Posts with «professional services» label

Amazon says a whopping 140 third-party stores in four countries use its Just Walk Out tech

Amazon published a blog post on Wednesday providing an update about its Just Walk Out technology, which it reportedly pulled from its Fresh grocery stores earlier this month. While extolling Just Walk Out’s virtues as a sales pitch to potential retail partners, the article lists a startlingly minuscule number of (non-Amazon) stores using the tech. There are now “more than 140 third-party locations with Just Walk Out technology in the U.S., UK, Australia, and Canada.”

Mind you, that isn’t the number of companies or retail chains licensing the tech; that’s the total number of locations. Nor is that the tally in one state or even one country. In four countries combined — with a total population of about 465 million — Just Walk Out is being used in “more than 140 third-party locations.”

On average, that means there’s one third-party Just Walk Out store for every 3.3 million people in those four countries. (They must be busy!) By contrast, there are over one million retail locations in the US, and, as of 2019, Starbucks had 241 locations in New York City alone, and there are over one million

Amazon had reportedly already planned to remove Just Walk Out tech from its Fresh grocery stores for roughly a year because it was too expensive and complicated for larger retail spaces to run and maintain. The company now pitches its tech as ideal for smaller convenience stores with fewer customers and products — like its own Amazon Go stores, which it has been busy shutting down over the last couple of years.


The company reportedly gutted the team of developers working on Just Walk Out tech earlier this month. (You get one guess as to how the laid-off workers were instructed to leave the office.) As part of recent layoffs from Amazon’s AWS unit and Physical Stores Team, the company allegedly left only “a skeleton crew” to work on the tech moving forward. A skeleton crew to maintain a skeleton sounds about right.

In fairness, some of those locations are at high-traffic venues. That includes nine merch stores at Seattle’s Lumen Field (home to the Seahawks and Sounders), near Amazon’s headquarters. Delaware North, a large hospitality and entertainment company, has opened “more than a dozen” stores using the tech. Amazon says stores adopting Just Walk Out have reported increased transactions, sales and customer satisfaction.

Despite the reported gutting of Just Walk Out’s development team, Amazon says it “continues to invent the next generation of this technology to improve the checkout experience for large-format stores.” Its next steps include improving latency for “faster and more reliable receipts,” new algorithms to recognize customer actions and new sensors better.

If the reports about layoffs are accurate, the handful of remaining Just Walk Out developers will have their work cut out for them.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Disney+ may add cable-style streaming channels focused on Marvel and Star Wars

Disney is reportedly planning to add linear cable-style streaming channels to Disney+. According to The Information, the company wants subscribers to spend more time in the app and, by offering more viewing options, it may entice users to stick around. In addition, by running ads on these channels, Disney could boost its bottom line.

There are already a bunch of free, ad-supported streaming (FAST) services such as Roku, Pluto TV and Tubi. Last year, Warner Bros. Discovery brought FAST channels featuring its shows and movies to Roku and Tubi. Disney itself has some FAST channels inside the app, including ones dedicated to General Hospital and 20/20. But none of those are inside a subscription service.

The report suggests that Disney may offer channels based on tentpole franchises such as Star Wars and Marvel, along with others showing animated movies from Pixar. Many folks have FAST channels on as background noise while cleaning and so on, and given the high brand affinity for Disney, this makes sense for the company to explore.

Beyond Marvel and Star Wars, Disney has a deep well of shows and movies to pull from for its linear streaming channels. There's absolutely a market for a channel that shows The Simpsons 24/7. There's probably an audience out there that would love to have Boy Meets World or Scrubs on in the background as they go about their day, and of course Disney has a large library of animated kids shows in its locker. A DuckTales channel seems like a no-brainer.

Disney is trying to make Disney+ a one-stop shop for consumers. It recently folded in Hulu and it reportedly plans to do something similar with ESPN when the sports network's standalone streaming service arrives next year. Adding linear streaming channels to the mix could help Disney pull eyeballs away from the likes of Roku and Pluto TV as well.

