Amazon

Amazon reportedly ramps development on Alexa-powered home robot on wheels

Posted by | Amazon, Gadgets, hardware, Mayfield Robotics, robot, TC | No Comments

Bloomberg reported last April that Amazon was working on a home robot codenamed “Vesta” (after the Roman goddess of the hearth and home), and now the publication says that development on the project continues. Plus, the report includes new details about the specifics of the robot, including that it will indeed support Alexa and have wheels to help it move around. My terrible artist’s rendering of what that could look like is above.

The plan for Vesta was apparently to release it this year, but it’s not yet quite ready for mass production, according to Bloomberg’s sources. And while it could end up mothballed and never see the light of day, as with any project being developed ahead of launch, the company is said to be putting more engineering and development resources into the team working on its release.

Current prototypes of the robot are said to be about waist-high, per the report, and make their way through the world aided by sensor-fed computer vision. It’ll come when you call thanks to the Alexa integration, per an internal demo described by Bloomberg, and should ostensibly offer all the same kind of functionality you’d get with an Echo device, including calling, timers and music playback.

For other clues as to what Vesta could look like, if and when it ever launches, a good model might be Kuri, the robot developed by Bosch internal startup Mayfield Robotics which was shuttered a year ago and never made it to market. Kuri could also record video and take photos, play games and generally interact with the household.

Meanwhile, Amazon is also apparently readying a Sonos-competing high-quality Echo speaker to debut next year.

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Amazon said to be launching new Echo speaker with premium sound next year

Posted by | Amazon, apple inc, Companies, computing, Gadgets, hardware, HomePod, ikea, industries, Invoke, smart speakers, Sonos, Speaker, TC, tweeter | No Comments

Amazon is reportedly looking to offer an Echo that more directly competes with high-end speakers like the Sonos line of devices or Apple’s HomePod, according to a new report from Bloomberg. The speaker should be released sometime next year, according to the sources cited in the report, and will be somewhat wider than the existing Echo models (perhaps more akin to the Echo Sub, pictured above), packing in four separate tweeters to help boost the sound quality.

It will, of course, also offer access to the company’s Alexa voice assistant, which is what has propelled Echo to its current level of success. Bloomberg notes that it’s also likely to work better for the high-fidelity audio version of Amazon’s music streaming service that has previously been reported to be in the works.

This could make for an interesting working relationship with some of Amazon’s existing partners, including Sonos, as it sounds like this will be a direct competitor. Newer Sonos speakers, including the Sonos One and Sonos Beam, support Alexa voice commands out of the box. While both Echo devices and Sonos support multi-room streaming and speaker grouping, Sonos has always had far superior audio quality when compared to the Echo hardware – albeit at a premium price.

Sonos, meanwhile, is gearing up with Ikea to launch speakers powered by its technology, with the Symfonisk line that is set for release in August. Smart speakers are a busy space with a lot of money and interest from many companies big and small, but Amazon has a lot working in its favor if it can also produce something that wins on high-quality audio at a reasonable price.

If high-quality sound isn’t all that important to you, Amazon is also apparently working on a home robot equipped with Alexa on board.

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After restructuring, Amazon’s Game Studios partners with Athlon Games on ‘Lord of the Rings’ title

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Game Studios, Athlon Games, double helix games, Gaming, TC | No Comments

On the heels of its recent restructuring, Amazon Game Studios is partnering with the Los Angeles-based Athlon Games to bring the company’s free-to-play Lord of the Rings-based multiplayer online game to market.

First announced last year by Athlon Game Studios’ Chinese parent company, Leyou Technologies, the game is set around the time of the events of the Lord of the Rings trilogy using intellectual property licensed from Middle-earth Enterprises.

Amazon Game Studios has had its ups and downs since the company first made its foray into social gaming back in 2012. More of a fast-follower of trends than a market leader, the company made a move to develop more console-friendly and PC-based game titles with the acquisition of Double Helix Games in 2014 as those platforms surged in popularity.

