From Black Friday sales to Boxing Day blowouts, Amazon and Google are offering their smart speakers at a deep discount — even giving them away, in Google’s case.
But don’t be fooled by the corporate giants appearing to get into the holiday spirit. They’re looking to get you invested in their tech ecosystem and even help train their artificial intelligence.
“They’re all trying to shape your behaviour by giving you these speakers for virtually nothing,” said Marvin Ryder of McMaster’s DeGroote school of Business. He says it reminds him of when Apple debuted its iPods in the early 2000s.
“I used to argue they should give it away because they’d sell it for $199 but it holds 5,000 songs. If I send you to the iTunes store you’ll spend $5,000 loading it, so why don’t [they] give it to you for free?”
He says the same goes for the Google Nest and Amazon Echo and Alexa devices. To get the full experience, you need more than one.
“Once you’ve got one in your home, your temptation is to go deeper and deeper and deeper,” said Ryder. “I can make more money from you down the road — whoever gets there first is going to mine you the most.”
Amazon dominates smart speaker market
Right now, said Ryder, Amazon dominates, with almost 70 per cent of the market. Google has 25 per cent, with Apple and others fighting for the final five per cent.
“So if I can get into the home — however I can get that first thing into the home, it’s probably worth it because I can make my money down the road” said Ryder, through app purchases and add-ons like smart thermostats and video doorbells.
They also tap into millions of artificial intelligence trainers, who all contribute in their own way to machine learning and making a better, more reliable product says Graham Taylor, an AI expert who has worked on Google’s Brain Team. He’s now the Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning.
“This data is pretty valuable,” said Taylor. “The obvious value is in marketing you goods, controlling the retail channel and being able to send you ads for things it thinks you need. But the other less obvious one is around improving the system for all users.”
An ‘essential ingredient’
It comes back to a basic principle of machine learning: you’re interacting with examples provided by a system, and teaching it to learn from those examples.
“You’re supplying an essential ingredient for the training,” said Taylor. “It’s not just the raw data, it’s the labelling and putting that data in context — something we still really rely on people to do.”
For its part, Google says its goal with the Google Nest Mini giveaway was “to reward YouTube Music subscribers. Nest Mini is a small smart speaker with big sound, making it a fun way for [YouTube Music] subscribers to listen to their favourite songs, hands free.”
A spokesperson didn’t directly respond when asked to what extent user content is used to advance its machine learning, but did say its devices would only send audio to Google when keywords like “Hey Google” are used, and you can delete any of those recordings through the Nest app.
It also said the microphone can be turned off using a physical button on the device and pointed to its Google Nest privacy principles for more details.
Sony apologizes for PlayStation 5 pre-order disaster – Polygon
Pre-orders for Sony’s next-gen console, the PlayStation 5, opened shortly after the company announced its release date and price details. To put it nicely, it was a mess. Retailers went rogue and opened pre-orders early — a day ahead of the Sept. 17 date announced by Sony. Sites crashed and people panicked wondering whether they’d get their hands on a next-gen console or not.
As it turns out, Sony has recognized the error of its ways. “Let’s be honest: PS5 preorders could have been been a lot smoother,” Sony tweeted from the PlayStation Twitter account on Saturday. “We truly apologize for that. Over the next few days, we will release more PS5 consoles for preorder — retailers will share more details. And more PS5s will be available through the end of the year.”
Let’s be honest: PS5 preorders could have been a lot smoother. We truly apologize for that.
Over the next few days, we will release more PS5 consoles for preorder – retailers will share more details.
And more PS5s will be available through the end of the year. pic.twitter.com/h1TaGsGBun
— PlayStation (@PlayStation) September 19, 2020
Specific details on future pre-order windows are still unclear.
To add more chaos to the pre-order mess, Amazon reported on Friday that people who did secure pre-orders might still see delays in getting their consoles. The company emailed pre-order customers and warned them they “may not receive this item on the day it is released due to high demand.” It continued: “We’ll make every effort to get the item to you as soon as possible once released.”
Sony’s next-gen competitor, Microsoft, is opening pre-orders for the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S on Sept. 22. The company appears to be more confident in its pre-order processing, providing exact timing for the pre-order launch. Pre-orders open Tuesday at 11 a.m. EDT.
Microsoft to Buy Bethesda for $7.5 Billion to Boost Xbox – Bloomberg
Microsoft Corp. said Monday it plans to acquire ZeniMax Media Inc., owner of the storied video-game publisher Bethesda Softworks, for $7.5 billion in cash, marking its biggest video game purchase ever.
Bethesda is the publisher of games like The Elder Scrolls, Doom and Fallout and also has at least two titles slated for debut next year. ZeniMax, based in Rockville, Maryland, also owns several other studios across the globe, giving Microsoft’s Xbox business a much-needed infusion of titles and game developers. It’s one of the biggest privately-held game companies with 2,300 employees worldwide, Microsoft said.
Microsoft is launching a new generation of Xbox consoles in November at the same time as Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 5. The games lined up for the new Xbox have so far disappointed some players, especially after Microsoft delayed its biggest title, Halo Infinite, until next year. The software maker has been adding new game creators and content, including acquiring six studios in 2018 and one last year. It spent $2.5 billion to purchase the maker of Minecraft in 2014.
Microsoft is leaning on its game subscription service, Game Pass, to draw in users and boost revenue and needs compelling content to attract customers to that product. Microsoft said Game Pass now has 15 million subscribers, up from the 10 million it announced in April.
“Bethesda’s games have always had a special place on Xbox and in the hearts of millions of gamers around the world,” said Xbox chief Phil Spencer in a blog post. “Our teams have a close and storied history working together.”
Recently however, Bethesda has been working more tightly with Sony. Bethesda had previously agreed to debut two of its upcoming games, Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo, on Sony’s new PlayStation rather than Xbox. Both games were announced as “timed console exclusives,” meaning that they would be restricted to the PlayStation 5 for a fixed period of time before coming to Xbox. It remains to be seen how this acquisition will affect that deal.
Microsoft expects the deal to close in the second half of its fiscal year 2021, which ends June 30, and to have “minimal” impact on its adjusted operating income for the current and next fiscal years. The shares were down 1.4% to $197.66 at 9:35 a.m. in New York.
Sony’s launch lineup for the PlayStation 5 is stronger than Microsoft’s and that machine is expected to outsell the new Xbox devices, the Series X and Series S, according to George Jijiashvili, an analyst at researcher Omdia.
Bethesda was a pioneer in the market for personal computer games and an early developer of new types of games. The company was founded by Christopher Weaver in 1986 and initially developed football and hockey simulation games, before releasing role-playing title The Elder Scrolls in 1994.
ZeniMax was founded in 1999 by Weaver and Robert Altman, the company’s chief executive officer, to serve as a parent company for Bethesda. Over the next decade, it acquired the Fallout franchise and Id Software, the maker of Doom and Quake. Bethesda’s structure and leadership will remain in place, Microsoft said.
Sony apologizes for PlayStation 5 pre-order disaster – Polygon
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