Another major streaming platform has explored different strategies too, according to the report. At one point Netflix is said to have considered offering the option to subscribe to and watch other streaming services from within its app, much like Amazon does with Prime Video Channels. The Information notes that while Netflix hasn't moved forward with that plan, the company hasn't ruled it out as it too tries to get users to spend more time in its app

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Paramount announces yet another Star Trek prequel

Movie-industry shindig CinemaCon was the venue at which Paramount Pictures announced it has started work on a new Star Trek movie. Slashfilm reports Untitled Star Trek Origin Story will be a prequel to Star Trek (2009), J.J. Abrams’ glossy prequel to Star Trek (1966). It’ll be directed by Toby Haynes, most famous around these parts for helming episodes of Andor and Black Mirror’s USS Callister. The screenplay has been written by Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote The Lego Batman Movie and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

So that we’re clear, Untitled Star Trek Origin Story will serve as a prequel to the 2009 origin story and a sequel to 2001’s origin story, Enterprise. It will likely be set before Discovery, which was conceived as a prequel to Star Trek (1966) and Strange New Worlds, which is a prequel to Star Trek (1966). And, look, if you’ll allow me to get a little personal for a moment, I am deeply overjoyed at the news. Given the dearth of origin stories, prequels and nostalgia-parades in the Star Trek universe, an Untitled Star Trek Origin Story is a welcome, necessary and life-giving addition to the franchise.

Let’s be honest, it’s high time we got something insular and backward-looking after so many years of non-stop groundbreaking, original adventures shorn from the burdens of continuity.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Google Gemini chatbots are coming to a customer service interaction near you

More and more companies are choosing to deploy AI-powered chatbots to deal with basic customer service inquiries. At the ongoing Google Cloud Next conference in Las Vegas, the company has revealed the Gemini-powered chatbots its partners are working on, some of which you could end up interacting with. Best Buy, for instance, is using Google's technology to build virtual assistants that can help you troubleshoot product issues and reschedule order deliveries. IHG Hotels & Resorts is working on another that can help you plan a vacation in its mobile app, while Mercedes Benz is using Gemini to improve its own smart sales assistant. 

Security company ADT is also building an agent that can help you set up your home security system. And if you happen to be a radiologist, you may end up interacting with Bayer's Gemini-powered apps for diagnosis assistance. Meanwhile, other partners are using Gemini to create experiences that aren't quite customer-facing: Cintas, Discover and Verizon are using generative AI capabilities in different ways to help their customer service personnel find information more quickly and easily. 

Google has launched the Vertex AI Agency Builder, as well, which it says will help developers "easily build and deploy enterprise-ready gen AI experiences" like OpenAI's GPTs and Microsoft's Copilot Studio. The Builder will provide developers with a set of tools they can use for their projects, including a no-code console that can understand natural language and build AI agents based on Gemini in minutes. Vertex AI has more advanced tools for more complex projects, of course, but their common goal is to simplify the creation and maintenance of personalized AI chatbots and experiences. 

At the same event, Google also announced its new AI-powered video generator for Workspace, as well as its first ARM-based CPU specifically made for data centers. By launching the latter, it's taking on Amazon, which has been using its Graviton processor to power its cloud network over the past few years. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Disney+ is also cracking down on password sharing

Say goodbye to your best friend's neighbor's great aunt's Disney+ account. Disney CEO Bob Iger said in an interview with CNBC that the streamer is cracking down on password sharing worldwide this summer. The company enacted the same restrictions for Canadian subscribers last fall.

The move is hardly a surprise, as Disney's CFO Hugh Johnston shared the plan during an earnings call in February. "Paid sharing is an opportunity for us. It's one that our competitor is obviously taking advantage of, and one that sits in front of us. We've got some very specific actions that we're taking in the next couple of months." Disney-owned Hulu started its own crackdown on password sharing on March 14, and both streamers' terms of service explicitly ban people from using other customers' login information (Though its latest announcement indicates Disney is actually ready to enforce it). 

Streamers across the lineup are restricting password sharing, and it seems to be working — for them, not us. According to analytics firm Antenna, Netflix's United States signups increased by 102 percent during the first four days after the rule went into effect, compared to the 60 days prior. There were an average of 73,000 new signups daily, far outpacing cancelations. Max will also start restricting sharing this year, fully cracking down in 2025.  