Most recently, Amazon Studios restructured just as the industry’s largest gaming conference, E3, was winding down in Los Angeles. The division of Amazon laid off dozens of game developers just as the conference was concluding, according to the website Kotaku.

Now the Amazon subsidiary is unveiling its involvement with the LA-based Athlon Games studio, which will see it jointly develop the game for PC and consoles and market and publish the title everywhere except China.

“We’re committed to bringing customers games of the highest quality, both with our own original IP as well as beloved cultural pillars like The Lord of the Rings,” said Christoph Hartmann, VP, Amazon Game Studios, in a statement. “Tolkien’s Middle-earth is one of the richest fictional worlds in history, and it gives our team of experienced MMO developers — from the same studio developing New World — tremendous opportunity to play and create. We have a strong leadership team in place to helm this new project, and we’re actively growing our team to help build this incredible experience.”

This will mark the second launch of a console game from Amazon Game Studios, which released The Grand Tour Game last year for PlayStation and Xbox — and also recently completed a test for its massively multiplayer online title, New World, which is set in an alternate 17th century timeline.

The new Middle-earth game isn’t Amazon’s only “Lord of the Rings” title coming out. The company’s film and television division, Amazon Studios, is developing a new Amazon Original series based on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The series will be a prequel focusing on the history that led to the events in the original Tolkien trilogy, according to the website Den of Geek.

Screen Shot 2019 07 09 at 10.49.08 PM

 

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YouTube lands on Fire TV and Amazon Prime Video arrives on Chromecast, Android TV

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Fire TV, Android, Android TV, Apps, chromecast, Cube, Gadgets, Google, Media, Multimedia, prime, prime video, smart tv, streaming, streaming video, TC, technology, telecommunications, YouTube | No Comments

It’s nice when people can come together and work through their differences to make it easier to watch stuff. That’s exactly what happened today, when the long-standing detente between Google and Amazon over streaming video services came to an end, with YouTube arriving on Fire TV and Prime Video making its way to Chromecast and Android TV.

Amazon’s second-generation Fire TV Stick, their Fire TV Stick 4K, the Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Stick Basic Edition and Fire TV Edition smart TVs made by partner OEMs will all get support for the official YouTube app globally starting today, and Amazon intends to extend support to even more of its hardware in the future. YouTube TV and YouTube Kids will also come to Amazon Fire TV devices later this year.

On the Google side, both its own Chromecast devices, as well as partner TVs and hardware that support Chromecast built-in, or that run Android TV, will gain support broadly for Prime Video. Plus, any Chromecast Ultra owners will also get access to Prime Video’s 4,000-title library normally reserved for Prime members, at no additional cost, as part of the new tie-up between the two companies.

Prime has been available on some Android TV devices to date, but it’s expanding to a much broader selection of those smart TVs and streaming boxes from today.

This has been a long time coming — several years in fact, with the most recent spat between the two coming as a result of Amazon’s implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show. Then, in May, the companies announced they’d reached an agreement to put the feud behind them in the interest of consumers, which is what resulted in this cross-platform launch today.

Let the streams flow!

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Week-in-Review: Alexa’s indefinite memory and NASA’s otherworldly plans for GPS

Posted by | 4th of July, AI assistant, alex wong, Amazon, Andrew Kortina, Android, andy rubin, appeals court, Apple, apple inc, artificial intelligence, Assistant, China, enterprise software, Getty-Images, gps, here, iPhone, machine learning, Online Music Stores, operating systems, Sam Lessin, social media, Speech Recognition, TC, Tim Cook, Twitter, United States, Venmo, voice assistant | No Comments

Hello, weekenders. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about the cult of Ive and the degradation of Apple design. On Sunday night, The Wall Street Journal published a report on how Ive had been moving away from the company, to the dismay of many on the design team. Tim Cook didn’t like the report very much. Our EIC gave a little breakdown on the whole saga in a nice piece.

Apple sans Ive


Amazon Buys Whole Foods For Over 13 Billion

The big story

This week was a tad restrained in its eventfulness; seems like the newsmakers went on 4th of July vacations a little early. Amazon made a bit of news this week when the company confirmed that Alexa request logs are kept indefinitely.

