Tinder tests ‘Swipe Surge’ in US to connect users during peak times

Tinder today announced the test of a new in-app experience it’s calling “Swipe Surge,” that will send notifications to users when there’s a spike in Tinder usage in their area. The feature is designed to allow Tinder to better capitalize on real-world events that drive increased usage – like music festivals, parties, or spring break […]

Tinder today announced the test of a new in-app experience it’s calling “Swipe Surge,” that will send notifications to users when there’s a spike in Tinder usage in their area. The feature is designed to allow Tinder to better capitalize on real-world events that drive increased usage – like music festivals, parties, or spring break holidays, for example.

The company says that it tested out sending push notifications to alert users about surge periods in its app back in 2016, and found that it resulted in users forming 2.5x more matches during a swipe surge.

Users also received nearly 20 percent more right swipes during these events, and they were 2.6x more likely to receive a message, Tinder noted.

Now it’s turning these push notifications into a real product with Swipe Surge.

In addition to the alerts designed to draw Tinder users into the app at the same time, the app will include “Swipe Surge” branding during the event. People who already joined the surge by responding to the push notification will then move to the front of the match queue, and Tinder will show you who’s currently active in the app.

Tinder says that activity during a surge is 15x higher overall, and increases matchmaking potential by 250%.

The company has been working to promote Tinder as a dating app for the younger demographic in recent months, with its marketing campaign focused on the “single lifestyle,” media publication “Swipe Life,” and a test expansion of Tinder U, its college student product.

The Swipe Surge test is underway now in major U.S. markets, says Tinder.

 

Amazon launches ‘Alexa-hosted skills’ for voice app developers

Amazon on Thursday launched a new service aimed at Alexa developers that automatically provisions and helps them to manage a set of AWS cloud resources for their Alexa skill’s backend service. The service is intended to help developers speed the time it takes to launch their skills, by allowing them to focus on their skills’ […]

Amazon on Thursday launched a new service aimed at Alexa developers that automatically provisions and helps them to manage a set of AWS cloud resources for their Alexa skill’s backend service. The service is intended to help developers speed the time it takes to launch their skills, by allowing them to focus on their skills’ design and unique features, and not the cloud services they need.

“Previously you had to provision and manage this back-end on your own with a cloud endpoint, resources for media storage, and a code repository,” explained Amazon on its company blog post, announcing the new service. “Alexa-hosted skills offer an easier option. It automatically provisions and hosts an AWS Lambda endpoint, Amazon S3 media storage, and a table for session persistence so that you can get started quickly with your latest project.”

Developers will also be able to use a new code editor in the ASK Developer Console to edit their code, while AWS Lamdba will handle routing the skill request, executing the skill’s code, and managing the skill’s compute resources.

Amazon S3, meanwhile, can be used for things the skill needs to store – like media files, such as the images being used for the skill’s Echo Show, Echo Spot and Fire TV versions.

The service comes at a time when Amazon Alexa and Google Home are in a race to grab market share – and mind share – in the smart speaker industry. A lot of this will come down to how useful these devices are for customers – and well-designed skills are a part of that.

Smart speaker adoption is growing fast in the U.S., having recently reaching 57.8 million adults, according to a report from Voicebot. But in terms of third-party development of voice apps, Amazon leads Google Home, having passed 40,000 U.S. skills in September.

Amazon says Alexa-hosted skills are available to developers in all Alexa locales. Developers can apply to join the preview here.

Walmart and Target embrace in-store mobile checkout for the holidays

Two of the U.S.’s largest brick-and-mortar retailers, Walmart and Target, are launching new mobile checkout systems in their stores to accommodate the influx of shoppers expected during the 2018 holiday season. Walmart says it’s expanding its “Check Out With Me” service to every Supercenter by Black Friday, while Target’s recently launched “Skip the Line” mobile […]

Two of the U.S.’s largest brick-and-mortar retailers, Walmart and Target, are launching new mobile checkout systems in their stores to accommodate the influx of shoppers expected during the 2018 holiday season. Walmart says it’s expanding its “Check Out With Me” service to every Supercenter by Black Friday, while Target’s recently launched “Skip the Line” mobile checkout service is available nationwide and will have extra staff throughout the store during the busier shopping days.

