Alexa turns to HERE to crack the car market

Amazon is collaborating with navigation platform HERE in order to get its Alexa voice UI into the car of the future.

The announcement was made at CES 2019 and involves the integration of Alexa into the HERE navigation and location platform, thus giving it a voice UI dimension. This seems pretty sensible as in-car infotainment systems are already too complex to be safely operated via a touch screen, meaning cars are the perfect setting for enhanced voice interactions.

“The in-vehicle user experience is rapidly changing, and automakers today have the opportunity to deliver the next generation of services that maximize the vehicle’s utility as the ultimate connected device and providing consumers with the user experience they expect,” said Edzard Overbeek, CEO of HERE Technologies, before pausing for breath. “Our work with Amazon will drive a truly differentiated and delightful user experience, from the home to the car, to where you want to go, and what you need to know.”

In a parallel announcement HERE launched a new version of its platform called HERE Navigation On Demand, which is positioned as ‘The world’s first SaaS navigation and connected service solution for vehicles’. It seems to use the core SaaS concept of allowing OEMs and their customers to easily cherry-pick the aspects of the suite their individual needs dictate.

“HERE Navigation On Demand is the reinvention of in-car navigation for the era of the connected vehicle,” said Overbeek. “Our solution gives automakers the agility and flexibility they need to deliver the most competitive navigation experiences on the market. Moreover, it provides them the freedom to create their own business models that support their unique strategies.”

“We’re thrilled to be working with HERE to integrate Alexa with its in-vehicle navigation software,” added Ned Curic, VP of Alexa Auto at Amazon. “Because Alexa is integrated directly into the experience, automakers using HERE Navigation On-Demand can easily provide customers with an intuitive, voice-first experience in the car, and provide richer, more useful voice interactions at home and on the go.”

The in-car infotainment platform was has been fermenting for some time but it could be set to escalate. Google announced a big partnership back in September of last year and presumably isn’t keen to share the dashboard with HERE and Alexa. Forcing OEMs to make a long-term commitment to one platform probably isn’t a good idea however, which is why HERE may have been clever to adopt the SaaS model.

Samsung reckons its new smartphone UI is more intuitive than ever

The latest user interface for Samsung smartphones – One UI – tries to account for larger screens while avoiding excessive clutter.

“These days, our smartphones are so much more than phones,” opens the press release, apparently hoping to convey Samsung’s profound understanding of the current smartphone situation. All this extra functionality, we’re told, has caused many UIs to become cluttered. This is not a trap Samsung is about to fall into anytime soon.

“Samsung’s One UI is the company’s most simple and streamlined UI yet, built from the ground up to help users focus on what matters most,” effuses the release. “One UI’s intuitive design fosters convenient interactions, while its clean aesthetic minimizes clutter to make viewing your screen more comfortable.”

One fairly sensible innovation is to force most of the stuff you might need to interact with towards the bottom of the screen, where the average thumb has a better chance of reaching it. Now that smartphone screen sizes in excess of six inches have become commonplace, superhuman feats of manual yoga are often required to interact with them, which can be trying.

Somewhat less welcome is the apparent aim of presuming how much of a given app the user might want to see at a given moment. In order to do this “One UI keeps things simple, displaying only the functions and info the user needs to complete their task.” This seems pretty presumptuous and an example of a company overstepping the mark in its desperation to innovate and appear to be useful.

Xdadevelopers had a good play with One UI recently and concluded little more than grudging acceptance of its inevitability, given the evolution of the smartphone form factor. Custom UIs are a delicate balance as they present one of the few ways for an Android OEM to appear to innovate, but a bad one can drive users away. Samsung seems to have struck an OK balance here, without setting the world on fire.

P&G brings FMCG utopia to CES

The first tech show of the year has traditionally featured companies outside of its core constituency and CES 2019 is no exception.

The early star has to be FMCG giant Procter and Gamble (P&G), which owns some of the most familiar brands you see in the supermarket, especially in the toiletries and detergents sections. How can you possibly augment toothpaste, razors or skincare with the latest technology, you may ask? Well strap yourself in and prepare for a glimpse into the bathroom of the future, best described by simply copying and pasting the P&G CES announcements.

  • SK-II’s Future X Smart Store, transforming beauty retail shopping with facial recognition and gesture-driven “phygital” experiences, augmented by SK-II’s proprietary skin science and diagnostics.
  • Olay’s Skin Advisor platform, which uses artificial intelligence to provide personalized skincare analysis and recommendations by analyzing selfies and a short questionnaire.
  • The Oral-B Genius X toothbrush, which uses artificial intelligence to recognize how users are brushing and provides personalized feedback that leads to better brushing, and superior oral health.
  • The new Heated Razor by GilletteLabs, which features a warming bar that heats up in less than one second and elevates the shave experience, delivering the pleasure of a hot towel shave with every stroke.
  • Opté Precision Skincare System combines camera optics, proprietary algorithms, printing technology and skincare in one device that scans the skin, detects hyperpigmentation and applies corrective serum with precision application to reveal the natural beauty of skin.
  • AIRIA, a smart home fragrance system that uses patented, capillary action and heating technology to establish scent-enhancing ambiance with the touch of a button.