Last week, an Amazon public policy exec answered some questions about Alexa in a letter sent to U.S. Senator Coons. His office published the letter on its site a few days ago and most of the details aren’t all that surprising, but the first answer really sets the tone for how Amazon sees Alexa activity:

Q: How long does Amazon store the transcripts of user voice recordings?

A: We retain customers’ voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them.

What’s interesting about this isn’t that we’re only now getting this level of straightforward dialogue from Amazon on how long data is kept if not specifically deleted, but it makes one wonder why it is useful or feasible for them to keep it indefinitely. (This assumes that they actually are keeping it indefinitely; it seems likely that most of it isn’t, and that by saying this they’re protecting themselves legally, but I’m just going off the letter.)

After several years of “Hey Alexa,” the company doesn’t seem all that close to figuring out what it is.

Alexa seems to be a shit solution for commerce, so why does Amazon have 10,000 people working on it, according to a report this week in The Information? All signs are pointing to the voice assistant experiment being a short-term failure in terms of the short-term ambitions, though AI advances will push the utility.

Training data is a big deal across AI teams looking to educate models on data sets of relevant information. The company seems to say as much. “Our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems use machine learning to adapt to customers’ speech patterns and vocabulary, informed by the way customers use Alexa in the real world. To work well, machine learning systems need to be trained using real world data.”

The company says it doesn’t anonymize any of this data because it has to stay associated with a user’s account in order for them to delete it. I’d feel a lot better if Amazon just effectively anonymized the data in the first place and used on-device processing the build a profile on my voice. What I’m more afraid of is Amazon having such a detailed voiceprint of everyone who has ever used an Alexa device.

If effortless voice-based e-commerce isn’t really the product anymore, what is? The answer is always us, but I don’t like the idea of indefinitely leaving Amazon with my data until they figure out the answer.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • NASA’s GPS moonshot
    The U.S. government really did us a solid inventing GPS, but NASA has some bigger ideas on the table for the positioning platform, namely, taking it to the Moon. It might be a little complicated, but, unsurprisingly, scientists have some ideas here. Read more.
  • Apple has your eyes
    Most of the iOS beta updates are bug fixes, but the latest change to iOS 13 brought a very strange surprise: changing the way the eyes of users on iPhone XS or XS Max look to people on the other end of the call. Instead of appearing that you’re looking below the camera, some software wizardry will now make it look like you’re staring directly at the camera. Apple hasn’t detailed how this works, but here’s what we do know
  • Trump is having a Twitter party
    Donald Trump’s administration declared a couple of months ago that it was launching an exploratory survey to try to gain a sense of conservative voices that had been silenced on social media. Now @realdonaldtrump is having a get-together and inviting his friends to chat about the issue. It’s a real who’s who; check out some of the people attending here.
Amazon CEO And Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos Speaks At Air Force Association Air, Space And Cyber Conference

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Amazon is responsible for what it sells:
    [Appeals court rules Amazon can be held liable for third-party products]
  2. Android co-creator gets additional allegations filed:
    [Newly unsealed court documents reveal additional allegations against Andy Rubin]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. TechCrunch reporter Kate Clark did a great interview with the ex-Facebook, ex-Venmo founding team behind Fin and how they’re thinking about the consumerization of the enterprise.

Sam Lessin and Andrew Kortina on their voice assistant’s workplace pivot

“…The thing is, developing an AI assistant capable of booking flights, arranging trips, teaching users how to play poker, identifying places to purchase specific items for a birthday party and answering wide-ranging zany questions like “can you look up a place where I can milk a goat?” requires a whole lot more human power than one might think. Capital-intensive and hard-to-scale, an app for “instantly offloading” chores wasn’t the best business. Neither Lessin nor Kortina will admit to failure, but Fin‘s excursion into B2B enterprise software eight months ago suggests the assistant technology wasn’t a billion-dollar idea.…”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked a bit about asking for money and the future of China’s favorite tech platform:

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Samsung shuts down its AI-powered Mall shopping app in India

Posted by | Amazon, Android, Apps, artificial intelligence, Asia, Bixby, india, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, Shopclues, Xiaomi | No Comments

Samsung has quietly discontinued an app that it built specifically for India, one of its largest markets and where it houses a humongous research and development team. The AI-powered Android app, called Samsung Mall, was positioned to help users identify objects around them and locate them on shopping sites to make a purchase.

