agility, and enable rapid innovation to meet the needs of billions of customers in India and abroad,” said Peter DeSantis, Senior Vice President of Global Infrastructure and Customer Support, Amazon Web Services, in a statement. “Together with our AWS Asia Pacific (Mumbai) Region, we’re providing customers with more flexibility and choice, while allowing them to architect their infrastructure for even greater fault tolerance, resiliency, and availability across geographic locations.”

The investment illustrates the opportunities Amazon, which has poured over $6.5 billion in its India operations to date and leads the cloud market in the nation, sees in the world’s second largest internet market.

“This is a big win for the state government of Telangana for attracting this level of investment,” said Jayanth Kolla, chief analyst at consultancy firm Convergence Catalyst. He told TechCrunch that the move will also help Amazon better comply with India’s data localization policy. “We could see states launch their own similar laws in the future.”

AWS has courted several high-profile businesses as customers in recent years. Some of these include automobile giant Ashok Leyland, life insurance firm Aditya Birla Capital, edtech giant Byju’s, Axis Bank, Bajaj Capital, ClearTax, Dream11, Druva, Edelweiss, Edunext, Extramarks, Freshworks, HDFC Life, Mahindra Electric, Ola, Oyo, Policybazaar, Quantela, RBL Bank, redBus, Sharda University, Swiggy, Tata Sky, and Zerodha.

More to follow…

#amazon, #asia, #aws, #aws-region, #azure, #column, #google, #google-cloud, #india, #microsoft

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Amazon launches its first Amazon Air regional hub in Europe

Amazon has officially started operations at its first European Amazon Air hub, based out of the Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany. The new facility spans 20,000 square meters (65,600 square feet) and will host two Amazon-branded Boeing 737-800 aircraft, brining the company’s total operational air fleet to over 70 aircraft.

The retail giants says that the new hub will generate more than 200 jobs locally in the Leipzig area, where it already employs over 1,500 thanks to the presence of a large regional fulfilment center. Amazon also notes that this will help the company continue to offer timely delivery in Europe as the pandemic continues.

Amazon has steadily grown its Air cargo logistics operations since debuting the expansion of its delivery and shipping network in 2016. It has regional air hubs at airports in Texas, Puerto Rico, and Florida in the U.S., and plans to expand to Sand Bernardino International Airport in California and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 2021.

Back in June, it added a dozen new aircraft to its fleet in a move that was said to help it handle extra demand as a result of COVID. The addition of its European hub indicates it’s still prioritizing growing this aspect of its operations, which makes sense given demand for its services are likely spiking amid the current second virus wave in Europe and elsewhere globally.

#aerospace, #amazon, #amazon-air, #california, #cincinnati, #companies, #ecommerce, #europe, #florida, #germany, #leipzig, #publishing, #puerto-rico, #retailers, #tc, #texas, #transportation, #united-states

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Q3 earnings find Apple and Google looking to the future for hardware rebounds

“5G is a once-in-a-decade kind of opportunity,” Tim Cook told the media during the Q&A portion of Apple’s Q3 earnings call. “And we could not be more excited to hit the market exactly when we did.”

The truth of the matter is its timing was a mixed bag. Apple was, by some accounts, late to 5G. By the time the company finally announced that it was adding the technology across its lineup of iPhone 12 variants, much of its competition had already beat the company to the punch. Of course, that’s not a huge surprise. Apple’s strategy is rarely a rush to be first.

5G networks are only really starting to come into their own now. Even today, there are still wide swaths of users who will have to default to an LTE connection the majority of the time they use their handsets. The arrival of 5G on the iPhone was really as much about future-proofing this year’s models as anything. Consumers are holding onto phones longer, and in the three or four years before it’s time for another upgrade, the 5G maps will look very different.

Clearly, the new iPhone didn’t hit the market exactly when Apple had hoped; the pandemic saw to that. Manufacturing bottlenecks in Asia delayed the iPhone 12’s launch by a month. That’s going to have an impact on the bottom line of your quarterly earnings. The company saw a 20% drop for the quarter, year-over-year. That’s hugely significant, causing the company’s stock to drop more than 4% in extended trading.

Apple’s diverse portfolio helped curb some of those revenue slides. While the pandemic has generally had a profound impact on consumer spending on “non-essentials,” changing where and how we work has helped bolster Mac and iPad sales, which were up 28 and 46% respectively, year-over-year. It wasn’t enough to completely stop the iPhone stumble, but it certainly brings the importance of a diverse hardware portfolio into sharp relief.

China was a big issue for the company this time around — and the lack of a new, 5G-enabled iPhone was a big contributor. In greater China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong), the company saw a 28% drop in sales. There are a number of reasons to be hopeful about iPhone sales in Q4, however.

