Amazon doesn’t develop smartphones or PCs, and its tablets lack the widely used Google apps. Nonetheless, the company has built one of the most powerful consumer device ecosystems.

Under the banner of creating personalized, intuitive and active ambient experiences, its technology has begun to enter our lives, starting with smart speakers and delivering Alexa across a wide range of products from its own and other companies.

Over the past few years, such category-stretching products have been included as the wall clock that counts down to Alexa reminders, the Echo Loop Ring, and the recently revived Echo Auto. Even for Big Tech companies, such fights and over-doing are inevitable when trying to create new product categories.

For example, before launching its device on the Pixel smartphone, Google introduced a new type of AI-infused home camera for capturing spontaneous moments called Clips but discontinued it.

At its most recent device launch, however, Amazon demonstrated three approaches to redefining the boundaries of a tech category, each with implications for its market potential.

Extension: Kindle Scribe

In my last column, I wrote about a class of full-featured e-paper tablets that include extensive Android app compatibility. However, there is a group of products that look a lot like these e-paper tablets but that focus more on reading and note-taking.

Last year, for example, Rakuten introduced the Kobo Ellipsa, expanding the e-reader brand with a larger device and enhanced stylus functionality for marking up PDFs or taking notes. Amazon has now followed suit with the Kindle Scribe, expanding its popular e-reader line to become a tablet-sized note-taking device.

In expanding a familiar product line, Amazon gives Kindle fans more reason to keep the Kindle around. Amazon’s devices chief described its new use of Scribe as a replacement for legal pads.

A man journaling on a Kindle Scribe

Journaling on Kindle Scribe | Image Credits: Amazon

Neither the Scribe nor the Ellipsa offer the advanced note-taking features that the Onyx Book line or the best iPad apps can provide. However, they’re simpler to use, a bit less expensive, and extend the distraction-free appeal of e-readers to note-taking and annotation.

While the Kobo Ellipsa proved the concept, Amazon’s incredible distribution prowess and the Kindle’s brand recognition should help popularize this significant expansion of the venerable e-reader’s features.

The Swap: Echo Show 15 and Fire TV Omni

Speaking of product line expansions that include a diversion, Amazon also traded in on two of its bigger and newer display-based devices.

The Echo Show 15 is the newest and largest member of the company’s smart display line, marketed as keeping families organized. But its suitability for highly viewable areas within the home prompted the company to add the Fire TV video portal from its TVs and Streaming Stick to the device.

The Echo Show line will also give back to Amazon’s Fire TV product line, and Amazon will be bringing an Echo Show-like Ambient Mode to its high-end Fire TV Omni sets.

Fire TV Omni QLED Series Ambient Experience Widget

Fire TV Omni QLED Series Ambient Experience | Image Credits: Amazon

Amazon isn’t the first company to bring a streaming portal-like experience that isn’t TV. Earlier this year, Samsung brought its streaming portal to its M7 and M8 PC monitors. But with their TV-like 43″ display and 4K resolution, that wasn’t such a stretch.

Samsung has also equipped its TVs with more limited surround experiences, most notably its Frame TV, which displays artwork when movies and shows aren’t being streamed. Coincidentally, that TV looks like a bigger version of the Echo Show 15

The added features won’t be a game changer for the established TV category or the growing smart display category. However, borrowing Amazon’s feature set shows how the company can improve on the Echo Show line’s weak point (streaming channel diversity) while furthering its ambient approach mission in the typically immersive activity of TV watching.

The Splinter: Halo Rise

Amazon’s Halo product line, which focuses on wellness, is the new kid on the company’s device block; The first Halo wearable fitness tracker was launched late last year. However, it didn’t take long for the product line to take a different direction.

While many smartwatches and other wearables track sleep, Amazon has skipped the wrist for its entry into the sleep-tracking market. Halo Rise is placed on a bedside table and uses a mix of ambient radar and machine learning to detect different stages of sleep. This product avoids one of the main drawbacks of tracking sleep with wearable devices, namely, when should you charge them if you’re up all night?