It’s hard to know which to get most excited about isn’t it? The thought of indulging in gesture-driven phygital experiences, then enjoying the pleasure of a hot towel shave with every stroke, finished off with the application of corrective serum, makes the mind boggle.

“We’re living in a time of mass disruption, where the exponential power of technology combined with shifting societal and environmental forces are transforming consumer experiences every day,” said P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard. “P&G is integrating cutting-edge technologies into everyday products and services to improve people’s lives. We’re combining what’s needed with what’s possible. By answering the question, ‘what if,’ we’re delivering irresistibly superior consumer experiences.”

“We’re innovating faster than ever, combining more than 180 years of capability with the entrepreneurial spirit of a lean startup,” said P&G Chief Research, Development and Innovation Officer, Kathy Fish. “As consumers are changing, so are we. What remains the same is our focus on deeply understanding how consumers live, work and play so we know precisely what they want. When we combine breakthrough science and technologies with this deep consumer understanding, we’re able to deliver transformative innovations that improve life every day.”

While P&G’s latest efforts are a case study in solving first world problems, that doesn’t mean they should be dismissed as utopian quirks. The core strategy of FMCG brands such as Gillette is to be seen to be constantly innovating in order to create a rapid sense of obsolescence and hence drive demand for upgrade purchases. It stands to reason, therefore, that they should be keen to embrace the latest technologies, however eccentric some of the outcomes might be.

iChief’s Samsung tie up is long overdue

The first (proper) week in January always promises a deluge of stories from CES and one opening gambit is a content-based partnership between Samsung and Apple, which should probably have happened much sooner.

Beginning in the Spring, new Samsung Smart TV models will offer iTunes Movies & TV Shows and Apple AirPlay 2 support for Apple customers, while 2018 models will also be made compatible via firmware update. iCultists with Samsung TVs can access their existing iTunes library and browse the iTunes Store to buy or rent new content, while Apple content will also work with Samsung’s Smart TV Services, such as Universal Guide, Bixby and Search.

The iTunes Movies & TV Shows app will feature on Samsung Smart TVs in more than 100 countries, while AirPlay 2 support will be available on Samsung Smart TVs in 190 countries.

On the surface this could be a very positive partnership for Apple and Samsung, both of whom have struggled to make a significant impact when searching for diversified revenues.

“Fascinating move as both companies have struggled to make strides in services,” said independent tech and telco analyst Paolo Pescatore. “Arguably it is a smart strategic move for both companies which underlines the need for companies to work more closely together. Samsung has made numerous failed moved in video services while Apple is still seeking to crack the TV landscape.”

Looking at Apple to begin with, this is a move which should have perhaps happened a while back. Stagnation trends in the devices and hardware segments will not have surprised anyone in the Apple business, this is the reason why CEO Tim Cook has been emphasising gains in the software and services business units so proudly, but it is now abundantly clear the ‘us versus everyone else’ mentality which made Apple great will not work outside its traditional stomping ground.

Apple has seemingly long-defied trends in the technology world by swimming against the ‘open’ euphoria. This mentality dates back to its stubborn but brilliant founder Steve Jobs, who constantly resisted the idea of openness, instead tightly integrated Apple within Apple, creating a closed ecosystem which forces iLifers to buy more Apple products. Back during a 2010 earnings call, Jobs stated “open systems don’t always win”.

When Apple was creating wonderful products, with each new release offering a brilliant new feature, this was enough to ensure the loyalty of customers despite the closed nature of the Apple business. However, innovation in the hardware segment has stalled and the closed mentality does not work in the software and services world. What some proof? Have a look at the profit warning last week.

The profit warning was the first one released by Apple in 15 years, and despite progress being made in the software and services segment, the gains could not compensate for the downturn. Although Cook pointed the finger of blame at a slowing Chinese economy, the team could not convince enough consumers to buy the ludicrously priced flagship devices in other territories either. This is a wider trend in the hardware segment, consumers are extending the lifecycle of current devices, while some are leaning towards second-hand models, but the software and services unit could not fill the $5 billion hole created.

To make the content business work, Apple will have to become a more open company, adopting the culture which it has resisted for so many years, and in Samsung it has an interesting partner.

In Samsung, Apple has found something which its own smart TVs cannot deliver; scale. According to market research firm NPD, Samsung is the leader in the US premium smart TV market (August report), holding 34% market share. Considering just over 43% of Apple’s revenue comes from the Americas, this is potential a very positive catapult to secure additional services revenues from customers. And this is before we’ve even started talking about the other territories.

Samsung is another business which has struggled to make headway with alternative revenue streams, though its prominent position in the premium home electronics space offers an excellent opportunity for the aggregator business model. When looking for new money each business has to decide where it can add value to the ecosystem; sometimes it is offering new products in parallel segments, but occasionally it means helping other businesses achieve their ambitions. Embracing openness could be an excellent move here.

If Apple wants to make any meaningful impact on the software and services industry, it will have to move away from the closed mentality which brought it success in the Jobs era and embrace the idea of collaboration. It will certainly be difficult to redirect such a massive supertanker, but one thing is clear; the faltering hardware segment, as it currently stands, will not support Apple’s indulgent ambitions.