Disney+ will start its clampdown in some countries come June, expanding to a second wave of countries in September. It's unclear as of now which group the US is in, but Disney will likely provide a breakdown when the dates get closer. Disney+ currently costs $8 monthly with ads and $14 monthly for ad-free viewing. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Amazon just walked out on its self-checkout technology

Amazon is removing Just Walk Out tech from all of its Fresh grocery stores in the US, as reported by The Information. The self-checkout system relies on a host of cameras, sensors and good old-fashioned human eyeballs to track what people leave the store with, charging the customers accordingly.

The technology has been plagued by issues from the onset. Most notably, Just Walk Out merely presents the illusion of automation, with Amazon crowing about generative AI and the like. Here’s where the smoke and mirrors come in. While the stores have no actual cashiers, there are reportedly over 1,000 real people in India scanning the camera feeds to ensure accurate checkouts. 

It’s also incredibly expensive to install and maintain the necessary equipment, which is likely why Just Walk Out technology was only adopted at around half of Fresh stores in the US. There have been plenty of frustrating issues for consumers when using this system, from receipts being sent out hours after purchase to completely mismanaged orders. In other words, it took a vast array of sensitive equipment and 1,000 people staring at video feeds to do the job of one or two people sitting behind cash registers at each store. Ain’t modern innovation grand?

There’s also some major privacy concerns here. Remember those cameras and sensors? They are constantly collecting biometric information as people shop. This goes beyond Amazon’s palm-scanning technology, as the cameras and sensors measure the shape and size of each customer’s body for identification and tracking purposes. This led to a class action suit in New York that accused the company of collecting biometric identifier information without properly disclosing the practices to consumers.

The suit says that Amazon ran afoul of the state’s Biometric Identifier Information Law, which requires businesses to tell customers if they are collecting data used for identification purposes. Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told The Seattle Times that “Amazon owes its customers an explanation about how it’s operating these systems before people enter — so that people can decide for themselves whether they want to provide measurements of the size and shape of their body as a condition of getting a sandwich.”

Amazon tried to sell the technology to other retail chains, but didn’t get too many bites. It teamed up with Starbucks in a few locations and there was a small launch in hospitals for medical staff, but that’s about it. One sticking point? These systems require high ceilings to accommodate the cameras and sensors. Reuters also suggested that many retailers consider Amazon a competitor and disruptor, souring them on a technology partnership. Those 1,000 off-shore cashiers probably didn’t help with the sales pitch either.

Just Walk Out technology will continue to be offered in select stores in the UK. As for the US, Amazon says the removal of these systems is part of a larger effort to revamp its retail grocery arm. The company plans on bringing its Dash smart carts to retail locations, after a test at several Whole Foods and Fresh stores. These smart carts are equipped with scales and sensors to track spending in real time and, of course, allow consumers to skip the checkout.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

From its start, Gmail conditioned us to trade privacy for free services

Long before Gmail became smart enough to finish your sentences, Google’s now-ubiquitous email service was buttering up the public for a fate that defined the internet age: if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.

When Gmail was announced on April 1, 2004, its lofty promises and the timing of its release reportedly had people assuming it was a joke. It wasn’t the first web-based email provider — Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail had already been around for years — but Gmail was offering faster service, automatic conversation grouping for messages, integrated search functions and 1GB of storage, which was at the time a huge leap forward in personal cloud storage. Google in its press release boasted that a gigabyte was “more than 100 times” what its competitors offered. All of that, for free.

Except, as Gmail and countless tech companies in its wake have taught us, there’s no such thing as free. Using Gmail came with a tradeoff that’s now commonplace: You get access to its service, and in exchange, Google gets your data. Specifically, its software could scan the contents of account holders’ emails and use that information to serve them personalized ads on the site’s sidebar. For better or worse, it was a groundbreaking approach.

“Depending on your take, Gmail is either too good to be true, or it’s the height of corporate arrogance, especially coming from a company whose house motto is ‘Don’t Be Evil,’” tech journalist Paul Boutin wrote for Slate when Gmail launched. (Boutin, one of its early media testers, wrote favorably about Google’s email scanning but suggested the company implement a way for users to opt out lest they reject it entirely.)

There was immediate backlash from those who considered Gmail to be a privacy nightmare, yet it grew — and generated a lot of hype, thanks to its invite-only status in the first few years, which spurred a reselling market for Gmail invitations at upwards of $150 a pop, according to TIME. Google continued its ad-related email scanning practices for over a decade, despite the heat, carrying on through Gmail’s public rollout in 2007 and well into the 2010s, when it really started gaining traction.