Although sleep tracking may provide insight into improved health, any device placed in the bedroom deserves additional scrutiny in terms of how privacy is protected. Amazon cites several privacy-protecting benefits of its approach. These include keeping the camera and microphone out of the bedroom and a sensing method accurate enough to capture the sleep habits of the person closest to the device.

Halo Rise also includes a gradually brightening light to make waking up easier. However, this isn’t Amazon’s first bedside device. The company has released several smaller Echo Show products, including versions with 5″ and 8″ displays, which follow the closed circular Echo Spot, which act as smart alarm clocks. Lenovo also offers a smartwatch model that integrates with Alexa and others using the Google Assistant.

So, if you want the full functionality of an Echo Show and the Hello Rises to greet you in the morning, things might get a little crowded on your nightstand. In fact, Amazon showed only this combination at the launch presentation. So why weren’t the Echo Show’s features integrated into the Halo Rise?

hello rise and echo show sleep data

Echo Show Sleep Data (L) and Hello Rise | Image Credits: Amazon

Pricing, functionality and target customer factors present challenges to this. The radar-equipped Halo Rise will cost $140; That’s quite a premium over, say, the $35 that the Echo Show 5 usually commands. While the Echo Show represents a more information-rich take on the classic alarm clock, the Halo Rise is geared toward people who want to actively monitor their sleep activity and eventually see enough value to pay for a service subscription. Huh.

Also, returning to the privacy mandate, Amazon has taken laudable measures to keep Halo-tracked health information out of the Alexa knowledge graph. While this would still be possible in a combined device, it is easier to express conceptually in separate devices.

Alexa hasn’t been completely turned off from Halo Rise. For example, you can pull up your sleep report on an Echo Show or have an Alexa device play a wake-up song based on Halo Rise’s ideal wake-up time. You can also trigger Alexa bedtime routines, such as going to bed next to Halo Rise and dimming the lights. At some point, though, Amazon may find a way to make the one wake-up alarm ring to rule them all.

Rubin’s Review: Neat Frame

The explosion in hybrid work has prompted many companies to rethink their facilities and many home workers to rethink their setups. The endless barrage of video meetings has shown the value of dedicating a display—preferably the one hosting the webcam—for apps like Zoom or Teams, while the other monitor hosts the content shared on the call.

The Neat Frame is a roughly $2,500 dedicated video call device that runs Team Rooms or Zoom Rooms. According to the rules set by the conferencing software vendors, you must restart to switch between them.

Unlike most displays, its 15.6″ screen is fixed in portrait orientation, which brings the webcam down to eye level, so there’s no need to use a stand to prop it up, as is the case with many laptops Is. Neat includes an upgraded speaker for loud, clear audio that reverberates across the room and a microphone that the company has enhanced with noise-canceling intelligence.

neat frame

neat frame | Image credits: Neat

As a dedicated device, the frame provides better reliability, readiness, and security than using a single PC. The product’s audiovisual features and face-framing orientation make it ideal for face-to-face video calls; It is especially suitable for use in in-office phone booths for taking private calls.

However, while portrait orientation reduces desktop footprint, it is not suitable for sharing screen content, which typically has landscape orientation. Speaking of which, since it’s a standalone device, fetching content from another PC involves a different step versus the native PC client.

Neat says that Microsoft has integrated integration with the desktop version of Teams that enables it; However, an organizational account is required to use any Team Room device such as the Neat Frame. Free accounts are not supported.

Accepting video input so it can serve as a second display will also make it more versatile for home users, as will the ability to pivot the device from landscape to portrait orientation – even if the camera is only on top in portrait orientation are.

The Neat Frame is an example of a great purpose-built device that brings a more natural feel to the often-awkward ergonomics of video calling. Still, most home users would be better served by a more generalized second screen.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to spend some time with Amazon’s new robotic sidekick, Astro, over the past week.

Possibly named Astro because of Amazon’s fondness for the beloved dog on the 1960s cartoon series “The Jetsons,” it’s now available on an invitation-only basis for $1,000. However, the price will eventually climb to $1,450 when it is open to the public.

