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‘Alexa, pay for gas’ command to work at over 11,500 Exxon and Mobil stations this year

19:18 | 6 January

Pumping gas is not that difficult, but Amazon thinks the process could be even easier by way of a voice command, spoken aloud when you arrive at the pump: “Alexa, pay for gas.” Today, Amazon, alongside ExxonMobil and Fiserv, announced a new voice experience for pumping gas that will roll out to over 11,500 Exxon and Mobile gas stations across the U.S. later this year.

The ability to pay for gas via Alexa will initially be made available to customers with Alexa-enabled vehicles, Echo Auto, and other Alexa-enabled mobility devices, Amazon says.

When the customer arrives at the pump, they’ll just have to say, “Alexa pay for gas” to get started. Alexa will then confirm the station location and pump number.

The transactions themselves will be processed using Amazon Pay. That uses the same payment information stored in the customer’s Amazon account. Fiserv’s digital commerce technology will help to power the transactions by activating the pump and facilitating the token generation to ensure a secure payment experience.

It’s not clear that the Alexa-enabled experience is significantly faster or easier than inserting your payment card at the pump directly. If anything, it seems a little more involved. But the technology could be useful for some because it allows you to remain in the car until the pump is authorized and ready to go, instead of requiring you to stand outside while the activation process takes place.

That’s a nice perk for cold, winter days — but it could also be appreciated by women and others who are wary of being alone at the pump — like when pumping gas at night or in unfamiliar surroundings, for example, or anywhere they don’t feel comfortable.

“We’re excited to bring new technology and better experiences to the gas station,” said Eric Carmichael, Americas fuels marketing manager at ExxonMobil, in a statement. “We build and seek out technology that will wow our consumers, providing both ease of use and security.”

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch



Amazon-backed Rivian will integrate Alexa into its electric pickup and SUV

17:00 | 6 January

Rivian will integrate Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa into the R1T pickup and R1S SUV, the company’s first electric vehicles that are set to debut at the end of the year.

Rivian said Monday it plans to also extend the Alexa integration to 100,000 electric delivery trucks that Amazon has ordered from the automaker. The electric vans are expected to start delivering packages to customers in 2021.

The integration into the R1T and R1S will give owners access to standard Alexa features such as playing music, placing calls and navigations as well as the ability to control the climate, open and closing the trunk and other vehicle features using their voice.

Rivian said it plans to give Alexa other capabilities designed for its vehicles. For instance, owners will be able to remotely tap into the camera embedded in Rivian pickup truck from Amazon screen-based services like Echo Show and Fire TV to check on whatever gear is stashed there.  The integration will also allow access to certain Alexa features when the vehicle is offline, a decision meant to match up with how these vehicles might be used.

Rivian’s vision is to enable exploration without compromises and provide our owners the best digital experience, no matter where their adventure takes them,” said Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe. “We want this to be the most comprehensive, most seamless Alexa integration in the market.”

The Rivian announcement made ahead of CES 2020 is the latest to illustrate Amazon’s continued push into the automotive world. Lamborghini also announced Monday plans to bring Alexa to its Huracán EVO sports car.

Amazon has been moving into the car for a few years now through the integration of Alexa and car-focused delivery services, as well as its direct investment  Rivian. The e-commerce company also launched its Amazon Key service to let customers give delivery drivers access to their house with the help of a compatible keypad on their door and a smart security camera. But in 2018, that service expanded to the car with its Key by Amazon In-Car delivery service.

GM and Volvo were the first participants in the Key by Amazon In-Car delivery service. Ford joined the in-car delivery service in April 2019.



Fire TV Edition expands to more soundbars, plus cars, cable boxes and more

17:00 | 6 January

Amazon’s Fire TV Edition, the version of Fire TV that now powers over 150 Fire TV Edition smart TVs as a competitor to Roku TV, is expanding to more devices besides just the television. Today, Amazon announced a new Fire TV Edition that’s capable of powering soundbars and being integrated into autos, plus versions designed for operators and certified solution providers.

The company’s ambitions for Fire TV to become a more expansive platform were already known. Amazon this past fall introduced a new Fire TV soundbar and over a dozen new Fire TV Edition products, in order to better compete with Roku which at the time had gained a lead over Amazon in U.S. connected TV market share.

