Monday, April 16, 2018

Amazon warehouse workers pee in bottles, are punished for being sick →

Shona Ghosh for Business Insider:

Rushed fulfilment workers, who run around Amazon’s warehouses “picking” products for delivery, have a “toilet bottle” system in place because the toilet is too far away, according to author James Bloodworth, who went undercover at a warehouse in Staffordshire, UK, for a book on low wages in Britain.

 Bloodworth told The Sun: “For those of us who worked on the top floor, the closest toilets were down four flights of stairs. People just peed in bottles because they lived in fear of being ­disciplined over ‘idle time’ and ­losing their jobs just because they needed the loo.”

And:

A survey of Amazon workers, released on Monday, found almost three-quarters of fulfilment centre staff are afraid of using the toilet in case they miss their targets.

On how workers are punished for being sick:

Another employee said she was ill while pregnant, and was still handed warning points.

And yet another said: “I turned up for my shift even though I felt like shit, managed 2 hours then I just could not do anymore. Told my supervisor and was signed off sick, I had a gastric bug (sickness and diarrhoea, very bad) saw my doc. Got a sick note with an explanation, but still got a strike.”

This is just despicable and unsanitary. How does Amazon attract talent with their increasingly bad working conditions?

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Alexa’s unprompted laughing →

Shannon Liao for The Verge:

Over the past few days, users with Alexa-enabled devices have reported hearing strange, unprompted laughter. Amazon responded to the creepiness today in a statement to The Verge, saying, “We’re aware of this and working to fix it.”

Later on in the day, Amazon said its planned fix will involve disabling the phrase, “Alexa, laugh,” and changing the command to “Alexa, can you laugh?” The company says the latter phrase is “less likely to have false positives,” or in other words the Alexa software is likely to mistake common words and phrases that sound similar to the one that makes Alexa start laughing. “We are also changing Alexa’s response from simply laughter to ‘Sure, I can laugh,’ followed by laughter,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

This is pure hilarity, and it proves we give these personal assistants way too much credit. We’re in the relatively early days of this kind of interaction, yet we get upset when they can’t understand us perfectly. Of course they can’t — they’re computers!

A hotter topic than ever right now is that Siri is dumb, but in my experience, Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa have very similar abilities when it comes to understanding and interpreting.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Amazon Echo Show Review

Two weeks ago, Amazon debuted Echo Show, the first smart speaker with a touchscreen. I’ve been using it since it launched, and I’m struggling to find its greater purpose beyond what the Echo and Echo Dot have already realized. Right now, it seems like it has a screen mostly just for the sake of having one, rather than solving a specific problem.

We’ve all survived using other Echo devices sans-screen, so I find myself wondering if it will eventually be compelling. As such, my review will touch on its design, interaction, and areas where I feel the screen adds value.

Read on

Monday, June 26, 2017

Review Roundup: Amazon Echo Show

Reviews for the Amazons Echo Show are coming in ahead of its launch later this week, and most reactions are positive. The Echo Show offers a new experience for smart speakers with its touch screen and video calling capabilities.

My ‘Show’ will be arriving later this week, and I’m looking forward to writing up another in-depth review once I put it through its paces. I think a touch screen smart speaker definitely has its positives, but it will be interesting to see just how often the screen gets used.

Review Roundup

Dieter Bonn for The Verge—Amazon Echo Show Review: Doing More By Doing Less

You basically never need to tap the screen for anything, unless you really want to. There is not an “app store” where you hunt around for new things to add to your screen. It sits on your counter, answers your questions, sets your timers, and occasionally displays useful information. That’s it, and that’s great.

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg—Amazon’s Echo Show: Do You Need Another Screen?

Voice-activated speakers are not essential purchases. I don’t see the benefit to looking up a weather forecast on a speaker attached to a screen, when you can easily do that with your smartphone’s voice assistant. And for those of you who have a portable tablet or a big-screen TV in your home, would you really want to watch a video on the Echo Show’s 7-inch screen?