Seven days is too short a time to assess the new technology, but I think it’s enough to form some early opinions about this ambitious piece of hardware.

After spending a week with the product, I’ve concluded that it largely succeeds as a luxury item, especially for consumers who have the disposable income to test out the latest bleeding-edge robotics technology. Although the usage models are limited.

To be clear, this is not a slam against the Astros. Such products pave the way for more compelling future solutions with broader mainstream appeal to eventually hit the market. Astro is an attractive solution with significant potential. Still, given its premium price point, it won’t get enough audience and most importantly, what it can be used for in limited cases.

What is Amazon Astro?

If someone didn’t know better, they could mistake the new Amazon Astro with the Echo Show 10 Smart Display on oversized wheels. From a side view, it looks like a reduced-sized non-passenger version of the iconic Segway personal transporter equipment commonly seen in airports or shopping malls.

The Astro features a motorized 10.1″ screen and a 5MP camera that facilitates video chat and video/image capture. Two 55mm speakers embedded in the front deliver surprisingly good audio with excellent bass. There is some weight, which weighs in at 20.6 pounds and is roughly the size of a footstool.

Like the popular Echo Show model, the Astro TV Show is fully Alexa-compliant with the ability to stream content, play music, answer questions about almost any topic, and control Alexa-based smart home devices .

The Astro is equipped with several highly sensitive array-based microphones, and its listening skills are exceptional. This is notable because array microphones have traditionally been used to measure and detect noise sources, a feature important to its home security monitoring capabilities.

However, what separates the Astro from a stationary Echo Show is its ability to move and change its viewing perspective. The Astro features a periscope design that rises from its pivoting head and provides additional 12MP camera support.

The obvious usefulness of the cameras is that the Astro can travel through your home when you’re out and about to capture video and images. The Periscope also includes manual mute and volume buttons, though you’re unlikely to use them as it can respond to voice commands like any Alexa-class speaker.

The navigation performance of the Astro is one of the things that the Amazon engineering team deserves to be congratulated for.

While the out-of-the-box setup process is surprisingly easy, it takes the Astro about 30 minutes to do its initial run to learn all the rooms on your ground floor.

After setup was complete, the Astro could easily travel to any room I specified via voice commands. The Astro never collided with anything in its path, and it never hit the lovely miniature pinscher I live in my house. Its large wheels allow the Astro to travel on both rugs and hardwood floors without apparent difficulty.

Amazon Astro

Carmel was never threatened by the Astros while traveling through my house. (image credit: SmartTech Research)

Last month, Amazon announced that Astro would finally acquire pet monitoring capability and check your doors and windows to notify you if they’re not safe. Amazon supplies many colleges with Astro Software Development Kits to create even more automated processes.

Something to keep in mind: The Astro exhibits bizarre behavior, even when docked in its charging station and appears to be asleep. Although thankfully it didn’t do it late at night, Astro used two animated eyes and lively beeps, I guess, to make sure you know it’s on your back and on call.

This might sound ludicrous to some, but it’s clear that Amazon wants the Astro to have a distinct personality that separates it from its family of smart displays.

Does Astro provide useful functions?

The $64,000 question that mainstream users want to answer is about the usefulness of the Astro. As mentioned above, the setup process was remarkably smooth with on-screen directions, and it took just a few seconds to connect to my home network.

Although having an astro is undoubtedly one of the more interesting conversation topics an owner will have a cocktail party in their home, what can it really do?

The Astro has a dual cup holder that allows you to carry drinks from room to room, though I can’t imagine being so lazy I’d use that feature. Sure, it’s easy to give the Astro a voice command to get to the kitchen, but it can’t get drinks out of the refrigerator. It’s the kind of Jetsons-like feature that will be a game changer.

Amazon Astro Cup Holder, Top View

Astro’s dual cup holders (Image credit: SmartTech Research)

The most serious use model of the Astro is its ability to function as a mobile sentry in your home. A camera-enabled robot that can travel throughout your home and work synergistically with Ring smart door locks and external cameras via Alexa Guard.