As I noted this morning, smartphone shipments were down almost across the board in China for Q3, per new figures from Canalys. Much of that can be chalked up to Huawei’s ongoing issues with the U.S. government. Long the dominant manufacturer in mainland China, the company has been hamstrung by, among other things, a ban on access to Android and other U.S.-made technologies. Apple’s numbers remained relatively steady compared to the competition and Huawei’s issues could present a big hole in the market. With 5G on its side, this next quarter could prove a banner year for the company.

#5g, #alphabet, #amazon, #apple, #earnings, #google, #hardware, #iphone, #mobile, #pixel

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Cloud infrastructure revenue grows 33% this quarter to almost $33B

The cloud infrastructure market kept growing at a brisk pace last quarter, as the pandemic continued to push more companies to the cloud with offices shut down in much of the world. This week the big three — Amazon, Microsoft and Google — all reported their numbers and as expected the news was good with Synergy Research reporting revenue growth of 33% year over year, up to almost $33 billion for the quarter.

Still, John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy was a bit taken aback that the market continued to grow as much as it did. “While we were fully expecting continued strong growth in the market, the scale of the growth in Q3 was a little surprising,” he said in a statement.

He added, “Total revenues were up by $2.5 billion from the previous quarter causing the year-on-year growth rate to nudge upwards, which is unusual for such a large market. It is quite clear that COVID-19 has provided an added boost to a market that was already developing rapidly.”

Per usual Amazon led the way with $11.6 billion in revenue, up from $10.8 billion last quarter. That’s up 29% year over year. Amazon continues to exhibit slowing growth in the cloud market, but because of its market share lead of 33%, a rate that has held fairly steady for some time, the growth is less important than the eye-popping revenue it continues to generate, almost double its closest rival Microsoft .

Speaking of Microsoft, Azure revenue was up 48% year over year, also slowing some, but good enough for a strong second place with 18% market share. Using Synergy’s total quarterly number of $33 billion, Microsoft came in at $5.9 billion in revenue for the quarter, up from $5.2 billion last quarter.

Finally Google announced cloud revenue of $3.4 billion, but that number includes all of its cloud revenue including G Suite and other software. Synergy reported that this was good for 9% or $2.98 billion, up from $2.7 billion last quarter, good for third place.

Alibaba and IBM were tied for fourth with 5% or around $1.65 billion each.

Synergy Research cloud infrastructure relative market positions. Amazon is the largest circle followed by Microsoft.

Image Credits: Synergy Research

It’s worth noting that Canalys had similar numbers to Synergy with growth of 33% to $36.5 billion. They had the same market order with slightly different numbers with Amazon at 32%, Microsoft at 19% and Google at 7% and Alibaba in 4th place at 6%.

Canalys sees continued growth ahead, especially as hybrid cloud begins to merge with newer technologies like 5G and edge computing. “All three [providers] are collaborating with mobile operators to deploy their cloud stacks at the edge in the operators’ data centers. These are part of holistic initiatives to profit from 5G services among business customers, as well as transform the mobile operators’ IT infrastructure,” Canalysis analyst Blake Murray said in a statement.

While the pure growth continues to move steadily downward over time, this is expected in a market that’s maturing like cloud infrastructure, but as companies continue to shift workloads more rapidly to the cloud during the pandemic, and find new use cases like 5G and edge computing, the market could continue to generate substantial revenue well into the future.

#amazon, #cloud, #cloud-infrastructure-market-share, #enterprise, #google, #microsoft, #synergy-research, #tc

0

Amazon pegs COVID-19 costs at an estimated $4 billion next quarter

Amazon expects to incur $4 billion in COVID-related costs next quarter, an estimate that provides a bellwether for other businesses, large and small, trying to stay operational and control expenses amid the pandemic.

The upshot: Amazon is planning for COVID to remain an unwelcome companion through the end of the year with costs higher than the previous quarter.

The company said Thursday in its third-quarter earnings call that it logged $7.5 billion in COVID-related costs since the disease took root earlier this year. Amazon previously said its COVID costs were about $600 million in the first quarter and more than $4 billion in the second. The company’s COVID costs in the third quarter were about $2.5 billion, CFO Brian Olsavsky told an analyst during an earnings call. While Amazon was able to lower its costs in the third quarter due to efficiencies that number is on rise for next quarter.

Olsavsky said the majority of the increase in costs is due to the expansion of its operations. Amazon has hired 100,000 new workers in October.

COVID-19 along with other uncertainties related to the economy, holiday sales and even weather patterns weighed on its guidance for operating income in the fourth quarter. Amazon provided a wide-ranging guidance of between $1 billion and $4.5 billion in operating income in the fourth quarter compared with $3.9 billion in the same period last year.  This guidance assumes about $4 billion of costs related to COVID-19.

But what is most telling is that even after providing a lengthy list of possible uncertainties in the fourth quarter, Olsavsky noted that COVID still trumps them all.