Walmart first began testing Check Out With Me in April this year across hundreds of U.S. stores.

The system involves store staff wearing a small carrying case equipped with a Bluetooth receipt printer, and a cellular device that works as both a barcode scanner and credit card swiper for transactions.

Initially, Walmart tested the solution in its Lawn & Garden centers across 350 stores, where there’s more need for a mobile checkout solution.

Instead of customers having to lug heavy items – like bags of mulch and potted plants – to a checkout station, a Walmart team member could instead just scan the item on the shelf, so it can be loaded directly into the customer’s car afterwards.

Now that checkout system will make its way to Walmart’s over 3,000 Supercenters across the U.S. Starting on Black Friday, store associates will be positioned in the busiest areas of the stores, including not only the garden center as before, but also in other high-traffic areas like electronics and “action alley” – the areas featuring special promotions in the aisles.

“Associates will help customers pay and go by simply swiping their credit card and providing them with a paper or electronic receipt for their purchase,” the retailer explained.

The expansion of mobile checkout was one of several holiday plans Walmart announced, including also an expanded assortment of brands, digital maps inside the Walmart app, the updated Walmart.com website, free two-day shipping from marketplace sellers, and more.

Meanwhile, Target is recently said it’s launching mobile checkout in its stores in time for the holidays, as well.

The company had begun testing its “Skip the Line” mobile checkout experience in select stores in February 2018, but has expanded that as of last month to all Target stores nationwide.

Similar to Walmart, Target’s solution includes equipping store staff with special handheld devices they can use to scan merchandise and process payments. From this same device, staff can also help customers place online orders if the store doesn’t carry an item they want.

During peak events – like Thanksgiving, Black Friday and others – team members will be positioned in the busiest areas of the store, including at the front-of-the-store and in the electronics department, the retailer says.

Today, more consumers are turning to e-commerce – and particularly to Amazon – for their holiday shopping needs out of convenience.

Now, those customers are looking for similar conveniences when they shop brick-and-mortar retailers, too. Stores are now catering to customer demand for faster, easier shopping by offering services like ship-to-store for online order pickup, same day order pickup (and driveup), and more.

With mobile checkout, retailers can address one of the remaining challenges of shopping in-store – those long checkout lines – without having to invest in expensive Amazon Go-like technology like camera systems and shelf sensors for a cashier-less experience.

 

Roku’s voice-powered wireless speakers and tabletop remote start shipping

In July, Roku unveiled its entry into the voice-powered speaker market, with a pair of Roku TV Wireless Speakers designed to work with the company’s lineup of partner-built smart TVs. Those speakers will now begin to ship to customers starting on Friday, November 16. They’ll also go on sale in advance of Black Friday at […]

In July, Roku unveiled its entry into the voice-powered speaker market, with a pair of Roku TV Wireless Speakers designed to work with the company’s lineup of partner-built smart TVs. Those speakers will now begin to ship to customers starting on Friday, November 16. They’ll also go on sale in advance of Black Friday at a discounted price, Roku says.

The speakers were previously available for pre-order and will normally retail for $199.99.

However, Roku will sell them starting on Sunday, November 18 through “Cyber Monday,” November 26, for $149.99.

The company had earlier said the speakers would begin shipping in late October, so this is a bit of delay on its part. But they’re still here before the holidays and in time for Black Friday, which is what’s most important.

The company’s goal with its voice-powered speakers is not really one of trying to compete with Amazon Echo or Google Home devices, however. Instead, the company wants to leverage voice specifically to enhance the experience of browsing, searching and controlling Roku’s software, which runs on the TVs.

Roku’s voice assistant is nowhere near as powerful as Google Assistant or Alexa, but in terms of navigating your TV by way of voice, it’s sufficient enough.