I believe many mainstream consumers will love taking advantage of the Astro’s remote-control camera functionality. When the Live Feed feature is enabled through its app, Astro sets up a ring to notify others nearby that they are about to be on camera.

The periscope extends out from the Astro to provide a clear and vibrant view of the house. The app also provides manual support for controlling the robot’s movement in different directions for different views – even sliding the periscope up or down for different perspectives.

Astro really excels as a security tool when you are away from home. When paired with a Ring Protect Pro subscription, the Astro can patrol your home and send notifications to your smartphone when it detects strangers or hears loud noises like breaking glass.

There’s also the ability to enable a siren on Astro to scare away intruders from afar. I successfully simulated someone making a loud noise to throw a tennis ball through a nearby window, and Astro dutifully traveled to what he believed to be the location of the noise.

It turned on the siren and sent an alert to my phone. My testing wasn’t scientific, and I can’t confirm that Astro will function flawlessly in comparable security scenarios, but the use case is promising.

closing thoughts

Aside from having a mobile security platform inside your home—and that, in itself, may be enough for many people to buy one—its other use cases are limited and few.

After all, the Astro can’t take out the trash, and it doesn’t function as a robot vacuum. Amazon touts the Astro as a device that kids can play with, as it can sing and dance, but $1,500 is a premium price for a novelty that wears off quickly with kids. Will go

A strong case can be made for the Astro’s entertainment and video conferencing features, as it’s intriguing to have a mobile device for video chatting with other Echo Show owners. In addition, speakers with great sound can be valuable at parties as the Astro can follow you to play music in your home.

The bottom line is that the Astro is a fascinating device that Amazon has a lot to be proud of. Here’s a short video I made from Astro in action:

Even in the case of limited security use, the Astro has significant potential. It would be misleading to see other use cases being developed (perhaps by parties outside Amazon) not currently considered.

Its navigation capability is superb, and the Astro’s overall quality and construction materials are excellent, convincing for such a high-priced device.

In the end, Amazon deserves recourse for doing a remarkable job of protecting your privacy with Astro. Given Amazon’s spotty record on privacy, it’s a step in the right direction given that Astro stores and processes most of its navigation and facial recognition data locally, on the device itself.

In line with other Alexa-based smart speakers and displays, users can also delete query history via the Alexa app. This capability is important because video equipment, which is increasingly visible inside people’s domiciles, has the potential to record highly personal and intimate moments. For this new category to gain mainstream traction, eliminating the privacy concerns that many consumers have is non-negotiable.

Still, $1,500 is quite a discretionary spend for a large portion of the population, especially with sky-high gasoline prices and inflation running close to 9%.

It’s hard to recommend the Astro at this price point until its usefulness outweighs that of an indoor mobile security platform.

Astro is an exciting solution that showcases Amazon’s significant technical chops in the budding consumer robotics sector. At the very least, early adopters who get one will be the talk of their neighborhood.

A lawsuit was filed by Amazon on Tuesday against administrators of more than 10,000 Facebook groups accusing them of being part of a broker network for churning out fake product reviews.

In its lawsuit, Amazon alleges that administrators attempted to organize the placement of fake reviews on Amazon in exchange for money or free products. It said groups have been set up in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan to recruit people to write fake reviews on Amazon’s online store.

Amazon said in a statement posted online that it would use the information found through the lawsuit to identify bad actors and remove the reviews they commissioned from the retail website.

Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon’s Vice President of Selling Partner Services, said in the statement, “Our team intercepts millions of suspicious reviews before they are seen by customers, and this trial goes a step further to uncover criminals operating on social media.” ” “Proactive legal action targeting bad actors is one of many ways to protect customers by holding bad actors accountable.”

against meta policy

Meta, which owns Facebook, condemned the groups for setting up fake review mills on their infrastructure. “Groups that solicit or encourage fake reviews violate our policies and are removed,” Meta spokeswoman Jen Riding said in a statement to TechNewsWorld.