“So there’s a whole host of issues that generally come to bear in Q4,” Olsavsky said. “I think the fact that COVID is dwarfing all of those is causing us a lot of uncertainty on our top line range.”

Olsavsky said costs were related to productivity losses caused by changing how it operates as well as expenses related to personal protective equipment and other upfront costs.

“The largest portion of these costs relate to continuing productivity headwinds in our facilities, including process revisions to allow for social distancing and incremental costs to ramp up new facilities, and the large influx of new employees hired to support strong customer demand also includes investments in PPE for employees and enhanced cleaning of our facilities,” Olsavsky said during Thursday’s earnings call.

Amazon said Thursday it also continues to ramp up its in-house COVID-19 testing program with capacity reaching 50,000 tests a day across 650 sites by November.

#amazon, #tc

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Amazon crushes Q3 expectations, but AWS growth slowed to 29%

Amazon has continued to reap the rewards of a society increasingly dependent on ecommerce — a trend further fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company crushed analyst expectations Thursday, reporting net income of $6.3 billion in the third quarter, or $12.37 per diluted share, compared with $2.1 billion in net income, or $4.23 per diluted share in the same quarter last year. 

The company brought in a total of $96.15 billion in revenue, a 37.4% increase from the $69.98 billion it generated in the same period last year. 

Analysts polled by Yahoo expected earnings per share of $7.41 on average, up from $4.23 last year. Analysts expected revenue of $92.7 billion, up from $69.98 billion in the same year-ago period. 

While the third-quarter numbers beat expectations, the picture wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. The company’s cloud-computing service AWS saw growth slow in the third quarter. AWS generated $11.6 billion in sales, a 29% YoY sales growth. That sounds dandy, but it’s actually smaller than the 35% YoY sales growth the segment experienced in the third quarter of 2019.

The financials released Thursday also showed growth from the second period of this year, which was considered at the time a “killer quarter” by just about every measure. Revenue grew 8% and net income popped 21% from the second quarter, figures that suggest that consumers have yet to reach their limit for commerce delivered to their doorsteps.  

Meanwhile, Amazon reported that its operating cash flow increased 56% to $55.3 billion for the trailing 12 months compared to $35.3 billion for the trailing period ended September 30, 2019. Free cash flow (operating cash flow less capital expenditures) also rose to $29.5 billion in the third quarter compared with $23.5 billion in the trailing period ended September 30, 2019. 

Looking ahead, Amazon is bullish on sales, but notes costs related to COVID-19 might affect operating income. The company said it expects sales to grow between 28% and 38% in the fourth quarter compared to the same period in 2019, which would bump that figure to between $112 billion and $121 billion.

Amazon said it expects operating income to be between $1 billion and $4.5 billion, compared with $3.9 billion in fourth quarter 2019. This guidance assumes approximately $4 billion of costs related to COVID-19.

 

#amazon, #aws, #cloud, #earnings, #finance

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India’s WareIQ raises $1.65M for its Amazon-like delivery platform for sellers

Despite e-commerce firms Amazon and Walmart and others pouring billions of dollars in India, offline retail still commands more than 95% of all sales in the world’s second largest internet market.

The giants have acknowledged the strong hold neighborhood stores (mom and pop shops) have in the country, and in recent quarters scrambled for ways to work with them. Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, has made the dynamics more interesting in the past year as he works to help these neighborhood stores sell online.

But the market opportunity is still too large, and there are many aspects of the old retail business that could use some tech. That’s the bet WareIQ, a Bangalore-headquartered, Y Combinator-backed startup is making. And it has just raised a $1.65 million Seed financing round from YC, FundersClub, Pioneer Fund, Soma Capital, Emles Venture Advisors, and founders of Flexport.

The one-year-old startup operates a platform to leverage the warehouses across the country. It has built a management system for these warehouses, most of which largely engage in offline business-to-business commerce and have had little to no prior e-commerce exposure.

“We connect these warehouses across India to our platform and utilize their infrastructure for e-commerce order processing,” said Harsh Vaidya, co-founder and chief executive of WareIQ, in an interview with TechCrunch. The company offers this as a service to retail businesses.

Who are these businesses? Third-party sellers, some of whom sell to Amazon and Flipkart and use WareIQ to speed up their delivery, e-commerce firms, social commerce platforms as well as neighborhood stores, and social media influencers.

Any online store, for instance, can send its products to WareIQ, which has integrations with several popular e-commerce platforms and marketplaces. It works with courier partners to move items from one warehouse to another to offer the fastest delivery, explained Vaidya.

The infrastructure stitched together by WareIQ also enables an online seller to set up their own store and engage with customers directly, thereby saving fees they would have paid to Amazon and other established e-commerce players.