The speakers ship with the Roku TV Voice Remote, allowing you to press a button to issue voice commands, without having to get up the convenience of using a remote control to navigate your TV.

Of course, consumers aren’t expected to buy the speakers just for voice control – that’s just an added perk. Instead, the draw is that speakers do the job of a soundbar in terms of improving the sound quality of the TV’s audio. The speakers additionally include Roku’s Automatic Volume Leveling technology, which brings the volume down when the movie or show gets loud, and increases the volume during the quieter scenes to provide a more even audio experience.

Roku is also shipping another new product, the Roku Touch, on Friday, it noted.

This is the company’s somewhat odd battery-powered remote that sits on a tabletop, which is designed to work with the wireless speakers. The remote includes a press-to-talk microphone for controlling your TV from afar and is sold separately for $29.99.

With ‘Rivals Week,’ Tinder tests an expansion of its well-performing Tinder U

Starting this weekend, Tinder will allow college students on its Tinder U service to match with others outside their own university for the first time. The dating app is positioning this market test of a potential Tinder U expansion as the  “Rivals Week” – a way to match users with those who attend a rival […]

Starting this weekend, Tinder will allow college students on its Tinder U service to match with others outside their own university for the first time. The dating app is positioning this market test of a potential Tinder U expansion as the  “Rivals Week” – a way to match users with those who attend a rival university for a limited period of time.

Tinder U’s Rivalry Week starts November 17 in the U.S. for students attending 4-year, degree-granting colleges and universities. It ends November 24, Tinder says.

Tinder U itself is still a relatively new feature, having only launched a few months ago as a way to attract more younger users to its service and re-engaged lapsed users.

College students can choose to opt into Tinder U by signing up with their “.edu” email address. Once enrolled, the users can switch over to Tinder U using a toggle switch at the top of the app.

Until now, however, Tinder U limited users to matching only with those who attend their same school.

That changes with “Rivals Week,” as Tinder will now let students match with others at nearby schools – or even cross-country – just so long as those schools are considered a “rival.”

Tinder is not, of course, calling out the move as anything more than just a bit of fun. But the week-long event could return valuable data to the dating app maker, in terms of consumer demand for a Tinder U product that was less restrictive in terms of its catalog of potential matches.

The launch also notably fits in with Tinder’s new strategy to position itself as a dating app for younger users who are less interested in settling down into long-term relationships. The company is investing in a marketing campaign across the U.S. where it promotes the “single lifestyle” Tinder offers.

Essentially, the company is embracing Tinder’s reputation as the “hook-up app,” but in a way that brands short-term dating – if you can call it that – as a more positive thing.

Tinder is able to do this because its parent company, Match Group, now owns a majority stake in Hinge. It says it simultaneously plans to invest in growing that app’s user base along with its reputation for serious relationships.

Meanwhile, Tinder sees Tinder U as a possible growth engine for the young adult-oriented service.

“We created Tinder U to both attract new college students to the Tinder experience and re-engage students who have been part of the Tinder community in the past. Ultimately, we see it as a way to deliver more value to the college user by providing more relevant recommendations, which helps to increase engagement,” said Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg. “We’ve seen strong early traction with Tinder U, both in terms of driving higher swipe rates and higher retention,” she noted.

The Tinder U product is live in over 1,200 colleges across the U.S.

 

Google My Business app revamp challenges Facebook Pages

Google is giving its business customers a new way to reach their customers. The company is today starting the rollout of a revamped Google My Business mobile application for iOS and Android that will offer new tools for viewing customer info — including followers, reviews and messages — as well as a way to quickly […]

Google is giving its business customers a new way to reach their customers. The company is today starting the rollout of a revamped Google My Business mobile application for iOS and Android that will offer new tools for viewing customer info — including followers, reviews and messages — as well as a way to quickly create content to publish to their business profile on Google.

The changes arrive shortly after a recent update to Google Maps that introduced a new “Follow” button for tracking businesses, in order to stay informed about promotions, events and other news. The move made Google’s business profiles more of a direct competitor with Facebook Pages.

