Amazon Alexa is a “colossal failure,” on pace to lose $10 billion this year

Ron Amedeo for Ars Technician:

Amazon is going through the biggest layoffs in the company’s history right now, with a plan to eliminate some 10,000 jobs. One of the areas hit hardest is the Amazon Alexa voice assistant unit, which is apparently falling out of favor at the e-commerce giant. That’s according to a report from Business Insider, which details “the swift downfall of the voice assistant and Amazon’s larger hardware division.”

Alexa has been around for 10 years and has been a trailblazing voice assistant that was copied quite a bit by Google and Apple. Alexa never managed to create an ongoing revenue stream, though, so Alexa doesn’t really make any money. The Alexa division is part of the “Worldwide Digital” group along with Amazon Prime video, and Business Insider says that division lost $3 billion in just the first quarter of 2022, with “the vast majority” of the losses blamed on Alexa. That is apparently double the losses of any other division, and the report says the hardware team is on pace to lose $10 billion this year. It sounds like Amazon is tired of burning through all that cash.

The BI report spoke with “a dozen current and former employees on the company’s hardware team,” who described “a division in crisis.” Just about every plan to monetize Alexa has failed, with one former employee calling Alexa “a colossal failure of imagination,” and “a wasted opportunity.” This month’s layoffs are the end result of years of trying to turn things around. Alexa was given a huge runway at the company, back when it was reportedly the “pet project” of former CEO Jeff Bezos. An all-hands crisis meeting took place in 2019 to try to turn the monetization problem around, but that was fruitless. By late 2019, Alexa saw a hiring freeze, and Bezos started to lose interest in the project around 2020. Of course, Amazon now has an entirely new CEO, Andy Jassy, who apparently isn’t as interested in protecting Alexa.

Yes, Apple HomePods are expensive. Well, hardware is expensive and you can’t sell devices at a loss for a decade. Let that sink in.

If you look and compare at the two devices and their business models. Apple’s Siri is always at the heart of Apple devices and it makes all of their devices better and accessible. At the end Siri is part of Apples OS strategy.

Amazon echo on the other hand, I have no idea what is their business strategy. In the last 8 years of owning an echo dot, I have used it to set timers and occasionally my 9 year old has played jingles, songs and asked for help solving addition and subtraction problems.

Not once have we as a family ordered anything from Amazon using echo. And that was the big strategy behind Amazon Echo. I would love to see a product managers KPI dashboard for this product. Here is the thing, I use my iPhone 100% of the time to buy things on Amazon. If they could spend those billions of dollars to build a better iOS app, that would have paid better dividends.

Apple (still) exploring iPads with larger screens

The rumor mills are buzzing again at the prospect of iPads getting even larger screen (16″). Last year Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that Apple is working on iPads with larger screen. It was an interesting take but this caught my eye:

But a big iPad would be the perfect device for many people, including me, and would continue to blur the lines between tablet and laptop.

I honestly don’t think we need to bring the macOS to the iPad. We have iPadOS and between the two operating system things can get as blurry as possible and I’m absolutely fine with that but we have to keep in mind that the macOS is built for a precise pointing device like the Magic Mouse and the iPadOS is built for touch.

I had a nightmare when I had to use touch on the Windows OS. Yes people love it, but I have seen them trying to “touch” an area multiple times to get it right.

A bigger iPad can simply be a bigger iPad. I am a serious hobbyist when it coms to photography and I absolutely need my 16″ MacBook Pro when I’m editing my photographs. I occasionally retouch my photographs on the iPad but only when I have to do something quick. I know several people who would love to get a larger screen iPad for the work they do.

In my humble opinion, merging the two platforms would simply be a disaster. There is continuity now between your Mac and iPad; and it works amazingly well! That’s blurry enough for me.

User Experience (UX) Metrics for Product Managers using RUM

A while back I wrote an article about User Experience Metrics for Product Managers along with their hundred other KPI’s they keep track of. These specifically focused on how the product would perform on a user’s browser with tools like Google Puppeteer.

One of the things we product managers always want to track (and also struggle with) is how new features or services impact customers. Worst, what good product performance/experience means is never established be it web, table or mobile.

When I started out as a product manager, I didn’t even know how to benchmark user experience, but knew very well what the term user experience meant. To get a good understanding on user experience, I took up a job as a UX Designer for 3 years and although that was more focused on designing the right product for the person benchmarking or tracking any kind of UX metric was never a priority.

When pressed hard on user experience most organizations tend to solely rely on uptime and response time as two standard metrics to report on the success or failure of a new product, feature or a service.