The company has shut down the app a year and a half after its launch. Samsung Mall was exclusively available for select company handsets and was launched alongside the Galaxy On7 Prime smartphone. News blog TizenHelp was first to report the development.

At the time of launch, Samsung said the Mall app would complement features of Bixby, the company’s virtual assistant. Bixby already offers a functionality that allows users to identify objects through photos — but does not let them make the purchase.

samsung mall india

“The first insight while developing Samsung Mall was that consumers may be looking to find the price, the colour, delivery options and a lot of other things. Indian consumers want to find the best deals first. They aren’t tied up with one particular portal as well,” Sanjay Razdan, director of Samsung India told local outlet India Today at the time of the launch.

Samsung partnered with Amazon, ShopClues and TataCLiQ to show relevant results from these retailers on its “one-stop online experience” app. Users were also able to compare prices to see which website was offering them the item at lowest cost.

Samsung Mall app was downloaded about five million times from Google Play Store in India since March 2018, Randy Nelson, head of Mobile Insights at analytics firm SensorTower told TechCrunch. The app had begun to lose its popularity in recent months, though. Samsung has pulled the app from the app store.

“Downloads in May totaled 275,000 — which was down 38% year-over-year from 476,000 in May 2018. It was ranked No. 1,055 by downloads in India’s Google Play store in May — down from 487 a year ago,” said Nelson.

Once the top smartphone vendor in India, Samsung has lost that crown to Xiaomi. The Chinese smartphone maker has held the tentpole position in India for two straight years now, according to research firm IDC.

A Samsung spokesperson in India, reached out to by TechCrunch on Monday, has yet to comment on the story.

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Shuttl is winning over office workers in India with safer bus commute option

Posted by | Amazon, amit singh, Android, Apps, Asia, Ather Energy, BankBazaar, Emvantage, Facebook, Google, housejoy, india, meesho, Shuttl, starbucks, TC, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

Miles away from the fancy parts of Gurgaon, where a cohort of Uber and Ola cars race all day to dot the surrounding, hundreds of people are working on a different solution to contribute to India’s push for improved mobility.

When Uber entered India six years ago, and its local rival Ola began to expand in the nation, many thought the two cab services will be able to meet the needs of most Indians. To be sure, the heavily discounted cab rides in the early days meant that the two companies were able to quickly scale their businesses to dozens of cities and were clocking about three million rides a day.

But in the years since, it has become clear that Ola and Uber alone can’t serve the masses — a significant portion of which lacks the means to book a cab ride — or magically circumvent through India’s alarmingly congested roads. This has resulted in the emergence of a growing number of electric bike makers such as Yulu — which partnered with Uber last month, Vogo — which is backed by Ola,  Bounce, and Ather Energy that are both showing promising growth and attracting big bucks from investors.

For four years, another startup has been quietly working on expanding its platform. But unlike the bike startups and cab aggressors, it is betting on buses. Shuttl operates over 1,300 buses in more than 300 routes in five cities of India. The platform serves more than 65,000 customers each day.

Shuttl, too, hasn’t had much difficulty in attracting capital. It has raised about $48.5 million to date. TechCrunch recently learned that the startup was in talks with investors to raise an additional $50 million. Amit Singh, cofounder and CEO of Shuttl, declined to comment on the upcoming funding round. But he sat with us to explain his business and the challenges it comes with.

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Northzone’s Paul Murphy goes deep on the next era of gaming

Posted by | Amazon, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Electronic Arts, esports, Gaming, Google, King, league of legends, Media, mobile gaming, Netflix, Nintendo Switch, Paul Murphy, Rovio, Sports, stadia, Startups, Steam, supercell, Talent, TC, Tencent, unity-technologies, Venture Capital, Virtual reality | No Comments

As the gaming market continues to boom, billions of dollars are being invested in new games and new streaming platforms vying to own a piece of the action. Most of the value is accruing to the large incumbents in a space, however, and the entrance of Google and other big tech companies makes it difficult to identify where there are compelling opportunities for entrepreneurs to build new empires.