Fire TV’s steady expansion on the international front now continues. Since September 2019, more than 50 Fire TV Edition smart TVs and soundbars have been launched from brands including Grundig, JVC, Onida, and Anker, and from retailers like Best Buy, Dixons and, soon, MediaMarketSaturn. And Best Buy alone has sold “millions” of Insignia and Toshiba Fire TV Edition smart TVs, Amazon claims.

In 2020, Amazon says more brands will launch Fire TV Edition smart TVs in the U.S., Canada, India, the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Mexico, but didn’t announce the brand names involved.

Amazon is also now expanding its lineup of Fire TV Edition-powered soundbars.

This fall, Amazon and Anker had launched the Nebula Soundbar – Fire TV Edition. Today, it’s launching two more: the TCL Alto 8+ Soundbar – Fire TV Edition on Amazon in the U.S. and Canada and the TCL TS8011 Soundbar – Fire TV Edition in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Both will offer support for Dolby Digital Plus for premium, dynamic and immersive sound, Amazon says.

Polk Audio and Tonly are also building soundbar solutions with Fire TV Edition. And later this year, Amazon’s Fire TV soundbar will be upgraded with Dolby Atmos support, device control, HDMI switching, and far-field voice control.

Also being introduced today are distinct versions of Fire TV for automakers, operators, and certified solution providers.

On the auto front, Amazon is partnering with BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) to offer hands-free Alexa, touch screen interfaces and offline playback capabilities to the screens inside your car — meaning you can stream Prime Video, Amazon FreeTime, or even Netflix on the go using the vehicle’s Wi-Fi or LTE connection, a mobile hotspot, or any other internet-connected device.

“Adding Fire TV to future BMW vehicles represents a big step in bringing the best of streamed entertainment to our products. With Amazon’s approach, and with the help of Garmin, we are able to innovate and create a unique and special experience for BMW cars, providing the consistency of content and customer experience that Fire TV provides in the home. We look forward to working closely with Amazon to bring Fire TV to future vehicles,” noted Fathi El-Dwaik, Vice President User Interaction, Business Line My Car and Business Line My Life, BMW Group, in a statement about the integrations.

For operators, television and telco operators will be able to offer Fire TV Edition-powered devices to customers. This follows Amazon’s earlier partnerships with Tata Sky in India and Verizon (TechCrunch’s parent) in the U.S. With the launch of Fire TV Edition for operators, available now in North America, Europe, India, and Japan, companies can choose from a range of solutions to better address their own customer and business needs.

On the operator front, Amazon also announced it’s working with the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to give its over 750 members the ability to deliver low-cost Fire TV streaming media players directly to their combined 16 million broadband and 8 million video customers.

Finally, Amazon is now customizing Fire TV Edition for ODMs (original device manufacturers — the companies building the hardware that will eventually be rebranded for other companies when sold).

Amazon announced it’s working with Skyworth as an ODM with turnkey solutions for 4K and FHD smart TVs. Starting in India, brands will be able to select from a range of industrial design and price points to bring their smart TVs to market. Meanwhile, for auto partners, Amazon is working with system integrators VOXX Automotive and Garmin.

The cumulative impact of all these expansions will be to give Fire TV a competitive advantage against rival Roku when it comes to establishing worldwide market share for its TV platform. But it additionally serves as means of bringing Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa to a wider user base and in places where Alexa isn’t always available — like the car or your cable TV box, for instance.

Related to this, Amazon also today announced more aftermarket devices with Alexa built-in for the car, and that Echo Auto will launch internationally this year.

“At CES 2017, we announced the first Fire TV Edition smart TV. Now, just three years later, Fire TV Edition has grown into a worldwide program which will include more than 150 Fire TV Edition models across more than ten countries by the end of the year,” said Marc Whitten, Vice President, Amazon Fire TV, in a statement. “The all-new Fire TV Edition provides companies with the services and tools they need to bring Fire TV to more categories and more screens,” he said.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch



Alexa is about to be very disappointed

19:14 | 27 November

A general lack of judgement has always been one of the strongest appeals of smart assistants. Whatever bad pop song or terrible online video you play for the 10,000th time — they don’t care. They’re simply there to help, judgement free.