And why not? If Gmail proved anything, it was that people would, for the most part, accept such terms. Or at least not care enough to read the fine-print closely. In 2012, Gmail became the world’s largest email service, with 425 million active users.

Other sites followed Google’s lead, baking similar deals into their terms of service, so people’s use of the product would automatically mean consent to data collection and specified forms of sharing. Facebook started integrating targeted ads based on its users’ online activities in 2007, and the practice has since become a pillar of social media’s success.

Things have changed a lot in recent years, though, with the rise of a more tech-savvy public and increased scrutiny from regulators. Gmail users on multiple occasions attempted to bring about class-action lawsuits over the scanning issue, and in 2017, Google finally caved. That year, the company announced that regular Gmail users’ emails would no longer be scanned for ad personalization (paid enterprise Gmail accounts already had this treatment).

Google, of course, still collects users’ data in other ways and uses the information to serve hyper-relevant ads. It still scans emails too, both for security purposes and to power some of its smart features. And the company came under fire again in 2018 after The Wall Street Journal revealed it was allowing third-party developers to trawl users’ Gmail inboxes, to which Google responded by reminding users it was within their power to grant and revoke those permissions. As CNET reporters Laura Hautala and Richard Nieva wrote then, Google’s response more or less boiled down to: “This is what you signed up for.”

Really, what users signed up for was a cutting-edge email platform that ran laps around the other services at the time, and in many ways still does. It made the privacy concerns, for some, easier to swallow. From its inception, Gmail set the bar pretty high with its suite of free features. Users could suddenly send files of up to 25MB and check their email from anywhere as long as they had access to an internet connection and a browser, since it wasn’t locked to a desktop app.

It popularized the cloud as well as the Javascript technique AJAX, Wired noted in a piece for Gmail’s 10-year anniversary. This made Gmail dynamic, allowing the inbox to automatically refresh and surface new messages without the user clicking buttons. And it more or less did away with spam, filtering out junk messages.

Still, when Gmail first launched, it was considered by many to be a huge gamble for Google — which had already established itself with its search engine. “A lot of people thought it was a very bad idea, from both a product and a strategic standpoint,” Gmail creator Paul Buchheit told TIME in 2014. “The concern was this didn’t have anything to do with web search.”

Things obviously worked out alright, and Gmail’s dominion has only strengthened. Gmail crossed the one billion user mark in 2016, and its numbers have since doubled. It’s still leading the way in email innovation, 20 years after it first went online, integrating increasingly advanced features to make the process of receiving and responding to emails (which, let’s be honest, is a dreaded daily chore for a lot of us) much easier. Gmail may eventually have changed its approach to data collection, but the precedent it set is now deeply enmeshed in the exchange of services on the internet; companies take what data they can from consumers while they can and ask for forgiveness later.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Hulu on Disney+ officially launches, bringing together Mickey Mouse and The Handmaid's Tale

Disney didn't waste much absorbing Hulu into its multimedia maw. After taking full ownership of Hulu last November, the company started beta testing integration with Disney+ a month later. Today, Hulu on Disney+ is officially coming out of beta, making it easy for subscribers to access content for both services. Really, though, it's a way for Disney to push the value of its Hulu bundle, which starts at $9.99 a month with ads. If you want to go ad-free and download content for offline viewing, there's the Duo Premium bundle for $19.99 a month. And if you don't have a Hulu subscription, you'll get a notification that you can join within Disney+ for $2 more a month.

Existing bundle subscribers can hop into Hulu's shows using a new tab on Disney+, and the company says Hulu content like Shogun and The Handmaid's Tale will also be highlighted in the main carousel of shows and content recommendations. If you're old school (like me) and subscribe to Disney+ and Hulu separately, you can also start viewing Hulu content easily (assuming you're using the same e-mail address for both services). 

I didn't have any trouble launching Shogun on my Disney+ app, but I was disappointed to find that my existing Hulu viewing progress didn't carry over. That'll be particularly annoying for people catching up on older multi-season shows, since they'll have to manually figure out where they left off.