TechCrunch media analyst Eric Peckham recently sat down with Paul Murphy, Partner at European venture firm Northzone, to discuss Paul’s view of the market and where he is focusing his dollars. Below is the transcript of the conversation (edited for length and clarity):


Eric Peckham: You co-founded the hit mobile game Dots before moving to London and joining Northzone last year. Are you still bullish on investment opportunities in mobile gaming or do you think the market has changed?

Paul Murphy: I’m bullish on mobile gaming–the market is bigger than it has ever been. There’s a whole generation of people that have been trained to play games on mobile phones. So those are things that are very positive.

The challenge is you don’t really have a rising tide moment anymore. The winners have won. And so it’s very, very difficult for someone to enter with new content and build a business that’s as big as Supercell or King, regardless of how good their content is. So while the prize for winning in mobile gaming content big, the likelihood is smaller.

Where I’m spending most of my time is not on content, it’s on components within mobile gaming. We’re looking at infrastructure: different platforms that enable mobile gaming, like Bunch which we invested in.

Their product allows you to do live video and audio on top of mobile games. So we don’t have to take any content risk. We’re betting that this great product will fit into a large inventory ecosystem.

Peckham: New mobile game studios that are launching all seem to fall under the sphere of influence of these bigger companies. They get a strategic investment from Supercell or another company. To your point, it’s tough for a small startup to compete entirely on its own.

Murphy: It’s possible in mobile gaming still but it’s really, really hard now. At the same time, what you’ve seen is the odds of winning are lower. It is hard to reach the same scale when it costs you $5.00 to acquire a user today, whereas when Candy Crush launched, it was $0.05 per user. So it’s almost impossible to achieve King-like scale today.

Therefore, you’re looking at similar content risk with reduced upside, which makes that equation less attractive for venture capital. But it might be perfectly fine for an established company because they don’t need to do the marketing, they have the audience already.

The big gaming companies all struggle with the challenge of how to create the next hit IP. They have this machine that can bring any great game to market efficiently, with a large audience they can cross promote from and capital they can invest to build a big brand quickly. For them, the biggest challenge is getting the best content.

So it’s natural to me that the pendulum has swung towards strategic investors in mobile gaming content. Epic has a fund that they set up with Improbable, Supercell is making direct investments, Tencent has been making investments for years. Even from a content perspective, you’re probably going to see Apple, Google, and Amazon making more content investments in mobile gaming.

Image via Getty Images / aurielaki

Peckham: Does this same market dynamic apply to PC games and console games? Do you see a certain area within gaming where there’s still opportunity for independent startups to create the game itself and find success at a venture scale?

Murphy: The reason we made our investment in Klang Games, which is building an MMO called Seed that people will primarily play through PC, is that while there is content risk–you’re never going to get rid of the possibility that the IP doesn’t fly–if it works, it will be massive…an Earth-shattering level of success. If their vision comes to life, it will be very, very big.

So that one has all the risks that you’d have in any other game studio but the upside is exponentially larger, so the bet makes sense to us. And it so happens that it’s going to be on PC first, where there’s certainly a lot of competition but it’s not as saturated and the monetization methods are healthier than in mobile gaming. In PC, you don’t have to do free-to-play tactics that interfere with the gameplay.

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Amazon’s Twitch acquired social networking platform Bebo for up to $25M to bolster its esports efforts

Posted by | Amazon, Apps, Bebo, esports, Gaming, M&A, Social, Sports, tournaments, Twitch | No Comments

While Facebook makes a bold move into cryptocurrency to capitalise on its multi-billion user base, a social network that was once a credible competitor to it has quietly been snapped up by a subsidiary of Amazon. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Bebo, one of the earlier platforms to let people share thoughts and media with their friends, has been acquired by Twitch, the streaming video platform owned by Amazon. Together the two will be working on building out Twitch’s esports business, and specifically Twitch Rivals.