“We are working with Amazon on this matter and will continue to partner across the industry to address spam and fake reviews,” she said.

According to Meta, it has already removed most of the fraud groups cited in Amazon’s lawsuit and is actively investigating others for violating the company’s policy against fraud and deception.

It noted that it has introduced a number of tools to remove infringing content from its service, tools that use artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision to analyze specific instances of content that violate rules. Break down and identify patterns of abuse across the platform.

Is Facebook doing enough?

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy, a consumer advocacy group in the UK, praised Amazon’s action, but questioned whether Facebook was doing enough to prevent abuse of its platform.

“It is positive that Amazon has taken legal action against some of the fake review brokers operating at Facebook, which is a problem the investigation has uncovered time and again,” he said in a statement. “However, it does raise a big question mark about Facebook’s proactive action to crack down on fake review agents and protect consumers.”

“Facebook needs to explain why this activity is prevalent, and [U.K.] The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) must challenge the company to show that the action it is taking is effective,” he continued. “Otherwise, it should consider stern action against the platform.”

“The government has announced that it plans to give stronger powers to the CMA to protect consumers from the avalanche of fake reviews,” he said. “These digital markets, competition and consumer reforms should be legislated as a priority.”

Which one in 2019? released a report that estimated that 250,000 hotel reviews on the Tripadvisor website were fake. Tripadvisor dismissed the analysis in that report as “simplistic,” but in its own “Transparency” report a year later, the site found nearly one million, or 3.6%, of the reviews were fake.

no time for deep dives

“Most consumers don’t have time to dig deep into reviews,” said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, a consumer technology advisory firm in New York City.

“They take star ratings as a way to build trust in a product and if people are being compensated for posting fake reviews, it undermines trust in reviews,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Fake reviews not only encourage consumers to buy a substandard product, but they also make it more difficult to differentiate between products,” he said.

“If you have an overwhelming number of products in a category with four-and-a-half or five-star reviews, because many of them are participating in these fake review programs, the value of the reviews themselves are diminished,” he explained.

He acknowledged that fake reviews were a problem everywhere on the Internet. “But,” he continued, “because Amazon has such a strong position in online retailing and is often the first website consumers visit, it is disproportionately targeted by these fake review groups.”

Review mills also use bots to pad product reviews, but Rubin said the technology lacks the effectiveness of using a human. “The reason these groups are using people instead of bots is because bots are easier to detect,” he said. “Amazon uses machine learning techniques to identify when companies are using bots.”

‘Comprehensive’ review manipulation

In a report released last year by Uberall, an online and offline customer experience platform, review manipulation on Amazon was termed “pervasive.”

Amazon claims that only 1% of reviews on the site are fake, but the report disputed that. It cited a 2018 analysis by Fakespot that found the number of fake reviews in certain product categories such as nutritional supplements (64%), beauty (63%), electronics (61%), and athletic sneakers (59%) is more.

“Even if we reduce these numbers by 50%, there will still be a gap between what Amazon and Fakespot report,” Uberall’s report said.

What can be done to curb fake reviews?

Uberall points out that Amazon and some others use the label “Verified Buyer” to indicate high trust in reviews. “It is an approach that needs to be used more widely,” it noted, “though it is not foolproof, as Amazon has discovered.”

“Despite specific anti-fraud mechanisms,” it continued, “fake reviews are a problem that needs to be addressed more systematically and vigorously.”

The paths identified in the report to address the problem include using more technical sophistication and aggressive enforcement to bring review fraud down to low single digits, adopting a review framework that is structurally difficult to defraud and Only genuine verified buyers are to be allowed. Write a review.

“These are not mutually exclusive approaches,” it explained. “They can and should be used in conjunction with each other.”

“With online reviews there is a huge amount at stake for businesses of all sizes,” the report said. “More and better reviews directly translate into online visibility, brand equity and revenue. This creates powerful incentives for businesses to pursue positive reviews and suppress or remove negative reviews.”