“The sellers were not able do this on their own before because it required them to talk directly to warehousing companies that maintain their own rigid contracts, and high-security deposits, and they still needed to work with multiple technology providers to complete the tech-stack,” he said. WareIQ also offers these sellers last-mile delivery, cash collection, and fraud detection among several other services.

“In a way, we are building an open source Amazon fulfilment service, where any seller can send their goods to any of our warehouses and we fulfil their Amazon orders, Myntra orders, Flipkart orders, or their own website orders. We also comply with the standard of these individual marketplaces, so our sellers get a Prime tag on Amazon,” he said.

WareIQ is free for anyone to sign up with any charge and it takes a cut by the volume of orders it processes. The startup today works with over 40 fulfilment centres and it plans to deploy the fresh capital to expand its network to tier 2 and tier 3 cities, he said. It’s also hiring for a number of tech roles.

#amazon, #asia, #flexport, #flipkart, #funding, #india, #logistics, #pioneer-fund, #soma-capital, #y-combinator

0

Hej! Amazon opens Amazon.se in Sweden to expand in Europe

Amazon is the biggest online retailer in Europe, and today it took the next step in making that effort more localized. The company has launched a dedicated portal for Sweden at Amazon.se — giving Swedish shoppers, third-party merchants, and itself, a local URL — and a local logistics system, and a local marketing push — for buying and selling goods and services online.

Sweden, as the world’s 10th biggest economy by GDP, is a key market for Amazon and its growth strategy.

But the news comes at a time when large tech companies, and Amazon in particular, continue to be scrutinized in Europe over issues of competition and tax payments — or more specifically, the lack of tax payments. On the former, the European Commission earlier this year opened an investigation into antitrust practices of the company. And on the latter point, Amazon is currently contesting a €250 million tax bill from the EU that goes back several years to when the company was much smaller, but potentially has wider implications for how Amazon is taxed today.

Amazon said that the local storefront will launch with 150 million+ products in 30 categories — examples of the popular Swedish brands that it will feature include Electrolux, Lagerhaus, OBH Nordica, Ellos, BRIO, Bonnierförlagen and Ifö — and it will provide free delivery on eligible orders above SEK229 ($26) that are fulfilled by Amazon.

It becomes Amazon’s 17th local portal, alongside Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Amazon had already been doing a lot of retail business in Sweden.

It has long had a system in Europe where shoppers from individual countries where it didn’t offer direct operations were redirected to those closest to them. Amazon URLs localized to Denmark, Norway, Finland, Switzerland and Poland, for example, all default to Amazon’s German site (Amazon.de) but see the text and some specialized content presented in each respective language. (And this is also where Amazon.se pointed until today.)

But this latest move is about doubling down on the potential of the country, both as a place to tap merchants and shoppers, and compete potentially more aggressively against homegrown merchants like Ikea and H&M.

“We are thrilled to launch Amazon.se and to be able to offer Swedish customers a selection of more than 150 million products, including tens of thousands of products from local Swedish businesses,” said Alex Ootes, Vice President, European Expansion for Amazon, in a statement  “Today is only the start of Amazon.se. We will continue to work hard to earn the trust of Swedish customers by growing our product range, ensuring low prices, and providing a convenient and trusted shopping experience.”

Considering that Sweden is the 10th-biggest economy in terms of GDP, it’s perhaps a surprise that it took so long. Amazon, however, has been known for taking a slow approach to global rollouts of certain products (the Kindle, for example, took years to break out of its home market of the US).

All that is not to say that Amazon hasn’t been operating other direct businesses in the country. It has an extensive set up in Sweden for its AWS cloud business, and just earlier this month it turned on its first European wind farm to produce clean energy, which was built in Sweden to power its Swedish AWS data centers.

For local merchants, it will give them another more direct online marketplace to sell goods to local customers who already know their brands, but have until now getting most of their business through Amazon in other countries.

“The opportunities on Amazon are enormous. Amazon has grown to become our most important channel for exports, and within the first months of working with Amazon we were cash flow positive,” said Pierre Magnusson, head of e-commerce at N!CK’S, a Swedish healthy snack business, in a statement. “N!CK’S continues to grow and has become one of the best-selling brands within our category, and we are still seeing 50% year-on-year growth in the EU Amazon stores alone.”

Elisabet Sandström, CEO of Miss Mary of Sweden AB, a manufacturer of high quality lingerie, added: “Amazon is an important channel for our expansion in Europe and the US, and we now look forward to selling through the Swedish Store when Amazon opens in our home country. Our sales on Amazon have increased steadily by over 50% per year, and Amazon is our fastest growing channel. Germany is currently Miss Mary’s largest customer base, and when we entered Amazon.de we noticed an immediate sales increase. We now appreciate the opportunity to reach new Swedish customers and make them happy.”

#amazon, #ecommerce, #europe, #sweden

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