RUM has been around ever since I started my first job (well over 20 years I recon) and the issue I fell is that people still don’t realize how best to utilize RUM.

I see product managers using RUM data to identify the different screen resolutions, or the most common browser being used and what part of the world is your user base coming from. Trust me, RUM can do a lot more than just that and provide you with valuable information about our product’s user experience and performance.

In 2020, Google announced Core Web Vitals as part of the Page Experience update. The findings that lead to these core web vitals weren’t surprising.

Speed matters – your web application should load smoothly and quickly. Jakob Nielson at the NN/g explains this very well in his article about the 3 important limits for response times.

0.1 second is about the limit for having the user feel that the system is reacting instantaneously, meaning that no special feedback is necessary except to display the result.

1.0 second is about the limit for the user’s flow of thought to stay uninterrupted, even though the user will notice the delay. Normally, no special feedback is necessary during delays of more than 0.1 but less than 1.0 second, but the user does lose the feeling of operating directly on the data.

10 seconds is about the limit for keeping the user’s attention focused on the dialogue. For longer delays, users will want to perform other tasks while waiting for the computer to finish, so they should be given feedback indicating when the computer expects to be done. Feedback during the delay is especially important if the response time is likely to be highly variable, since users will then not know what to expect.

Lets look at the three core web vitals that Google proposes:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance. To provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.

This is measuring your websites loading performance. How quickly your images are loading. To get a better score, make sure your images are optimized.

First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, pages should have a FID of 100 milliseconds or less.

This is measuring the interactivity of your website. How quickly is your website able to accept user input. Think about it, your users are using your applications for a very long time. At a certain point they have built motor skills where they know on the browser a button or dropdown is going to be and their mouse just gravitates to that spot. Prioritizing your items to be loaded and made interactive as soon as possible will allow users to get less frustrated and improve your user experience.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of 0.1. or less.

Visual Stability is very important. How often has it happened when you are reading a message and suddenly the page shifts because an ad loaded and its taking up more space now. Make sure your interface is set up to incorporate for those spaces as they fill up over time.

What I like about these core web vitals is that it provides a standard benchmark. This now makes it easy for you compare your core web vital performance against this benchmark.

The core web vital measures a few things that is essential to determine the user experience. It measures

  • how fast a user can interact with your website or mobile application
  • how quickly the content loads

The quicker that image loads the better user experience and a good web vitals score. We have come along way on this internet journey. Today the user expects the content to be loaded or at least the website to be interactive in under 4 seconds. Our attention span has grown shorter over the years. Anything longer and we move on or just get frustrated with the experience.

Have you hit refresh or a link multiple times? Back in the day, after entering the url or clicking a hyperlink, you could sit back and wait until the page loaded – and that was the expected experience. Today you are guaranteed to receive a few extra key strokes or mouse clicks if things don’t load faster.

Core Web Vitals are one of the most effective way to quantify user experience. And RUM is so versatile that these metrics and data can be used by anyone in your organization – be it Product Managers, Marketing Team, Engineering or Site Reliability Engineers.

Obviously we’ll have to comply…

Greg Joswiak (Joz) remarks when asked about EU regulations mandating a USB-C port on phones starting at the end of 2024.

Short interview and a good one. But the part where Joz emphasizes the EU regulation is wroth watching. Apple clearly does not like to be rushed. They have built products with so much thought and have been the second one to bring in a feature, but damn they nail that feature.

I remember Samsung phones using NFC chips to share contacts before Apple showed how best to use NFC to make payments and nailed the experience.

Apple increases its subscription prices

Benjamin Mayo for 9to5Mac:

The Apple Music monthly price has been upped by ~$1 for individuals and ~$2 for families. Apple TV+ is rising by $2 (which only has one tier and supports Family Sharing on all plans). Apple One is also going up by approximately $3 per month


From an Apple spokesperson:

The subscription prices for Apple Music, Apple TV+, and Apple One will increase beginning today. The change to Apple Music is due to an increase in licensing costs, and in turn, artists and songwriters will earn more for the streaming of their music. We also continue to add innovative features that make Apple Music the world’s best listening experience. We introduced Apple TV+ at a very low price because we started with just a few shows and movies. Three years later, Apple TV+ is home to an extensive selection of award-winning and broadly acclaimed series, feature films, documentaries, and kids and family entertainment from the world’s most creative storytellers.

This translates to increases of $1 to $2 per service, with Apple One tiers going up about $3 at the same time.

You know it’s inflation when the prices go up and you don’t get anything extra in return. Not even more iCloud storage.

