Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan Aim to Untangle Employee Healthcare Knot

2018.02.09 01

Three corporate giants on Tuesday announced they were banding together to provide healthcare for their 1.1 million employees.

The companies — Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase — plan to form a company “free from profit-making incentives and constraints” in order to improve employee satisfaction with their healthcare coverage as well as reduce costs.

The company initially will focus on technology solutions that provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.

“The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” said Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett.

“Our group does not come to this problem with answers,” he continued, “but we also do not accept it as inevitable. Rather, we share the belief that putting our collective resources behind the country’s best talent can, in time, check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes.”

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan Aim to Untangle Employee Healthcare Knot

Alexa Now Can Dash Off Text Messages to Android Phones

2016.06.13 01

Amazon on Tuesday introduced new functionality that enables its Alexa virtual assistant to send and receive SMS messages on devices running Android 5.0 or higher. Carrier charges may apply.

Alexa, the software that powers the Echo line of smart speakers, can play and send personalized messages from contacts for users who have set up voice profiles.

Users will hear a chime when they have a new SMS message, and see a yellow light ring on their Echo device. They’ll also be notified in the Alexa App.

The SMS feature isn’t available for iOS because Apple doesn’t share its messaging API with third parties, Amazon said.

The feature currently is available only in the United States.

Text-to-911, group messages, and MMS are not supported.

Alexa’s new SMS capability is being over hyped, contended Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“Accessing the feature for most will be more trouble than it’s worth, since Alexa interactions are still kind of clunky,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Alexa “works for simple instructions — but for more complicated interactions like this, most people will not bother,” Jude predicted. “It’s far easier simply to use the SMS functionality on the smartphone.”

The SMS feature “will add to the perceived utility of the Amazon offering, but will ultimately be of limited use unless it’s improved over time,” he said. “The Jude rule is, people evaluate a purchase on the basis of all the features they get, but then only use 10 percent of them.”

Alexa Now Can Dash Off Text Messages to Android Phones

Amazon’s ‘Echo Show’ Gives Alexa the Touchscreen It Needed

2017.05.13 02

THE AMAZON ECHO is a stupendously powerful device. It can control your lights, play Ed Sheeran jams, keep a to-do list, check the weather, order pizza, tell guests your Wi-Fi password, and so much more. But as you embrace this chatty-computer future, you begin to see its limitations. Sure, you can book a flight with your voice, but it’s so much easier when you can see the price chart. You can set six timers, but can you remember which one just went off? Voice-only games are fun, but not as fun as a game you can see and touch.

Hype aside, voice control is not a replacement for screens, but a complement to them. As Apple’s Phil Schiller recently said, “There’s many moments where a voice assistant is really beneficial, but that doesn’t mean you’d never want a screen. So the idea of not having a screen, I don’t think suits many situations.”

That’s what makes Amazon’s newest Echo, the $229 Echo Show, a smart move. It’s an Echo … with a screen. The Chumby lookalike exists mostly to talk and listen, but glance at the screen and you’ll notice that as it reads your calendar events, it displays them, too. When it announces that the Warriors won, it shows you the box score. It lets you interact with almost everything by touch or by voice, using whichever one you find most convenient. The speaker gets loud enough to rattle the kitchen counter, you can see the 7-inch screen from anywhere, and the far-field microphone array works just as well as the Echo. Plus, the setup couldn’t be simpler. Plug it in, connect it, done.

Amazon’s ‘Echo Show’ Gives Alexa the Touchscreen It Needed

10 of the best things you can do with the Amazon Echo

2017.05.12 04

If you’re considering buying an Alexa device (including the new Echo Show or Echo Look) or got Amazon Echo as a gift, there’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot Alexa can do, but here are the 10 best tips and tricks to get you started.

1. Make phone calls (basically, landline calls)
2. Control your smart home
3. Get cooking ideas and tips
4. Get the news
5. Entertain your kids for hours on end
6. Learn about more features
7. Get fit (or try to)
8. Control your TV
9. Use Spotify to play music
10. Train Alexa to do practically anything else

10 of the best things you can do with the Amazon Echo

Echo Owners May Get Their Own Kind of Music

2016.09.01 02

Amazon is planning two music subscription services, according to rumors that began circulating last week. One is a US$10 a month offering that is similar to Spotify and Apple Music, and the other is a $4-$5 a month cut-rate service available only on Amazon’s Echo device.

Amazon reportedly wants to launch both in September, but it has yet to finalize deals with major music labels and publishers, or to settle on pricing for the Echo-only service, which will be ad-free and offer unlimited music on demand.

Eighty-seven percent of smartphone owners aged 18 to 29 who participated in a recent Pew survey said they had listened to an online radio or music service on their phone, while 41 percent of those aged 50 and above had done so.

“The upside to streaming services is you’re not tied to a device — your music is anywhere that you are,” noted Mike Goodman, a research director at Strategy Analytics.

“If the service works only on an Amazon Echo, the user’s now tied down to a single location, and while it may cost less, it will also be less functional,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Amazon “wants to sell things retail, and Echo is its way to integrate retail into people’s daily activities,” he pointed out. “If I were Pandora, I wouldn’t worry about this, but, if I were Target, I would.”

Echo Owners May Get Their Own Kind of Music

Amazon Wants Developers to Make Choose Your Own Adventure Games for Alexa

2016.08.07 2

Amazon really wants developers to start making choose your own adventure style games for their Alexa device. There is a new framework available called Alexa Skills Kit that allows authors and developers to create decision trees to program audio mysteries and adventures.

Choose your own Adventure started to become very popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s and they sold 250 million copies during this time period. They were published by Bantam, which is now owned by Penguin Random House, but they let the copyright lapse and other companies picked it up.

I think this platform will appeal to authors that grew up in the 80’s and want to create an adventure style game that would take advantage of new technologies and appeal to a new generation.

Amazon Wants Developers to Make Choose Your Own Adventure Games for Alexa

Alexa Takes On Smart Home Security Responsibilities

2016.08.07 01

Millions of customers using Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant technology now can add locks that can be controlled remotely to the growing ecosystem of smart home capabilities.

August Home last week announced that Amazon’s line of voice-assisted products, including the best-selling Echo, now support its smart products, allowing users to lock and unlock their front doors and other points of access using simple voice commands.

August product line includes the August Smart Lock, the August Smart Keypad and the August Smart Doorbell Cam, which allow customers to secure and keep track of home security using a smartphone app.

The ability to remotely control home security marks the latest series of capabilities for Alexa voice-command products, which now have about 1,900 third-party skills from a range of companies, including Kayak, Lyft, Honeywell and others.

Customers are using Alexa-enabled devices to listen to music, set alarms, get news, shop online, order pizza, and perform a variety of household talks including controlling lights and window blinds.

Alexa Takes On Smart Home Security Responsibilities

Devs Light Up for Alexa

2016.06.13 01

Amazon last week announced the availability of more than 1,000 different skills for its Alexa voice assistant technology. Third-party developers have created the vast array of new capabilities for the highly popular line of consumer products that use Alexa, which includes the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap and Amazon Fire.

The announcement comes less than a year after Amazon released the Alexa Skills Kit, which allows outside developers to create new services to work with the voice-activation technology.

Developers have ramped up the creation of new skills for the Alexa ecosystem — only 135 were available in January.

Devs Light Up for Alexa