Mat Honan for BuzzFeed—Amazon’s New Echo Show Is Very Cool And A Little Creepy

It has this wild new feature called Drop In. Drop In lets you give people permission to automatically connect with your device. Here’s how it works. Let’s say my father has activated Drop In for me on his Echo Show. All I have to do is say, “Alexa, drop in on Dad.” It then turns on the microphone and camera on my father’s device and starts broadcasting that to me. For the several seconds of the call, my father’s video screen would appear fogged over. But then there he’ll be. And to be clear: This happens even if he doesn’t answer. Unless he declines the call, audibly or by tapping on the screen, it goes through. It just starts. Hello, you look nice today.

Some people will definitely be seen naked with Drop In. Good thing you can set permissions. It’s pretty radical, for sure, to allow for immediate access without prompting.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

CNET: Voice call functionality coming to Echo devices and Alexa app today

Hot on the heels of Amazon’s Echo Show announcement, CNET has confirmed Amazon will be introducing voice calling features for existing Alexa users today.

Existing Echo devices and the Alexa app will be updated to receive this functionality, which has the opportunity to truly change the dynamic in which these smart speakers are used.

This is truly an ‘Amazon’ way to do this, since their Fire Phone was a flop. I expect Apple’s ‘Siri Speaker’ to handle calls as well, but in a much different way. Either way, taking calls from the comfort of the couch without reaching for your phone will be nice.

Amazon introduces Echo Show smart speaker with touchscreen for $229 →

After multiple leaks this past Friday, May 5, and a Wall Street Journal report, Amazon introduced the Echo Show this morning. You can buy one for $229 or two for $358 (saving $100) for a June delivery. This is a very compelling move by Amazon and something Apple would never do (highlights the stark contrast between the two). I own an Echo Dot to mostly control our smart lights, and it is a pretty amazing little device. I’m curious what it would be like with a touchscreen. The Echo Show looks promising, as the features below highlight. I don’t care much for the design, though, with its sharp edges and blockiness in an age of sleek and soft corners.

Apple is also rumored to be working on a Siri-enabled smart speaker themselves, to be announced as early as June.

Pricing and Availability

$229 or two for $358 (save $100)
Colors: White, Black
Releases June 28, 2017

Features

  • Echo Show brings you everything you love about Alexa, and now she can show you things. Watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more. All hands-free—just ask.
  • Introducing a new way to be together. Talk to family and friends who have an Echo or the Alexa App.
  • See lyrics on-screen with Amazon Music. Just ask to play a song, artist or genre, and stream over Wi-Fi. Also, stream music on Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and more.
  • Powerful room-filling speakers with Dolby processing for crisp vocals and extended bass response.
  • Ask Alexa to show you the front door or monitor the baby’s room with compatible cameras from Ring and Arlo. Turn on lights, control thermostats and more with WeMo, Philips Hue, ecobee, and other compatible smart home devices.
  • With eight microphones, beam-forming technology, and noise cancellation, Echo Show hears you from any direction—even while music is playing

Update 5/9 at 4:27pm: added intro video from Amazon.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Amazon's touchscreen Echo device leaks

After a low resolution image was reported by tech news outlets earlier today, notorious device leaker Evan Blass has released a high resolution image of a purported Amazon Echo device with a touchscreen.

Amazon has been rumored to be working on such a device for a while. I’m not sure I see the entire benefit of having a touchscreen on a communal device, unless you’re already standing/walking, but it will be interesting to see what features Amazon brings forward.

Amazon Video app may finally arrive on Apple TV →

Peter Kafka and Jason Del Rey for Recode:

Amazon and Apple may have reached a truce. The tech giants, who are increasingly competing for customers’ time, eyeballs and money, are close to an agreement to bring an Amazon video app to Apple’s Apple TV set-top box, according to people familiar with the two companies. Amazon employees expect the app to show up on Apple’s hardware in the third quarter of the year.

It’s about time. I use my Apple TV daily, and while I shop a ton on Amazon, I have to say the lack of an Apple TV app has turned me off from watching Prime Video. Amazon can (and has done) whatever they want, but I don’t see why they shouldn’t be trying to reach their user base on whatever hardware they own.

Perhaps we will also see a return of the Apple TV hardware to Amazon as a result, since Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) indicated the device was pulled due to a Prime Video app not existing for it.