(Originally written on 03/05/18 as part of Hi Mum! Said Dad’s weekly newsletter, H! Lites.)

Dear Reader,

We come to you equipped with some interesting developments over at Amazon and Google in the voice and app space this week.

Enjoy and have a great Bank Holiday weekend,

Hi Mum! Said Dad

Image source: CNET

Amazon launches Echo speaker for kids

Last week, Amazon unveiled a child-friendly version of its popular Echo Dot speaker. Notable features includes encouraging children to say “please” when issuing commands to Alexa, making it harder for children to make accidental purchases and access to FreeTime Unlimited, a subscription for children’s content. The puck-like speaker will come complete with a rubberised case and a two-year warranty in which any broken unit will be replaced for free (Amazon are clearly anticipating that a lot of children will put the Echo Dot’s build quality through its paces!).

It was not long ago that Facebook launched Messenger for Kids and now it’s Amazon’s turn to reveal its play for the upcoming generation of consumers. Both moves are attempts to hook children into an ecosystem early with the hope that network effects will make it difficult for them to move to another competitors’ ecosystem — i.e. it’s difficult to leave an ecosystem if all your friends are using it (think iMessage or Facebook).

These products arrive against the backdrop of revelations in recent months around Silicon Valley bosses including Steve Jobs and Tim Cook limiting the time their own children spend with technology at home and even in school.

By Jeevan Jayaprakash, Strategist

Albert, a startup that is already using Google’s .app domain. Image source: Albert.app

Google gives apps a new home on the web

Google has announced that it will be offering .app domain names for developers.

The hope is that .app can become the hub for learning more about an app, keeping updated on new features and what developers have planned. Visitors will also be able to deeplink to sections of an app from this page. One would imagine that Google will also encourage the use of Instant Apps on these pages in order to preview in-app experiences with a view to driving conversion.

Interestingly, Google has put a lot of focus on security in their statement about this new offering. By visiting an .app domain, Google says that visitors can be sure that they are about to download an app from a legitimate download source (third party app stores have become more commonplace but often feature apps that have been infused with malware). Google have also said they will be enforcing HTTPS encryption on .app domains to protect visitors against ad malware, ISP tracking and prying if visitors are using open WiFi networks.

It’s an interesting move that provides apps with a relatively more elaborate means to showcase their value to prospective users. Unlike app stores which mandate a certain format and set of best practices, it seems that .app pages will provide freedom for creativity.

By Oliver Iyer, Strategist

They probably won’t look like this. Image source: NYMag

Amazon is working on home robots — i.e. walking, talking Alexas?

Rumours are swirling that Amazon is developing a robot for the home with the project supposedly being codenamed “Vesta” internally (after the Roman goddess of the hearth, if you were wondering). One of the big giveaways that there could be something in the works comes from Amazon’s recent recruitment activity with job postings for robotics software engineers and sensor engineers being spotted by some eagle-eyed observers.

Bloomberg reports that people familiar with the project expect the robots to be mobile Alexas that can essentially follow people around their home. Given the advances in computer vision and self-driving car technology, teaching a robot to navigate a contained environment such as your home is not an obstacle at all.

As a natural evolution of Alexa, this completely makes sense. Having Alexa at your fingertips and not just confined to a few rooms in your house should make engagement easier and as brands and Amazon would hope, also ease the path to making purchases. Where it could become particularly interesting is if these robots come equipped with the ability to monitor the stock of household items and therefore proactively prompt users to replenish via Amazon Prime.

On an aside, this also begs the question what these robots will look like considering they are going to be an embodiment of the Alexa that the world has come to know and love (and hate…in those rare instances)?

By Jeevan Jayaprakash, Strategist

Pinterest’s new colour palette is designed to make interaction easier for visually impaired users. Image source: Mashable

The story of how Pinterest redesigned its app for the blind

Unfortunately, for some of us, our good eyesight won’t last forever. It’s inevitable that it will begin to deteriorate at some point in our lives and when that time comes, let’s hope that we aren’t excluded from using the products that we love.

One major tech company that has taken great strides towards inclusiveness in its design process is Pinterest. This great read tells the story of lead designer, Long Cheng’s, realisation that his product team had completely alienated a segment of their user base. A segment that, surprisingly, despite their visual impairments, claimed to find great utility in a visual inspiration tool such as Pinterest. Blind or visually impaired users may not be able to see pins on Pinterest but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they don’t have a desire to mimic the content of pins in their own lives.

Pinterest went deep with this and reimagined their whole user experience from the ground up with a completely new colour palette being introduced to accentuate contrast in the UI as well as barring the use of colour to convey meaning in the UI. The team even went as far as creating a pop-up testing lab where employees attempted to navigate the app with visual-impairment goggles.

It’s fantastic to see Pinterest leading the charge on this front and the extent of the effort they put in to get this right for what is a tiny proportion of their user base is truly admirable. Let’s hope others follow.

By Ray Cheung, Product Designer

Originally written as part of Hi Mum! Said Dad’s weekly newsletter, H! Lites.

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