In the redesigned Google My Business app, a new “Customers” tab will centralize a business’s customers and their potential customers — like those who have chosen to follow the business, as noted above. Here, the business owner can track their reviews and view and respond to their messages.

Photocentric posting experience - Scale

To reach a business, customers are able to use a “Message” button on Google Maps or from Google Search to connect.

Before, businesses had to respond to these incoming messages from their device’s messaging platform. This is the first time they’ve been able to do so from within the Google My Business app. Messaging was also previously limited to the U.S., Canada, Brazil and India, but will now be available across most countries worldwide as of this week.

Also new is a “Posts” button that allows business owners a way to add content updates to their business profile on Google.

For example, a business may want to alert customers about an upcoming sale or promo, an event or new products they have for sale.

These are the sorts of updates they would have normally published elsewhere on social media, like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, perhaps. Now, they’ll be encouraged to do the same on Google’s platform, too, because of the potential to reach a wide range of customers through Google Maps and Search.

Google says the updates to the Google My Business app will begin to roll out on iOS and Android starting today, November 14.

Amazon’s Fire TV Recast is a decent DVR for antenna users

Amazon’s Fire TV companion DVR, the Fire TV Recast, is available today to the public, after previously having been only offered for pre-order. The new device offers a way for Fire TV owners to easily access free, over-the-air broadcast television directly from the Fire TV’s software. Starting at $229, this cord cutters’ DVR is something […]

Amazon’s Fire TV companion DVR, the Fire TV Recast, is available today to the public, after previously having been only offered for pre-order. The new device offers a way for Fire TV owners to easily access free, over-the-air broadcast television directly from the Fire TV’s software. Starting at $229, this cord cutters’ DVR is something of a modern-day TiVo, as it combines access to live TV, recordings, and on-demand programming all in one interface. But while the Fire TV Recast works as advertised, channel reception in your area can hinder your experience.

The Fire TV Recast was one of many products Amazon introduced at its over-stuffed Alexa event this September.

The device is designed to work with your existing Fire TV Edition television, Fire TV, or Fire TV Stick and a digital antenna, allowing you to watch live television directly in the Fire TV interface, as well as record programs.

Notably, the DVR recordings and live TV streams are also available via mobile, when you’re away from your home Wi-Fi network, even if you’re only on cellular.

This feature is available at no extra charge, just like the rest of what Recast offers – including its Live TV channel guide, DVR storage (either 500GB or 1TB with the option to expand through its USB port coming soon), and the companion mobile app.

 

If you’re already a Fire TV owner – or preparing to become one – it makes sense to consider the Recast over a competing solution like TiVo or a Plex DVR setup, because of how it integrates with your existing Fire TV. That means you’re using the same software you’re already familiar with, but enhanced with extra features like an “On Now” row that displays what’s currently airing and a “DVR” section to access your recordings.

From a software design standpoint, these additions feel natural, easy to locate and easy to use.

But in terms of being a usable, real-world solution, the Fire TV Recast is ultimately hit-or-miss, simply because it depends on an antenna.

Antennas aren’t for everyone

The Recast is an HDTV antenna-dependant solution. Antennas aren’t the best way to watch TV, they’re just the cheapest. That will appeal to some users, but turn off others.

Channel reception is highly variable based on a number of factors, including your location, surroundings, terrain, distance to TV broadcast towers, and channel availability in your area.

 

Before spending a couple hundred dollars plus on Amazon’s new DVR, you’ll want to first check out Amazon’s Purchase Assistant to see what’s offered in your area, as well as the FCC’s reception maps. You could also just buy the digital antenna first to test reception at your home before plunking down the big money for the DVR.

I wasn’t favored with good reception, unfortunately. No matter where my antenna was mounted – walls, windows, the second story, etc. – some of the channels were still garbled and glitchy. This is really a “your mileage may vary” solution – I’m many miles from some broadcast towers. The better your reception, the more you’ll enjoy the Fire TV Recast.