Amazon, however, has been working on some features behind the scenes to help make Alexa more lifelike. Those involve bringing more emotional resonance to the smart assistant — namely the ability to make it voice sound varying levels of excited and disappointed.

“Alexa emotions” feature three levels of intensity. For the full effect, here’s “I just listened to the Smiths and then Googled what Morrissey has been up to lately” mode:

We all get down around the holidays, Alexa. Are you sure there’s nothing you want to talk about here? Amazon says users are feeling the newly empathetic assistant. “ Early customer feedback indicates that overall satisfaction with the voice experience increased by 30% when Alexa responded with emotions,” it writes in a post.

The feature is available to developers starting today, primarily focused on gaming skills. That means they’ll probably start rolling out to applications in the near future. No word on whether it’s possible to set those flash news briefings to perpetual disappointment.

The company is also rolling out a content-tailored delivery, design to give Alexa a style more akin to a news anchor or radio host.



Amazon launches medication management features for Alexa

17:55 | 26 November

As Amazon moves further into the healthcare market, the company today is rolling out a medication management feature for Alexa owners. The feature will allow customers to set up their own medication reminders and request voice refills using their prescription information. At launch, these capabilities are only available to customers of Giant Eagle Pharmacy, a regional retailer in the Midwest and East Coast.

That being said, there are obvious ties to Amazon’s larger plans with regard to prescription management and healthcare. Amazon has now acquired two health startups, first with online pharmacy PillPack in 2018 for slightly less than $1 billion. This was followed by last month’s acquisition of Health Navigator, which will become a part of Amazon’s pilot healthcare service program for its employees, the recently launched Amazon Care.

The new Alexa features seem to be custom designed for integrations with both Amazon Care and PillPack prescription ordering, even though neither of the two services are referenced today as part of Amazon’s current or future plans with the Alexa features.

Asked about this, an Amazon spokesperson said only that the company would not “comment or speculate on the future.”

Instead, Amazon says it has teamed up with medication management solution and adherence tool provider Ominicell to enable the new features, which were inspired by how people were already using Alexa’s reminders system and other feedback.

For example, some customers said they would like to set time frames for reminders like “twice a day.”

To use the new Alexa medication management, customers will first need to enable the Giant Eagle Pharmacy skill and link their accounts. They’ll also need to create an Alexa voice profile, which helps Alexa to verify the person who is speaking, and they’ll need to create a personal passcode for an extra layer of security. Amazon notes that it had already rolled out a way for developers to build HIPAA-compliant skills using its platform, which not only includes the added authentication steps, but also redacts users’ interactions with the skill from the Alexa app for further privacy.

In addition, Amazon had also recently added a way for customers to view and delete recordings at any time, including from the Privacy Settings page, in the Alexa app, or by voice.

Once their account is set up, the customer can then say “Alexa, manage my medication” to get started setting up their reminders. Alexa will help the customer to review their current prescriptions and set up reminders based on when they prefer to take each medication.

When the reminders go off, customers can ask “Alexa, what medication am I supposed to take right now?”

When it’s time, customers can also use Alexa to request refills from the pharmacy by saying “Alexa, refill my prescription.”

The features, though limited to one regional pharmacy for the time being, offer a view into how Amazon envisions voice-ordering for prescriptions will work for its customer base, and how such a system could be integrated with its own health care program at some later date, perhaps.

“Voice has proven to be beneficial for a variety of use cases because it removes barriers, and simplifies daily tasks. We believe this new Alexa feature will help simplify the way people manage their medication by removing the need to continuously think about what medications they’ve taken that day or what they need to take,” noted Rachel Jiang, Head of Alexa Health & Wellness, in an announcement about the new features.

“We want to make it easy for people to get the information they need and to manage their healthcare needs at home while maintaining the privacy and security of their information, and hope this feature is a step toward that vision,” she added.