A spokesperson for Twitch confirmed the acquisition, which includes both people (around 10 employees) and IP, but declined to provide further comment.

From what we understand from our sources, Twitch paid up to $25 million for the company earlier this month, after beating out at least two other bidders, Discord (which itself has been building out its own esports business), and… wait for it… Facebook. (Our source says the latter offered $20 million.) Indeed, LinkedIn profiles for ex-Bebo employees — see here, here, and here — now at Twitch note June as the changeover date. (Note: original sources say $25 million, others close to the deal say it was materially less than this. As you know, these things can be described differently depending on who is doing the describing.)

It has been a long and winding road for Bebo over the years. Starting out way back in 2005 by Michael and Xochi Birch as an early social networking site, Bebo quickly became the market leader in a couple of English-speaking countries, specifically UK and Ireland.

Bebo’s growth trajectory and the bigger opportunity in social were enough to get it acquired for about $850 million by AOL back in 2008, apparently beating out a number of other interested large tech and media companies interested in getting their own social media platform and the audience that would come with it (disclaimer: AOL eventually also acquired TechCrunch, too).

But the deal was a certifiable dud, with Bebo never managing to build on its early traction, and AOL not being in a position to know how to fix that. Less than two years later, it was sold on to Criterion Capital for $25 million.

Yet as the social wheels continued to turn, and even once-global market leader MySpace also fell back as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mobile-friendly platforms pulled out ahead, even that $25 million price turned out to be too high. After Bebo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the original founders, the Birches, bought it back in 2013 for $1 million with a pledge to reinvent it.

And so they did, putting in place a small team led by Shaan Puri, who worked on a number of ideas to see which of them could fly. (And I don’t know if this was a tongue in cheek joke about how challenging they knew the task would be, but it seems that the holding company set up to house some of the IP and legal aspects of the endeavor was called “Pigs in Flight.”)

The new app studio effort, which went by the name Monkey Inferno (another great one), came out of the gates with “Blab”, a “walkie-talkie” ephemeral video messaging service, which picked up millions of users quickly but found it hard to retain them. It shut down a year later, and it looks like Monkey Inferno dabbled in a few other things before coming to esports.

From social networking to socialising esports

In that last pivot, Bebo first tried out streaming services for esports players, but that proved to be tough competition against dominant platforms like OBS and Xsplit. Then, in an interesting nod to its earlier history in social networking and organising groups of friends, it shifted once more, into organising and running tournaments for streamers, with leagues and more: the streams ran on Twitch and Bebo organised viewers, leagues and other things around that.

That site, Bebo.com, is now offline, and all its tweets seem to have been deleted, but the idea was to build out leagues and tournaments for any and all kinds of groups and players, for example complete beginners, or high school students.

It was the last of these that turned out to line up with a growing market segment.

According to a report in eMarketer, esports attracted some 400 million users in 2018 and pulled in revenues of $869 million from sponsorships, player fees and advertising, and it is projected to be worth between $1.58 billion and $2.96 billion by 2022. And Bebo was helping organise and build those communities.

And that is now linking up neatly with Twitch, which had been developing its own casual esports operation in the form of Twitch Rivals. This launched in beta in 2018 and is now widely available wherever Twitch is.

The Bebo tech and its team are now both being put to use on Twitch Rivals, to help continue expanding it with more features and more users. To be clear, though, it seems there is no intention — from what I understand — to parlay Bebo’s past efforts in social networking into a wider social networking play at Twitch: the focus is on esports.

Still, the acquisition comes at a key moment. Since January, there have been reports that Amazon is working on a new game streaming service (just like Apple, Google and others), which likely won’t be out until next year. While there is no news on that today, you can see how expanding the variety and breadth of content on Twitch by way of esports leagues and tournaments fits in with a wider effort to bring more regular, engaged users into the Amazon fold, using this as one of the big draws.

(Updated with more detail on the price.)