Another factor to consider is that while adding a digital antenna to your cord cutting mix is cheaper than, say, a year of Hulu, you’re not getting high-quality content. While the FCC has approved a new broadcast standard (ATSC 3.0) that will support 4K UHD picture quality, there are no 4K over-the-air TV broadcasts available today – and that won’t likely change for some time

That means when you’re switching back and forth from 4K programming on your Fire TV Stick 4K to this lower-quality, over-the-air content, you’re really going to notice the difference.

That being said, there are things people want an antenna for – like live sports, local news and programming, and other live events, like award shows. While some of this content is moving to streaming, it’s not typically streaming for free.

Getting Started with Recast

The setup was extremely simple.

The antenna connects to the Fire TV Recast, and can be placed anywhere in your home. That’s actually the best part because no matter where you mount a digital antenna, it’s not exactly a thing of beauty. In fact, it pretty much junks up the room, aesthetically speaking.

Seriously, the best part is that using an antenna doesn’t have to ruin your living room anymore

The newly updated Fire TV app walks you through a series of setup screens that helpfully offer tips on antenna placement, and helps you get the Recast connected to your Wi-Fi network. (It’s the same process as connecting an Amazon Echo, and only takes a minute).

When complete, the Recast scans for available channels.

My app crashed once during this scanning process, but it’s a beta build. This may or may not still be bug when the public release arrives.

When finished, you can watch TV or recordings right in the Fire TV app, in addition to Fire TV itself. Soon, you’ll be able to record programs from the app, Amazon says.

Multiple people can stream from a Recast at the same time, but streaming to multiple iOS devices is rolling out shortly after launch, Amazon also noted.

Using the Recast with Fire TV

As far as browsing the Recast, everything is nicely organized on your Fire TV interface.

Scroll down on the Home screen, and a row of live TV shows is blended right in with your other options, like Amazon’s Prime programming or your Amazon Channels subscriptions.

The “DVR” menu at the top lets you quickly get to your recorded programs, so you can watch or delete them, as desired.

And the Live TV channel guide lets you search ahead up to two weeks’ of programing to find things to record.

None of this feels tacked on at the last minute, and navigation is not confusing. It all fits in seamlessly with Fire TV’s other content and its user interface. There’s zero learning curve.

In my experience, the TV programs loaded fairly quickly, if slower than launching a show on Netflix, for comparison’s sake. I personally felt that watching on mobile was a better experience than viewing shows on the big screen, because you don’t notice the poor picture quality as much when on mobile.

The other key feature is voice control.

You don’t need a Fire TV Recast in order to voice control a TV, to be clear. That’s a Fire TV feature, too.

But Alexa has been updated to work with the Recast, so you can say things like “Alexa, open Channel Guide,” “Alex tune to NBC,” or “Alexa, show my recordings,” among other things. You can even record shows, cancel recordings, and delete recordings by voice commands, as well as rewind and fast forward by a period of time.

For giggles, I suppose, you can also stream live TV and watch recordings on an Echo Show, Amazon’s screen-based Alexa speaker. You can pair your Bluetooth headphones with an Echo Show and have a great desk accessory for the office, I guess, or catch up on shows while cooking dinner in your kitchen.

I am probably never going to watch TV on an Echo Show. But hey, have fun with that if you do.

A good addition, if you’re happy with antennas

If you’re in the market for a connected DVR and are a Fire TV owner, the Fire TV Recast can be a good addition to your setup – if you get reception and don’t already have another way to watch the TV you want – like through Hulu or Sling TV, for instance.

If you’re a Roku or Apple TV owner, however, it may not be worth abandoning your current platform just for the Recast, unless you’re really in need of cheaper access to live TV,  or on-the-go access to live TV and recordings.

For those who fit that description, it’s easy to recommend the Fire TV Recast over rivals for its well-designed software, easy of setup, mobile streaming, and the ability to hide the ugly antenna in another room.