AWS expands its IoT services, brings Alexa to devices with only 1MB of RAM

22:13 | 25 November

AWS today announced a number of IoT-related updates that, for the most part, aim to make getting started with its IoT services easier, especially for companies that are trying to deploy a large fleet of devices. The marquee announcement, however, is about the Alexa Voice Service, which makes Amazon’s Alex voice assistant available to hardware manufacturers who want to build it into their devices. These manufacturers can now create “Alexa built-in” devices with very low-powered chips and 1MB of RAM.

Until now, you needed at least 100MB of RAM and an ARM Cortex A-class processor. Now, the requirement for Alexa Voice Service integration for AWS IoT Core has come down 1MB and a cheaper Cortex-M processor. With that, chances are you’ll see even more lightbulbs, light switches and other simple, single-purpose devices with Alexa functionality. You obviously can’t run a complex voice-recognition model and decision engine on a device like this, so all of the media retrieval, audio decoding, etc. is done in the cloud. All it needs to be able to do is detect the wake word to start the Alex functionality, which is a comparably simple model.

“We now offload the vast majority of all of this to the cloud,” AWS IoT VP Dirk Didascalou told me. “So the device can be ultra dumb. The only thing that the device still needs to do is wake word detection. That still needs to be covered on the device.” Didascalou noted that with new, lower-powered processors from NXP and Qualcomm, OEMs can reduce their engineering bill of materials by up to 50 percent, which will only make this capability more attractive to many companies.

Didascalou believes we’ll see manufacturers in all kinds of areas use this new functionality, but most of it will likely be in the consumer space. “It just opens up the what we call the real ambient intelligence and ambient computing space,” he said. “Because now you don’t need to identify where’s my hub — you just speak to your environment and your environment can interact with you. I think that’s a massive step towards this ambient intelligence via Alexa.”

No cloud computing announcement these days would be complete without talking about containers. Today’s container announcement for AWS’ IoT services is that IoT Greengrass, the company’s main platform for extending AWS to edge devices, now offers support for Docker containers. The reason for this is pretty straightforward. The early idea of Greengrass was to have developers write Lambda functions for it. But as Didascalou told me, a lot of companies also wanted to bring legacy and third-party applications to Greengrass devices, as well as those written in languages that are not currently supported by Greengrass. Didascalou noted that this also means you can bring any container from the Docker Hub or any other Docker container registry to Greengrass now, too.

“The idea of Greengrass was, you build an application once. And whether you deploy it to the cloud or at the edge or hybrid, it doesn’t matter, because it’s the same programming model,” he explained. “But very many older applications use containers. And then, of course, you saying, okay, as a company, I don’t necessarily want to rewrite something that works.”

Another notable new feature is Stream Manager for Greengrass. Until now, developers had to cobble together their own solution for managing data streams from edge devices, using Lambda functions. Now, with this new feature, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they want to build a new solution for connection management and data retention policies, etc., but can instead rely on this new functionality to do that for them. It’s pre-integrated with AWS Kinesis and IoT Analytics, too.

Also new for AWS IoT Greengrass are fleet provisioning, which makes it easier for businesses to quickly set up lots of new devices automatically, as well as secure tunneling for AWS IoT Device Management, which makes it easier for developers to remote access into a device and troubleshoot them. In addition, AWS IoT Core now features configurable endpoints.



Spotify’s free music service will now stream on Alexa devices, plus Bose and Sonos smart speakers

18:05 | 20 November

Spotify has worked with Amazon Echo since 2016, but only for premium subscribers. Today, that changes as Spotify says its free tier will now stream across Alexa-powered devices, as well as other smart speakers from Sonos and Bose. The Alexa support will be available for users in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Support for Sonos and Bose is more broadly available to users around the world.

In the case of Alexa devices, like Amazon Echo speakers or the Fire TV, users will be able to ask Alexa to play Spotify’s playlist, like “Today’s Top Hits,” or their personalized playlist, “Discover Weekly,” among others. The service can also be set as the default, so you can use commands like “Play my Discover Weekly,” “Like this song,” or “Pause,” and more, without having to say “on Spotify.”

Meanwhile, on Sonos and Bose speakers, users can set up Spotify Connect from the Spotify app. This works with Bose smart speakers and soundbars, as well as all Sonos smart speakers, including the new indoor/outdoor speaker Sonos Move and the Symfonisk IKEA WiFi Speaker, integrated with the Sonos Home Sound System.

