Posted by Jeevan Jayaprakash
In this issue, we take a look at (another!) new smart speaker Amazon, the new darling of the British tech scene and we revisit what could be Google’s new operating system.
If you have any general questions about the contents of our digests or what it could mean for you, please don’t hesitate to drop us a message.
Have a great week,
Hi Mum! Said Dad.
Amazon is back at it again — this time with the Echo Show
It was only two weeks ago that we brought you the news of the rather controversial Echo Look. Well, it turns out that wasn’t all Amazon had up their sleeve as they debuted another smart speaker in quick succession.
Only a few days ago, Amazon unveiled the Echo Show. As the moniker somewhat eludes to; the company’s latest smart speaker’s differentiator is its 7-inch touchscreen. The Echo Show is able to receive audio and video calls from fellow Dot/Echo and Show users, respectively (anyone with the Alexa app can also message or call anyone who has an Echo Show) — some have likened this to the comeback of the landline. The inclusion of a screen also augments the functionality offered by Alexa’s skills by allowing users to see lyrics of songs, live video from smart home security cameras as well as the ability to stream content through YouTube/Amazon Prime Video, just to name a few examples. Interestingly, this only comes a few days after Phil Schiller’s (Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing) criticism of existing smart speakers and in particular, the need for smart speakers to have a display for certain use cases.
As we mentioned in the last Digest, Amazon’s core business is e-commerce and the introduction of a screen addresses the elephant in the room with regards to the Echo/Dot — when it comes to new products, people still need to see products before they commit to buying. In other words, the lack of a screen on the Echo/Dot meant that they only really drove repeat purchase (Amazon Dash Buttons also but this is by design). However, the Echo Show could potentially open the floodgates for Amazon through its ability for discovery. That’s probably the hope anyway.
Amazon is clearly not prepared to rest on its laurels despite its commanding first mover advantage. Instead, it is doubling down as others prepare to enter the race. Only last week, Microsoft announced the launch of Harman Kardon’s Invoke speaker, which is powered by Microsoft’s Cortana Assistant. The rumours that Apple’s employees are testing a smart speaker in their own homes has intensified and with Schiller’s comments from last week, many are expecting the ‘Siri speaker’ to feature a screen like the Echo Show. If KGI Analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo is to be believed (he has a decent track record), we could even see Apple’s speaker unveiled at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference next month.
An improbable feather for the British tech industry’s cap
DeepMind, Magic Pony, Babylon Health, Funding Circle and Monzo — Silicon Valley may be considered the pinnacle of technological innovation but Britain has produced some exciting prospects of its own in recent times. In fact, the founder of Twitter and Square, Jack Dorsey, recently admitted that Silicon Valley has been shooting some envious glances over at Britain and its AI prowess in particular.
Britain can now add another pioneer — this time in the virtual reality space — to its ranks in the form of Improbable, which has just raised $502m of investment in a round led by Japan’s SoftBank and that also included Silicon Valley’s Andreessen Horowitz. The round is believed to put the total valuation of Improbable at close to $1 billion.
So what’s the deal with Improbable?
Improbable was founded by Herman Narula and Rob Whitehead, two computer science graduates from Cambridge. The story goes that Narula was presenting on graphics and Whitehead on computer vision at a dissertation meeting when they hit it off and decided to start a business, as you do. Both keen gamers, the initial idea was to create complex worlds for video games in painstaking detail and they managed to do just that. Improbable created a platform called SpatialOS which lets developers design and build detailed gaming environments via distributed cloud computing. The highly anticipated gaming title, Worlds Adrift (currently in beta), is powered by Improbable’s SpatialOS. An IGN commentator labelled Worlds Adrift as “one of the most ambitious physics games I’ve ever seen”.
However, SpatialOS can go further. Gaming is only beginning to scratch the surface and this is precisely why SoftBank, Andreessen Horowitz and Horizon Ventures have whipped out the cheque book. SpatialOS is ideal for recreating complex virtual simulations of systems such as transport and marine life that allows the likes of city planners and scientists to understand how introducing change into such complex, interconnected systems affects outcomes. In fact, Improbable has recently created a complete simulation of the city of Cambridge, including details such as its sewerage and mobile networks, power grids and road traffic — all of which can be invaluable information for potential infrastructure projects.
Investors have likened the SpatialOS platform to “an Oracle or Microsoft-scale opportunity” and believe the technology could be truly transformational going forward. Considering the sums of money involved, the potential of Narula and Whitehead’s brainchild isn’t in doubt.
Google seems to be working on the successor to Android
Back in August 2016, we brought you the news that Google are potentially building a new operating system called Fuchsia.
In the past few days, we have received more information about the project. Google has given us a glimpse into the UI of Fuchsia (coined ‘Armadillo’ — see above). The move from a command line back in August to an actual UI suggests that Google might just be taking this one seriously. Google continue to keep their cards close to their chest though and haven’t provided any further information to the public on its plans for Fuchsia. However, the official documentation for Fuchsia does give us some clues.
Fuchsia’s documentation states that the OS is targeted at “modern phones and modern personal computers with fast processors, non-trivial amounts of RAM with arbitrary peripherals doing open-ended computation”.
We know that Android was launched back in 2007 when technologies like AR and VR were at the margins but fast forward to 2017 and they are considered to be the future. It makes sense that Google might want to repurpose its crown jewel to take full advantage of the rise of these technologies and Fuchsia’s focus seems to be very much on high performance. Also, the reference to modern phones AND modern computers suggests that this may well be one operating system to rule them all, i.e. the consolidation of Android and Chrome OS (the OS that runs on Chromebook laptops).
Fuchsia’s interface and apps are also written using Google’s Flutter SDK which produces cross-platform code. This is significant because it means that if developers start using the Flutter SDK, they will be able to produce one codebase for apps that can run on Android, iOS (yes, you read that correctly) and of course Fuchsia, thereby smoothing any transition from Android to Fuchsia that might eventually need to take place.
Android isn’t done just yet though. These are still very early days for Fuchsia and there is clearly still a long way to go but do watch this space.
Originally written as part of Hi Mum! Said Dad’s Weekly Digest.
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