Depending on how much you TV want to record, there are two Recast models to choose from: the $229.99 50GB Recast offers 2 tuners and up to 75 hours of HD storage, while the $279.99 1TB Recast offers 4 tuners and up to 150 hours of HD storage.

Amazon is also selling an equipment bundle with the Recast, Fire TV Stick 4K, and 35-mile HDTV antenna for 249.97, which is a good deal if you’re ready to commit.

Tech Specs

  • Size: 7.1″ x 7.1″ x 2.9″ (180 mm x 180 mm x 73 mm)
  • Weight: 2.4 lbs (1066 g)
  • ASTC Tuners: 2 or 4
  • Storage: 500GB or 1TB
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Wi-Fi: 2.4 G WiFi 2×2 Wi-Fi b/g/n and 5 G  Wi-Fi 2×2 Wi-Fi a/n/c
  • Ports: 1 x Type A USB 3.0 (storage support in the works); TV antenna input; Gigabit Ethernet, Power
  • Regional Support: US only
  • Accessibility Features:  VoiceView screen reader; Closed captioning, where available
  • Included in the box: Fire TV Recast, 50W Power Supply, Quick Start Guide

 

We tried Amazon’s bizarre Alexa microwave and weren’t convinced

I’m a fan of Alexa and of voice computing in general. But when Amazon said it was putting Alexa into a microwave, I wasn’t so sure. The value in voice computing is being able to get to news, information, music hands-free, as well as perform simple tasks, including those for the smart home – like […]

I’m a fan of Alexa and of voice computing in general. But when Amazon said it was putting Alexa into a microwave, I wasn’t so sure. The value in voice computing is being able to get to news, information, music hands-free, as well as perform simple tasks, including those for the smart home – like changing the thermostat from downstairs, or taking a peek at your security camera video from your Echo Show. But a microwave? Really?

Microwaves, after all, are one of the most common kitchen appliances. And, unlike conventional ovens, they’re dead simple to use.

Amazon, however, would disagree.

The company believes consumers aren’t taking full advantage of their microwave’s more advanced settings, which are overly complicated. That’s where Alexa could help, the company says.

“Most people don’t use them for all the features that they’re able to do – like presets and ways you can do some more complicated cooking are beyond the reach of most people,” said Charlie Tritschler, Vice President, Amazon Devices. “And oftentimes folks just resort to pushing the ‘Add 30 seconds’ button a bunch of times,” he continued. [Microwaves] are great for cooking simple things like popcorn, but if you want to defrost or use some of the other presets, you sometimes have to go to the owner’s manual,” he said.

Of course that’s not universally true. Perhaps some microwaves may not have the most intuitive interfaces, but the learning curve isn’t steep. After the first time you learn to program the power level or enter in how many pounds of meat you’re defrosting, you generally retain that knowledge for later use.

But even if you don’t buy into the premise that microwave controls are a challenge to solve, there’s still the novelty aspect of the voice-activated microwave. If it takes the same or less time, but “feels fun,” some consumers may still buy it, I suppose. (???)

Unfortunately, it wasn’t really all that fun.

In fact, it was often frustrating.

The Alexa microwave is not like your Echo. It’s more like a companion device to your Echo, as it uses Alexa Connect Kit technology. To use it, you have to pair the microwave with an Echo speaker. Then, you can control it by voice commands that begin with “Alexa,” or you can push a button and omit the “Alexa” part of the command.

The Echo speaker also needs to be near-ish the microwave, I found. We first tried shouting over to the living room Alexa and half the time she didn’t hear us, despite our home’s open floor plan. That means you’ll probably have to buy an Echo for the kitchen to use this thing.

Amazon only gave us a day to play around with the microwave, so we didn’t try some of the fancier recipes – perhaps it has value there – but our initial impression is that this feels much more like a demo of Alexa technology than a future top seller on Amazon.com.

The AmazonBasics microwave itself is a small 700W tabletop device (17.3″ x 14.1″ x 10.1″) that weighs 21.9 lbs. It has 10 power levels and cleverly connects to your Wi-Fi network using Amazon’s brand-new Wi-Fi simple setup – which, honestly, was the most impressive feature. It retails for $59.99.