To use Spotify Connect, you’ll tap the “Devices” icon on the screen to select which speaker you want to use. This will also require the Bose and Sonos devices are updated to the latest firmware, the company says.

The expanded support for smart speakers comes only a day after Amazon directly challenged Spotify with a major move of its own. On Tuesday, Amazon announced its own music service would become free across devices, including the web, Fire TV, iOS, and Android. Before, the free, ad-supported music service was only available on Echo devices. While the services is a rival of sorts to other free services, like Spotify and Pandora, it has a more limited catalog of just 2 million tracks. That makes it better for those who only casually listen to music stations and curated playlists.

Spotify’s stock dropped almost 5% on Tuesday after Amazon’s announcement, however.

By now making Spotify’s free tier more accessible, it’s likely that many people will choose Spotify’s free streaming over Amazon’s free streaming, given the larger catalog of over 50 million songs. In addition, Spotify is best known for its personalization capabilities that help introduce users to new music based on their likes and listening history, which continues to be a major draw.

However, Amazon is only one of many challengers Spotify faces these days, with Apple Music, YouTube Music and regional players in big markets like India and China, also vying for users.

In addition, TikTok owner ByteDance is said to be preparing to move into music streaming, aiming for markets like India, Indonesia, and Brazil. That’s a huge threat not only because of the markets it’s targeting but because you can now draw a direct line between TikTlk top tracks and No. 1 tracks and hits on Spotify, which gives it a competitive advantage.




Amazon and Google double down on hands-free recipes to help sell their smart displays

19:58 | 14 November

Amazon and Google have identified a solid use case for their smart speaker devices, powered by Alexa and Google Assistant, respectively: recipes. The companies this week have both announced new product features that aim to help users cook, hands-free, while guided by the voice assistant. Amazon this week rolled out a new feature integration in partnership with BuzzFeed’s recipe site Tasty, to offer step-by-step voice and video instructions to Alexa users. Meanwhile, Google partnered with entrepreneur and chef Ayesha Curry to bring her recipes to Google Assistant.

Curry’s recipes will also include step-by-step cooking instructions on Google Assistant-powered Smart Displays, like the Nest Hub Max.

Meanwhile, the Tasty recipes are available across Echo devices, but will include cooking videos on the Echo Show devices.

What’s interesting about the new features is that both involve content partnerships, instead of dedicated skills from third-parties. In fact, Curry is even providing her new recipe (Cast Iron Fall Bread Pudding with Brown Butter Apples) exclusively to Google Assistant users.

The growth in voice apps had been growing steadily over the past few years, with Amazon announcing earlier this fall it had surpassed over 100,000 skills. But that momentum may now be slowing, reports say — a possible indication that developer enthusiasm may be waning, as well.

The issue with voice apps is they’re hard to discover by way of voice commands alone, and they require particular syntax to properly launch. Sure, users may find a great weather app or game, but if they can’t remember its name later on, they may not visit again. Another issue is that many of the first voice apps were built by developers, some of whom lack user experience design backgrounds resulting in kludgy, confusing voice experiences.

Finally, it’s not clear that a large number of smart speaker or smart display owners are even regularly using voice apps. After all, Amazon and Google tend to tout the number of skills they have, not the number of people using them.

Content integrations by way of partnerships route around all these problems.

They simplify things and put Amazon and Google back in control of the user experience. And they still give users what they want without requiring them to launch a third-party app.

Recipes are also more straightforward, as far as integrations go. They consist of only a few parts — ingredient lists and cooking instructions, for example. And the commands to launch them are as simple as “Alexa” or “Hey Google,” followed by “show me recipes from…” and then the recipe source.

Navigating recipes can also be easier than other voice apps, thanks to basic commands like “Alexa, ingredients,” “Alexa, next step,” or “Alexa start recipe.”

The smart speakers can aid with general cooking questions, too, like “Hey Google, how many tablespoons in a cup?” or “Hey Google, show me how to brown butter.”