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Amazon Spark, the retailer’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, has shut down

Posted by | Amazon, amazon spark, e-commerce, eCommerce, instagram, Mobile, online shopping, product discovery, Social | No Comments

Amazon’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, Amazon Spark, is no more.

Hoping to capitalize on the social shopping trend and tap into the power of online influencers, Amazon in 2017 launched its own take on Instagram with a shoppable feed of stories and photos aimed at Prime members. The experiment known as Amazon Spark has now come to an end. However, the learnings from Spark and Amazon’s discovery tool Interesting Finds are being blended into a new social-inspired product, #FindItOnAmazon.

Amazon Spark had been a fairly bland service, if truth be told. Unlike on Instagram, where people follow their friend, interests, brands like they like, and people they find engaging or inspiring, Spark was focused on the shopping and the sale. While it tried to mock the Instagram aesthetic at times with fashion inspiration images or highly posed travel photos, it lacked Instagram’s broader appeal. Your friends weren’t there and there weren’t any Instagram Stories, for example. Everything felt too transactional.

Amazon declined to comment on the apparent shutdown of Spark, but the service is gone from the website and app.

The URL amazon.com/spark, meanwhile, redirects to the new #FoundItOnAmazon site — a site which also greatly resembles another Amazon product discovery tool, Interesting Finds.

Interesting Finds has been around since 2016, offering consumers a way to browse an almost Pinterest-like board of products across a number of categories. It features curated “shops” focused on niche themes, like a “Daily Carry” shop for toteable items, a “Mid Century” shop filled with furniture and décor, a shop for “Star Wars” fans, one for someone who loves the color pink, and so on. Interesting Finds later added a layer of personalization with the introduction of a My Mix shop filled with recommendations tailored to your interactions and likes.

The Interesting Finds site had a modern, clean look-and-feel that made it a more pleasurable way to browse Amazon’s products. Products photos appeared on white backgrounds while the clutter of a traditional product detail page was removed.

We understand from people familiar with the products that Interesting Finds is not shutting down as Spark has. But the new #FoundItOnAmazon site will take inspiration from what worked with Interesting Finds and Spark to turn it into a new shopping discovery tool.

Interesting Finds covers a wide range of categories, but #FoundItOnAmazon will focus more directly on fashion and home décor. Similar to Interesting Finds, you can heart to favorites items and revisit them later.

The #FoundItOnAmazon site is very new and isn’t currently appearing for all Amazon customers at this time. If you have it, the amazon.com/spark URL will take you there.

Though Amazon won’t talk about why its Instagram experiment is ending, it’s not too hard to make some guesses. Beyond its lack of originality and transactional nature, Instagram itself has grown into a far more formidable competitor since Spark first launched.

Last fall, Instagram fully embraced its shoppable nature with the introduction of shopping features across its app that let people more easily discover products from Instagram photos. It also added a new shopping channel and in March, Instagram launched its own in-app checkout option to turn product inspiration into actual conversions. It was certainly a big move into Amazon territory. And while that led to headlines about Instagram as the future of shopping, it’s not going to upset Amazon’s overall dominance any time soon.

In addition to the shifting competitive landscape, Spark’s primary stakeholder, Amazon VP of Consumer Engagement Chee Chew departed at the beginning of 2019 for Twilio. While at Amazon, Chew was heavily invested in Spark’s success and product managers would even tie their own efforts to Spark in order to win his favor, sources said.

For example, Amazon’s notifications section had been changed to include updates from Spark. And Spark used to sit a swipe away from the main navigation menu on mobile.

Following Spark’s closure, Amazon’s navigation has once again been simplified. It’s now a clutter-free hamburger menu. Meanwhile, Amazon’s notifications section no longer includes Spark updates — only alerts about orders, shipments, and personalized recommendations.

In addition, it’s likely that Spark wasn’t well adopted. Just 10,000 Amazon customers used it during its first 24 hours, we heard. With Chew’s departure, Spark lost its driving force. No one needed to curry favor by paying it attention, which may have also helped contribute to its shuttering.

6/14/19, 10:20 PM ET: Updated with further context after publication.

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