After turning the oven on, the clock flashed 0:00 for a few seconds, then, the next thing you know, it switched to the correct time and appeared as a new device in the Alexa app ready to be paired with an Echo. Can everything be this easy to set up in the future, please?

The device includes a ring and turntable and has a standard set of buttons on the front for manual control, including defrost buttons by time and weight, a power level button, dedicated popcorn button, timer, and Start/Stop and Pause buttons, in addition to the “Ask Alexa” button at the bottom.

You can also configure the microwave to re-order your popcorn through Amazon’s replenishment service, but this requires that you commit to a brand and pack size you always want to have on hand. I like popcorn as much as the next person, but I’m okay going without, too. If, however, you are some sort of popcorn monster, well…okay then, that’s a feature for you.

As far as actually using the microwave, it responds to a range of voice commands. For example, “Alexa, reheat one cup of coffee,” “Alexa microwave one cup of soup,” “Alexa microwave two potatoes,” “Alexa reheat one dinner plate,” “Alexa, reheat 8 ounces of pasta,” and so on, thanks to the dozens of quick-cook presets that come with the device.

You can also command Alexa to microwave something by indicating the time to cook.

The command set Amazon has built seems to indicate that people don’t know how long to microwave specific items...reheating a dinner plate? A cup of coffee? Some pasta?

But in reality, most people probably have a good guess by eyeballing their plate (or cup), and then mashing a number button on the microwave to turn it on for a minute, two, three or more, as needed.

I mean, sure, maybe if we took the time to adjust the power levels, things would cook better – but if we wanted “better,” we’d use a real oven, right?

In any event, pushing a single button is a lot simpler than talking to an oven.

Above: harder ways to do easy things

Once set up, you can use the Alexa commands as you would any other smart home gadget (i.e. “Alexa,” followed by the command), or you can push the microwave’s “Ask Alexa” button then give her a command without saying Alexa.

Having…umm…not read the manual at first – the very thing Amazon said people don’t do! – I didn’t even realize that was the case, initially.

So when the microwave didn’t perform as I expected to an “Alexa” voice command, I initially assumed the “Ask Alexa” button press was always required.

That’s not true, though: we had just said the command wrong. In this case, the proper voice command should have been: “Alexa, microwave for 2 minutes.” With the button push, it could have been just “two minutes.”

I do understand that an “Alexa, two minutes” command could be confused with a timer, but couldn’t Alexa tell I just shut the microwave door, then make a logical, A.I.-powered leap? (After all, she does seem to have some sort of “door awareness.” I asked her to microwave something after not using the oven for a bit – I had left a cup of water inside – and she told me the microwave door had been closed for too long – so, sorry, she won’t do it.)

After reading the manual, and learning of my error, I successfully started the oven both ways – with and without the button.

But sometimes Alexa’s ability to understand the commands was confounding.

For instance, Amazon’s manual says that you can also give voice commands while the microwave is cooking. But when I said simply, “Alexa, add 30 seconds” while the oven was cooking, Alexa said she “didn’t know that one.” (I then had to push the button for it to work.)

This seemed like a command Alexa should have figured out, though. The microwave was currently running! I had no timers! What on earth did Alexa not understand about “Add 30 seconds?” 

Again, the issue appears to be one of semantics. The voice command without a button push should have been “Alexa, add 30 seconds to the microwave.

I know.

ARGHHH!!!, is kinda how I felt too.

Being able to say “Alexa” sometimes and other times not adds a bit of cognitive overhead to using the voice commands. Instead of making things easier, it complicates them.

After, pushing the button, you can just say “2 minutes.”

But, surprisingly, it’s actually hard to remember to drop the “Alexa” bit when it’s been the precursor to using voice commands for so long.

Case in point:

I actually think the product would have worked better if there was one way to issue voice commands, not two. Or if the door opening and shutting would also trigger the same “button push,” instead of there being an actual button to push.