Before the Tasty partnership, Amazon had already tapped into the potential for recipes to boost device sales with the launch of a Guided Cooking feature that allowed Echo Show and Echo Spot customers to get step-by-step instructions from Allrecipes, Epicurious, Food52, TheKitchn, and SideChef while they cook without having to install a skill.

In addition, Alexa more recently was the debut voice platform for Discovery’s new subscription service Food Network Kitchen, which doesn’t just offer recipes and videos, but also live cooking classes with master chefs.

Ayesha Curry isn’t Google’s first recipe partnership, either. It had also indexed recipes from Bon Appetite, The New York Times, Food Network and others for use on Google Home. This year, it said recipe suggestions would be personalized to users with the launch of a “Picks for You” feature for its smart displays.

Both new recipe integrations are live now.

To get started, say “Hey Google, show me recipes from Ayesha Curry,” or ask Alexa for recipes from Tasty based on ingredients, dish name or occasion, like, “Alexa, find chicken recipes from Tasty.”




Echo Studio is Amazon’s lower-cost answer to the HomePod

17:00 | 6 November

Amazon’s kickstarted the smart speaker market with the original Echo, way back in late-2014. Like many of the company’s hardware offerings, it was very much a utilitarian device. The first Echo was smart first and speaker a distant second.

Echo’s how slowly gotten better in the sound department over time, but the arrival Apple’s HomePod and Google’s Home Max have highlighted the lack of real quality speaker in the Echo lineup. Amazon eventually added the Link, Amp, Sub  and Input to integrate Alexa into an existing home stereo system, but until this most recent round of announcements, the company never had a real answer to the HomePod.

The Echo Studio is every bit Amazon’s take on the HomePod, with all the good, the bad and the everything else that entails. While it’s certainly the most premium Echo speaker Amazon has offered to date, the Studio isn’t exactly what one would deem a premium speaker. The build quality and materials don’t feel on-par with that of Apple’s. But that’s to be expected for a product that starts at $100 less.

Amazon’s almost certainly made the right move by undercutting the HomePod. A $300 speaker would be an extremely difficult sell from Amazon. Hovering at just under $200 feels like a good spot for the Echo Studio to live, especially when one factors in Amazon’s frequent hardware discounts.

At first glance, the Studio looks a bit like the HomePod, with roughly the same dimensions. It’s significantly larger than a standard Echo, but not so larger that it wouldn’t fit comfortably on most desks or shelves. There’s a signature large light ring around the top, along with a quartet of physical buttons: Mic on/off (turning the light ring red), volume up and down and the “Action” button for trigger Alexa manually.

I will say, using Google’s devices recent does really drive home how much I like the touch based input for playing and pausing songs. That’s missing here, as with other Echo devices.

About two thirds of the way down is a large cut out that goes all the way through the speaker. This is the bass aperture, designed to max output of the downward firing woofer. And it does. There’s no lack of bass on the thing — too much for my taste, in fact. It tends to muddy rock songs.

Like the Echo Buds, the Amazon app offers control over levels, so you can adjust to your heart’s content. The Studio also nsing built-in calibration similar to competing systems to get a read on the acoustics of its surroundings. For the best sound, Amazon recommends keeping the system at least six inches from a wall. I tried a few different spots in my living room and found the sound to be good, but not quite up to other premium smart speakers.

The Studio does well with simpler playback, like Bill Evans’s jazz piano. When playing rock like the Hold Steady or hip-hop like Run the Jewels, the music costs some clarity. It does, however, get plenty loud and should more than do the job in an apartment or door room. The addition of the home theater option makes it a nice addition for users of the Fire TV, as well.

The Studio is, without question, the best and richest sound Echo to date. From a pure sound standpoint, I certainly can’t recommend it over an Apple HomePod, Sonos Move or Google Home Max, but the $199 price point fits comfortable in Amazon’s more budget-minded approach to the smart home.



Where VCs are looking for voice startup investments

00:30 | 5 November

Led by Amazon’s Alexa, smart speakers’ install base is expected to reach 200 million units worldwide by 2020. A quarter of Americans over the age of 12 own a smart speaker, and the majority of those users have more than one device in their home. Moreover, Apple could sell 50 million of its Airpods this year (generating $8 billion in sales) as Bluetooth earpieces explode in popularity.

