Category Archives: amazon

BBC’s Alexa Flash Briefing Slated with 1* Reviews



If there’s one thing that you’d expect the BBC to get right, it would be the news.  Ask people in the street about BBC news and you’d expect words like authoritative, impartial, insightful, confident and trustworthy to litter the responses. But going by the number of one star reviews on the BBC’s Alexa flash briefing, it looks (and sounds) like the BBC’s screwed up.

Following the history of reviews, it would appear that the BBC changed the flash briefing to its new format between 19 & 20 May because since then there have been over 150 one star reviews and they have not been kind.

This used to be excellent, now ruined by dumbing it down to something even Newsround would have found inane.” (Newsround is a children’s news programme)
Please, let’s return to the grown-up reports without the pointless jingles.”
Sounds like a children’s version of the news. Silly soundbites and background sound effects.
Two annoying ‘hosts’ trying to be cool in the morning is not what I use [the] BBC for”
Utter rubbish.

For those not in the UK, the BBC’s radio stations are aimed at different demographics. Radio 1 typically features the most recent pop music, Radio 2 is more mainstream playing a catalogue going back decades, Radio 3 is classical and jazz music, Radio 4 is news and current affairs, with 5 Live carrying sport and 6 Music catering for indie and special interest music. The serious news journalism comes from Radio 4 through programmes like Today, World at One and PM.

Having had a listen myself, I can hear what the complaints are about. It’s a pair of chatty presenters (Dee & Lee) who present lightweight news and often fail to lead with one of the main news stories of the day. It’s clearly aimed at a younger audience and even talks about topics “trending on social media”. Radio 4, it is not.

What surprises me is that the BBC doesn’t have multiple flash briefings. How hard would it be to have a couple of briefings aimed at different listener demographics? That would keep everyone happy. Instead, they’ve alienated a large chunk of their listening audience.


Keep Podcasts in Sync with Pocket Cast’s Alexa Skill



Pocket Casts is one of the most used apps on my OnePlus 3T, playing podcasts in the car and while out walking. It’s a great app, though I’m still in two minds about the new version 7.0. Why do app developers feel the need to alienate existing users with radical redesigns for no real benefit?

Regardless, one of the coolest features of Pocket Casts is that it keeps playback in sync across multiple devices. Say I listen to Geek News Central in my car and I get about half-way through the latest show. Once I’m home, maybe I want to use my tablet rather than my phone and Pocket Casts knows exactly where I got to in the GNC show. It picks up where I left off without missing a word. Very cool.

And even more cool is that Pocket Casts has an Alexa skill that plugs into the same ecosystem. Once setup on your Echo, it’s “Alexa, open Pocket Casts” and Alexa responds “Welcome to Pocket Casts. Would you like to keep playing Geek News Central?” I say, “Yes” and Alexa plays from wherever I was. Fantastic.
Alternatively, I could decline the initial offer and ask to play a different podcast from my library.

To enable Pocket Casts, and in particular, the cross-platform syncing, there are three things you need to do

  1. Buy Pocket Casts for your smartphone (both Android and iOS) and setup an account
  2. Enable the Alexa skill via the Alexa app
  3. Log in to your Pocket Casts account via the Alexa app to link your account

With the Alexa and Pocket Casts account now linked, you can listen to podcasts on all your devices without having to scrub backwards and forwards to find the right spot. Give it a try.


UK Government Feeds Alexa and Google Home



Good news for Alex and Google Home users in the UK. The government’s

The head of GOV.UK, Jennifer Allum, said, “We want to simplify people’s interactions with the government, making information clear and accessible to everyone.These results are promising because voice services can be a really convenient way to get information, particularly for people who find computers and phones hard to use.

You can ask Alexa, “When is Brexit?” which she answers accurately, but sadly she doesn’t seem to know who my Member of Parliament is. Then again, Alexa only has useful information…

Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash


Amazon and Google Announce Official YouTube App to Launch on Fire TV



Amazon and Google announced that in the coming months, the two companies will launch the official YouTube app on Amazon Fire TV devices and Fire TV Edition smart TVs, as well as the Prime Video app for streaming to Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices.

In addition, Prime Video will be broadly available across Android TV device partners, and the YouTube TV and YouTube Kids app will also come to Fire TV later this year.

The flagship YouTube app will be the easiest way for users to watch all of their favorite YouTube content on Fire TV. Users will be able to sign in to their existing YouTube account, access their full library of content, and play videos in 4K HDR at 60 fps on supported devices. In addition, standalone YouTube TV and YouTube Kids apps will also launch later this year on Fire TV devices and Fire TV Edition smart TVs where available.

Chromecast and Chromecast built-in users, along with Android TV users, will have easy access to the Prime Video catalog including the latest seasons of Amazon Originals like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Hanna, Homecoming Beach, Catastrophe and The Grand Tour, along with Amazon Original movies like Donald Glover’s Guava Island, and Academy Award nominated films like The Big Sick and Cold War.

Engadget points out that this ends “a long contentious relationship between Amazon and Google.” According to Engadget, the addition of YouTube apps only applies to Fire TV devices.


Amazon had a Record-Breaking Holiday Season



How many items did you purchase from Amazon as gifts for friends and family this holiday season? All those purchases add up. Amazon announced a record-breaking holiday season thanks to its customers all around the world, with more items ordered worldwide than ever before.