At the end of the day, there’s a much simpler way to do things on a microwave.

Spotify officially launches its Apple Watch app

Following reports of its testing, Spotify today has launched its long-awaited Apple Watch app. The app allows users to control the playback of Spotify’s streaming service from their Watch’s screen, as well as connect to devices like their computer, Wi-Fi speaker and more through Spotify Connect, toggle on Shuffle, access music playlists and other recently […]

Following reports of its testing, Spotify today has launched its long-awaited Apple Watch app. The app allows users to control the playback of Spotify’s streaming service from their Watch’s screen, as well as connect to devices like their computer, Wi-Fi speaker and more through Spotify Connect, toggle on Shuffle, access music playlists and other recently played items, favorite tracks with a heart, and more.

The news was announced today on Spotify’s blog, where it details the app’s features, which also include the ability to play podcasts, in addition to music.

“We know the importance of having music on the go, which is why we’re excited to bring a new Spotify app to our highly mobile users on Apple Watch,” the company said. “With this new app, users can enjoy an improved experience with better control and the ability to seamlessly connect to your speakers or devices.

The App Store’s release notes indicate this is a “first version” of the Watch app, which hints more changes will come.

Spotify confirms that’s the case, noting that a future release will include support for listening to music and podcasts while offline, too.

Beyond just playing or stopping the play of music or podcasts, the new app also lets you do things like skipping tracks or rewinding a podcast by 15 seconds to catch something you missed – all right from your Apple Watch face.

Though the app is officially live, Spotify says the new experience will be rolling out to Apple Watch users over the coming week. In other words, you may find that you can’t immediately add the Watch app as of today, but you should be able to soon.

To access the app, you’ll need the latest version of Spotify (v.8.4.79) from the App Store.

Amazon’s Alexa Fund invests in on-demand parking service, ParkWhiz

ParkWhiz, a startup that’s something of an Open Table for available parking spots, is adding $5 million in new equity to its recently announced Series D round. The new funds come from strategic investors Amazon’s Alexa Fund, Alate Partners, Chaifetz Group and Purple Arch Ventures. Combined with the earlier round led by NewSpring Capital, the total raise […]

ParkWhiz, a startup that’s something of an Open Table for available parking spots, is adding $5 million in new equity to its recently announced Series D round. The new funds come from strategic investors Amazon’s Alexa Fund, Alate Partners, Chaifetz Group and Purple Arch Ventures. Combined with the earlier round led by NewSpring Capital, the total raise was $25 million.

The parking service has expanded over the past couple of years across the U.S. and Canada, and now counts 40 million customers to date who have used ParkWhiz to find parking in garages and lots. The service today powers transactional parking services for hundreds of partners, including sports teams and venues, events, travel providers, airlines, hotels, automotive OEMs, and navigation systems within their own apps and sites, it says.

For Amazon, the value in partnering with ParkWhiz has to do with its adoption of voice-based computing.

Using Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, ParkWhiz customers can find and reserve parking spaces using only their voice.

This investment makes even more sense when aligned with Amazon’s recent efforts to bring Alexa to vehicles as part of its larger agenda to capture market share in voice computing.

In September, the company announced a slew of new Alexa devices, including Echo Auto, which plugs into a car’s infotainment system to provide voice access to things like traffic reports, news, shopping lists, smart home control, and third-party skills – such as the one ParkWhiz offers.

“The Alexa Fund was created to support companies building compelling products and services that leverage voice technology, and ParkWhiz is a fast-growing company that fits that profile perfectly,” said Paul Bernard, director of the Amazon Alexa Fund, in a statement. “Customers love using its Alexa skill to find and reserve parking spaces using just their voice, and we’re excited to support them as they pursue deeper integrations with Alexa at home and on the go.”

In addition to voice access to parking, ParkWhiz offers a mobile app as well as the option to book over SMS or through an embedded solution in the car.

ParkWhiz says the strategic investors were added to the round for more than their capital, but rather their ability to add value as it expands customer reach, inventory, and its “Arrive” parking network.