For the market penetration of this hardware, the app ecosystem remains limited in terms of mainstream adoption. Podcast production and consumption has exploded, but they don’t take advantage of smart speakers and headphones as interactive devices. Even though there were 57,000 Alexa skills available at the end of last year, most people are using smart speakers mainly to check the weather, check the news, ask simple questions and play music.

If voice is a new operating system, where are the opportunities to build giant companies on top of it?

To get a better sense of how the smart money views this market, I asked five VCs who have spent the most time in this space to share which types of startups have captured their attention:

  • Matt Hartman, Partner at Betaworks Ventures
  • Nicole Quinn, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners
  • Paul Bernard, Director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon
  • Ann Miura-Ko, Partner at Floodgate
  • Jordan Cooper, Partner at Pace Capital

Here are their responses:

Matt Hartman, Partner at Betaworks Ventures

The most recent wave of audio was about constant connectivity and streaming, and we invested in Anchor, Gimlet, and other audio-first businesses that would thrive in the podcast renaissance. For the next wave of audio, we’re focused [on] three broad categories: personalization, new behaviors/new interfaces, and monetization. Personalization means both utilizing location, Apple Watch, and other data to create magical audio experiences and customized audio content, but also advances in generative content like and Descript that can create custom audio. 

In terms of new behaviors/new interfaces, people are leaving their Airpods in longer, which means there may be an opportunity for “Airpod-first” product design. Finally, as audio becomes an industry, monetization will be improved and also re-thought: subscription products such as Shine and Headspace are interesting in the context that if they don’t really work as ad-supported podcasts, and they are packaged in such a way that people are willing to pay a monthly or annual subscription.

Nicole Quinn, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners

We are in between platforms and it’s not clear what the next platform will be. VR and AR are options, but I believe voice will be the next major platform with mass adoption. The biggest hurdle right now is discoverability which in turn leads to engagement and retention issues. This was the same for mobile before the App Store allowed us to discover new apps. We need the same for voice.

We will then see voice move from a music and list creation tool to one which quickly becomes part of popular culture around shopping, games, travel, meditation, etc. Leading audio apps such as Calm, the meditation and sleep app, are already set up to take advantage of the move to voice.

Paul Bernard, Director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon

Alexa got its start in the home, but we knew early on that bringing this experience to customers outside the home would become important. Our investments in companies like North (smart glasses), Vesper (power-efficient microphones) and Syntiant (power-efficient AI chip) were inspired by this vision, and reflect the idea that ambient computing is becoming part of daily life.

These companies are also helping create the surface area for interactive entertainment and information services, such as Drivetime’s trivia games (we are an investor there too), and social ones like TTYL, which enables friends wearing earbuds to maintain “audio-presence” with each other throughout their day while they multi-task. We also expect to see innovation in how voice can help seniors aging in place — our recent investment in Labrador Systems, which builds assistive robots, is a good example of this trend.


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It need to be taxed also any organic substance ie food than is used as a calorie transfer needs tax…
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Twitter Is Testing A Dedicated GIF Button On Mobile
Peter Short
Sounds great Facebook got a button a few years ago
Then it disappeared Twitter needs a bottom maybe…
Peter Short

Apple’s Next iPhone Rumored To Debut On September 9th
Peter Short
Looks like a nice cycle of a round year;)
Peter Short

AncestryDNA And Google’s Calico Team Up To Study Genetic Longevity
Peter Short
I'm still fascinated by DNA though I favour pure chemistry what could be
Offered is for future gen…
Peter Short

U.K. Push For Better Broadband For Startups
Verg Matthews
There has to an email option icon to send to the clowns in MTNL ... the govt of India's service pro…
Verg Matthews

CrunchWeek: Apple Makes Music, Oculus Aims For Mainstream, Twitter CEO Shakeup
Peter Short
Noted Google maybe grooming Twitter as a partner in Social Media but with whistle blowing coming to…
Peter Short

CrunchWeek: Apple Makes Music, Oculus Aims For Mainstream, Twitter CEO Shakeup
Peter Short
Noted Google maybe grooming Twitter as a partner in Social Media but with whistle blowing coming to…
Peter Short