Amazon’s Alexa just learned her 25,000th skill, and the Echo started a price war among voice-activated smart home speakers. How did Google respond (and how did Apple not)? On top of that, China doesn’t hate Facebook after all, Google is helping users travel smarter and Microsoft weathered a North Korean cyberattack last week. This and more top stories from the Frightful Five, just in case you missed it.
After touting the milestone for weeks, Amazon’s Alexa has finally, officially, made it to the 25,000-skill mark, thanks to 300 new Alexa skills announced by Cumulus this week. The eCommerce giant’s recent move to allow monetization by developers is likely to renew interest in Alexa skills, with opportunities in areas such as local businesses, brands and business applications. Amazon Pay will unlock even more doors for third-party developers to create mobile apps that accept donations or restaurant and ticketing payments.
Amazon’s second annual Digital Day — a wintertime counterpart to its popular Prime Day in July — has been announced for Dec. 29. Digital movies, TV shows, mobile games, apps, eBooks, comics and more will once again be marked down to tempt anyone lucky enough to get an Amazon gift card in their stocking. Last year, customers ordered hundreds of thousands of items.
Prime memberships are plateauing — but then, what did Amazon expect? There’s a finite number of consumers in the U.S., and 40 percent of them already have a membership. To continue seeing growth, Amazon will have to shift its focus to attracting lower-income households and older customers — two historically underserved populations in the company’s eCommerce empire.
Finally, Sears is hoping that Amazon can give it a boost by selling Sears-branded DieHard battery-related items, like chargers and jump starters, on its website. This is an expansion of a deal the retailers forged back in the summer, when Sears announced that it would be selling appliances via Amazon. Reportedly, Sears has been trying to target millennials, and Amazon’s got ‘em.
There’s a voice-activated speaker price war going on, but Apple still plans to sell its HomePod for $349, whenever the device gets released. That’s more than double the price of Amazon’s priciest Echo, the Echo Show, which comes with a screen.
Of course, production of the HomePod has been delayed, so it’s possible that the tech giant will also fire future shots in this smart speaker price war.
Amazon’s new Echo sparked the price war when the eCommerce giant introduced the new device at $100, half the price of the original Echo and significantly lower than the prices of competitors’ speakers. Google has dropped the price on its Home device to $79 for a limited time, while the Home Mini is going for $29.
The social media giant is not unwelcome in China. At least, Qi Xiaoxia, director general of the Bureau of International Cooperation at the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), says it is not unwelcome — along with Google, Twitter and others — all on the condition that they follow local laws and regulations.
These giants have long wished to wedge their way into this populous country, with its 751 million internet users, but they have been foiled again and again. Not so for Apple, which agreed to operate according to China’s strict censorship rules.
Xiaoxia said that cyberspace cannot be an ungoverned space, and that the Chinese people’s rights of speech and expression are “fully ensured” within the supervised digital space.
Searching Google for “cheap flights” gives users more affordable ticketing options from travel sites like KAYAK and Hopper. Now, it will also give them guidance — just like a real travel agent!
Users can discover when is the best time to buy their airline ticket or when hotel room rates may be higher. Google Flights will use machine learning and statistical analysis of historical flights to provide tips such as, “prices won’t drop further” or “prices are less than normal” to help users decide whether to buy now or wait until later. Hotel search results will offer similar insights, including the potential impacts of events happening near the destination, such as holidays, music festivals and business conferences.
In a recent blog post, Google explained that travelers place a high priority on finding the best price when they go out of town, and the search engine giant wanted to facilitate that.
A number of cyberattacks from North Korea have failed to get past Microsoft and Facebook, including last spring’s WannaCry malware attack. Microsoft President Bradford Smith said that the company disrupted malware from the North Korean hacking consortium Lazarus Group. Facebook said it had deleted accounts that were tied to the group and notified individuals who had been in contact with the phony accounts, which the social media giant believed Lazarus Group was grooming as targets.