“This marks the most significant technical, operational, and product evolution for Disney+ since its launch – one that reflects a wider technology transformation that we have been undertaking," said Aaron LaBerge, President & CTO, Disney Entertainment & ESPN, in a statement. "That work is going to drive an enhanced, more engaging user experience with Disney+ and lays the foundation for the innovations and enhancements we are planning for the future.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

One of our favorite headphones for running is 20 percent off in the Amazon Big Spring Sale

Spring is officially here and if you've been itching to get back outside for a run, or you want to start a new workout regimen, the Amazon Big Spring Sale might have just what you need to upgrade the music portion of your routine. A number of Jabra earbuds have been discounted for the sale, including a couple of our top picks for the best headphones for running. Key among them is the Jabra Elite 8 Active, which is on sale for $160 — only $10 more than its record-low price. The same sale price can be found direct at Jabra as well.

These nearly bested the Beats Fit Pro for the top spot in our guide. Not only are the Elite 8 Active buds comfortable and secure when doing any kind of workout, but they're also IP68-rated for dust and water resistance. Jabra also put these earbuds through military-grade testing to protect them from extreme humidity, high temperature, rain and altitude, so it's fair to say these buds can take a beating (probably way more than what you'd put them through even during your sweatiest runs).

The Elite 8 Active have solid sound quality and ANC out of the box, but you can customize EQ settings using its companion mobile app. If you prefer bassy sounds to get you in the zone before a workout session, you can change the sound profile to accommodate that. They also support spatial sound with Dolby Audio, which is a great perk to have and it will make the Elite 8 Active an even better option for those who want just one pair of buds to use all day, every day, not only during workouts. Jabra's HearThrough transparency mode is also handy, especially for runners who often train outside, since it lets some sound in so you can stay more aware of your surroundings.

Our biggest gripe with the Elite 8 Active buds is that HearThrough doesn't sound quite as natural as the transparency mode on our top pick, the Beats Fit Pro. Otherwise, they're a fantastic option for runners or anyone else who wants a solid pair of wireless earbuds that provide a complete package when it comes to sound quality, ANC and protection against sweat and the elements.

If you're looking to spend even less, it's hard to find a better value in Jabra's lineup than the Elite 4 Active earbuds. Those are on sale for $90 right now — not a record low, but close to it. They're our budget pick in the same guide thanks to their comfy, IP57-rated design, good sound quality and ANC, solid battery life and support for multipoint connectivity. And even though you don't get spatial audio on the Elite 4 Active, they do support custom EQ with the Jabra mobile app.

Your Spring Sales Shopping Guide: Spring sales are in the air, headlined by Amazon’s Big Spring sale event. Our expert editors are curating all the best spring sales right here. Follow Engadget to shop the best tech deals from Amazon’s Big Spring Sale, hear from Autoblog’s car experts on the best spring auto deals on Amazon, and find spring sales to shop on AOL, handpicked just for you.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Disney+ screws UK Doctor Who fans with global release strategy

The latest series of Doctor Who will debut on iPlayer and globally on Disney+ at midnight in the UK. The first two hour-long episodes land on May 11, which will then air on BBC One later that day in prime time. Those who know how time zones work will have already guessed that Doctor Who will now be available to view in the US on May 10 at 7pm ET and 4pm PT.

There are plenty of sucky things about living in the UK, one of which is that we’re a day behind the US TV schedule. Buzzy shows like Lost were often spoiled by the internet long before it was legally available to view here. To curb the rampant piracy, shows like Game of Thrones and Succession were broadcast at 2am or 3am.

That way, ardent viewers could DVR those airings and watch them before they got to work lest it be spoiled. Because, if you didn’t, you’d have to be extremely careful when you were treading around on the internet. There were very few shows I didn’t have spoiled for me given that I work on the internet all the damn day.

So you can imagine my dismay to learn that Doctor Who, one of the crown jewels in the British TV firmament, will now be treated the same way. It’s hard not to feel annoyed given that the bulk of the series’ funding comes from the license fee paid by the majority of TV owners in the UK. It seems mad, to me, that the global simulcast isn't tied to the UK broadcast, rather than this obvious tweak to ensure the US gets it first. Especially when the alternative is to stay up until 2am on a Saturday morning. 

(Yes, I know there’s precedent for this, The Five Doctors aired on PBS two days before the UK airing, and the TV movie aired on Fox twelve days earlier. But that was in the pre-internet heyday when you didn't have every big moment from the show shared by its own official social channels mere seconds after it aired.)

This article originally appeared on Engadget at