In a press release, Amazon revealed some interesting data about what people bought. It also included information, that I personally find to be sort of creepy, about how people used Alexa this holiday season.

  • Customers purchased millions more Amazon Devices this holiday season compared to last year – the best-selling Amazon Devices this holiday included all-new Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick 4K with all-new Alexa Voice Remote, and Echo.
  • It was a record holiday season for Amazon’s Kids Edition devices; customers purchased more Echo Dot Kids Edition and Fire Kids Edition tablets than ever before.
  • Customers purchased millions of Amazon Fire TV, Fire Tablet, and Kindle products this holiday season.
  • The best-selling electronics this holiday season included Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) Wireless Headphones, the Samsung Flat 65” 4K UHD 8 Series Smart LED TV, Apple iPad (Wi-Fi, 32GB) in Space Gray, Wemo Mini Smart Plug, Blue Yeti USB Microphone in Blackout, Wyze Cam 1080p HD Indoor Wireless Smart Home Camera, and HP Sprocket Photo Paper.
  • More than 50 percent of items sold via Amazon this holiday season came from small and medium-sized businesses.
  • The best-selling items at Amazon 4-star this holiday season included Amazon Smart Plug, al-new Echo Dot, Becoming by Michele Obama, L.O.L Surprise! Under Wraps Doll Series toys, and the DASH Rapid Egg Cooker.

The part of the press release that made me a little uncomfortable was the portions that revealed how much data Amazon can gather up from consumers. Here are some examples:

  • The fastest grocery delivery this holiday season took place in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was delivered in 12 minutes and 19 seconds, and contained La Croix Sparkling Water and Zevia soda.
  • Customers used Alexa to listen to hundreds of millions of hours of music this holiday season, compared to last holiday season, and on even more services – including Amazon Music, Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music, among others.
  • The number one holiday song that customers requested this holiday season was “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey.
  • Customers asked Alexa to turn on their holiday lights tens of millions of times this holiday season, with the number one request being “Alexa, turn on the Christmas tree.”
  • Customers requested 3x as many recipes this holiday season compared to last and asked Alexa for cooking-related advice twice as much.
  • Alexa helped mix hundreds of thousands of cocktails this holiday season – with eggnog and Moscow Mule being the most requested drinks.
  • The last Prime Now delivery on Christmas Eve was made at 11:30 pm in Berkeley, CA and included LEGO Super Heroes Captain America Building Kit, a Hallmark card, Greek yogurt, and shampoo.

Amazon Sent Cryptic Email About a “Technical Error”



Amazon sent a cryptic and somewhat confusing email to some users about a “technical error”. CNBC posted some tweets that included screenshots of the email. (This odd situation was first reported by Beta News.)

According to the tweets, the email from Amazon had the subject line: “Important information about your Amazon.com Account”. The email said: “We’re contacting you to let you know that our website inadvertently disclosed your email address due to a technical error. The issue has been fixed. This is not a result of anything you have done, and there is no need for you to change your password or take any other action.”

The wording is really weird. Some people have wondered why Amazon didn’t suggest that people change their email password – advice that is typically given after something like this happens. How long ago did the “technical error” occur? Amazon didn’t say.

It is troubling that Amazon clearly is aware that a “technical error” exposed some user’s email address to those who should not have it. But, for whatever reason, Amazon failed to let users know who their email address had been sent to.

I understand that this sort of situation might be considered a data breach, and that companies are supposed to let users know about what happened. Unfortunately, Amazon’s cryptic email failed to give affected users any clear idea of what happened or why it happened.

To me, it feels like Amazon is blaming their website for the “technical error” – as though the website was sentient and independently made the decision to send out people’s email addresses. It is like Amazon is trying to separate themselves from being blamed for whatever happens as a result of the “technical error”.

Amazon appears to have decided to keep things extremely vague. It sort of informed users about the “technical error”, but managed to leave out all significant details. This is not good enough.


Amazon Raises Minimum Wage to $15 for all U.S. Employees



I love when big companies do something that truly benefits their workers. Amazon announced that they are increasing the minimum wage to $15 for all full-time, part-time, temporary (including those hired by agencies) and seasonal employees across the United States. This raise will be effective on November 1, 2018.

Recode reported that Amazon said that workers who are already making $15 an hour would also see a pay bump. It is unclear how much that increase would be.

The $15 minimum wage will benefit more than 250,000 Amazon employees, as well as over 100,000 seasonal employees who will be hired at Amazon sites across the country this holiday. In other words, Amazon workers will get start to get more money right as the holiday season starts.

Even better – Amazon’s public policy team will begin advocating for an increase in the federal minimum wage. Senior Vice President of Amazon Global Corporate Affairs, Jay Carney, pointed out that the current rate of $7.25 was set nearly a decade ago.

The Economic Policy Institute supports a federal minimum wage of $15 by 2024. They point out that those who make the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour are making about 25 percent less per hour than their counterparts made 50 years ago (after adjusting for inflation).

I often find myself frustrated by big companies that fail to pay their workers a livable wage. Jeff Bezos, the founder, chairman and CEO of Amazon, has a net worth of $166.3 billion. It’s fantastic that he finally stepped up and decided to start paying his workers more money.

Image from Pixabay