Google says Matter is still set to fix the biggest smart home frustrations

Jennifer Pattinson Tuohy writing for The Verge:

We’ve committed to our new Nest Thermostat being on Matter, and we are still evaluating if the learning thermostat can handle Matter. It does have Thread. But just because it has Thread doesn’t mean we can run Matter on it.

So no HomeKit support for ever.

Google buys nest, makes some updates, funds the company to keep making one of the best thermostat. The iconic design for this thermostat along with its learning ability is what makes this thermostat a worry & hands free device.

Now, new updates are coming only to their cheaper version which has buttons, no learnability and horrible aesthetics.

Time to switch to ecobee.

Apple is now gonna be a Bank

Will Feuer at WSJ:

Once users set up their savings account through the Apple Card, future rewards from the card, called Daily Cash, can be deposited automatically into the savings account, Apple said. Users can also add their Daily Cash rewards to an Apple Cash card, which is a digital card in the wallet app that lets users send and receive money, the company said. Users can change the destination for their Daily Cash rewards at any time.

When Apple rolled out its credit card in partnership with Goldman Sachs it was a smart choice. Sometime before the card was launched , Goldman had introduced its High Yield Savings account Marcus – an online only bank account.

I have seen interest rates as low as 0.7% during the pandemic and as high as 2.35% as of this writing.

Interest is compounded daily and credited monthly to your account. Interest is calculated using the daily balance method. This method applies a daily periodic rate to the principal and interest that has accrued in the Account each day. This means that the interest from your Account is calculated every day on a 365-day year/ 366-day for leap years.

Apple is my default payment option when I’m paying by phone which is probably a very large part of my overall transaction. With a bank account now, they are going to make that ecosystem integration even more tighter.

Meta’s VR announcement at Connect 2022

Lipstick on a pig by Nick Heer:

Zuckerberg preemptively responded to criticisms like these by reminding everyone that this category is just getting started. But that is a bit of misdirection. Oculus, the virtual reality hardware company Meta bought, was founded in 2012; Meta bought it in 2014. On a technical level, Meta can point to plenty of improvements. But it is much more difficult for anyone to point to clarifications in the concept and purpose of virtual reality. Again, I would be an idiot to argue there are none at all, but this week’s keynote would have been a great time for Meta to illustrate something new and enrich the story. So far, it does not have legs.

I put an eye mask when I have trouble falling asleep or when I am traveling. Honestly, even as a video game platform this is super under powered.

I don’t think Meta has a use case that will launch VR as a mainstream product.

Although, my 10 year old enjoys flying over different cities at the local mall using these.


Instagram is dead

What a wonderful piece of writing by Om Malik:

It was a wonderful gathering place for photographers to showcase their work and build an audience. Not a day goes by when some photographer friend or the other bemoans how Instagram is no longer a place for photography. 

When I started out as a photographer-hobbyist a decade and a half back; Flickr was the platform where photographers form beginners to pro flocked and shared their creativity. I learned what mistakes I was making, composition, lighting and most importantly met people and have made life long friends. I was still on my blackberry which worked perfect to communicate and plan photo shoots but I always wondered, now that we have an iPhone, when will Flickr move to this new platform and bring this art to millions of more people.

Well, Flickr missed the boat and in came instagram and I was so excited to share my pictures and improve. But it looks like the platform that we all loved, is take a 180 degree detour.

What’s left is a constantly mutating product that copies features from “whomever is popular now” service — Snapchat, TikTok, or whatever. It is all about marketing and selling substandard products and mediocre services by influencers with less depth than a sheet of paper.

Clearly, instagram isn’t asking “Why” this product/platform exists, but are more focused on the “What”.

I recently moved to glass and so far it has been one of the best experience that I have had in a very long time.

IconFactory’s WorldWideWeb

I absolutely love IconFactory’s apps. I use at least 2 or 3 of them on almost a daily basis. Iconfactory’s developer Craig Hockenberry announced a new app recently and it home for me.

The Mac and Web have a long history together. From the very beginning, Mac OS X included the ability to run an Apache web server by clicking a Start button

About a decade ago, things started to change. Since then it’s gotten harder and harder to start a simple web server for testing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I eventually found a way to do it using AppleScript, but as Apple continues to remove open source components from its standard macOS distribution, this workaround isn’t likely to last.

It’s simple and yet powerful. Reminded me of my college and work days when starting an apache or IIS server and hosting your PHP application was the way to go about developing your app.

FYI, this works on macOS, iOS and iPadOS.