Microsoft Pulls AI Analysis Tool Azure Face from Public Use

As part of an overhaul of its AI ethics policies, Microsoft is retiring from the public sphere several AI-powered facial analysis tools, including a controversial algorithm that purports to identify a subject’s emotion from images. Other features Microsoft will excise for new users this week and phase out for existing users within a year include those that claim the ability to identify gender and age. Advocacy groups and academics have expressed concern regarding such facial analysis features, characterizing them as unreliable and invasive as well as subject to bias. Continue reading Microsoft Pulls AI Analysis Tool Azure Face from Public Use

Spotify Says One Billion MAUs by 2030 a Path to Profitability

Trying to assuage fears over what investors are concerned is a limited-growth market, audio streamer Spotify says it plans to hit one billion global monthly average users by 2030. Spotify closed Q1 with 422 million MAUs and 182 million paid subscribers, per Statista. At an Investor Day presentation in New York City this week, CEO Daniel Ek and chief freemium business officer Alex Norström showed slides indicating the company’s goal represents compounded annual growth rates of 26 percent for MAUs, paid subscribers and revenue (on a currency-adjusted basis). To get there, the executives emphasized emerging markets and podcasts. Continue reading Spotify Says One Billion MAUs by 2030 a Path to Profitability

Spotify Targets Audiobook Market with Purchase of Findaway

Music streaming powerhouse Spotify is expanding its narrative footprint with the acquisition of audiobook distributor Findaway. The purchase brings Spotify a large catalog of audiobooks as well new revenue streams not only through audiobook sales and subscriptions, but through units like Findaway Voices, which provides turnkey services for authors who want their writings recorded. Spotify’s evolution to all-things-audio follows the company’s Q3 announcement that its podcasting business had overtaken market leader Apple in terms of downloads. Spotify says it expects the global audiobook sector to grow from $3.3 billion today to $15 billion by 2027. Continue reading Spotify Targets Audiobook Market with Purchase of Findaway

Google Reduces Developer Fees via Its Play Media Experience

Google has unveiled the Play Media Experience Program, offering app developers “additional discovery and engagement opportunities across devices” and a “service fee of 15 percent for all applicable earnings.” The company said the program is the global expansion of a previous invite-only program that it had never publicly revealed. Amazon and Apple apparently had similar programs that they’ve expanded, but Google’s program is distinct in that it asks developers to support Google TV, Wear OS, Android Auto and its other platforms. Continue reading Google Reduces Developer Fees via Its Play Media Experience

Google Creates New Entertainment Hub for Walmart Tablets

Google debuted “Entertainment Space,” a feature on the left side of the home screen of Walmart tablets that the company dubs “a one-stop, personalized home for all your favorite movies, shows, videos, games and books.” It is soon to expand to Lenovo, Sharp and other manufacturers’ devices. Google Play product manager James Bender said that with Entertainment Space users will “save time and avoid having to hop between apps to try to figure out what to do.” Each family members can have their own profile on the hub. Continue reading Google Creates New Entertainment Hub for Walmart Tablets

Spotify Tests a Beta Version of Music App Aimed at Children

Spotify Technology has just unveiled an app specifically designed for children between the ages of 3 and 12. Spotify Kids, which is available for free to Spotify Premium Family members, is being tested in the U.K., Sweden, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. The most notable change is visual: Spotify Kids offers kids the animated creature of their choice to act as an avatar in an environment full of colors and doodles. There are two Spotify Kids versions, one for younger children and another for older ones. Continue reading Spotify Tests a Beta Version of Music App Aimed at Children

Publishers and Authors Guild Oppose Audible Text Feature

Audible, the audiobook app owned by Amazon, is using machine learning to transcribe audio recordings, so listeners can also read along with the narrator. Audible is promoting it as an educational feature, but some publishers are up in arms, demanding their books be excluded because captions are “unauthorized and brazen infringements of the rights of authors and publishers.” Publishers are concerned that this will lead to fewer people buying physical or e-books if they can get the text with an Audible audiobook. Continue reading Publishers and Authors Guild Oppose Audible Text Feature

Audible, Chooseco Team on Interactive Tales via Alexa Skill

Amazon’s Audible and Chooseco have collaborated on two new “choose your own adventure” children’s audiobooks. Available on Amazon Alexa-enabled devices via Chooseco’s Choose skill, “The Abominable Snowman” and “Journey Under the Sea,” designed by the two teams, feature professional voice actors and can be navigated by voice commands. The two stories together offer 65 different endings and, on Alexa devices with screens, show illustrations for story beats. Decision-making points in the story are signaled by a sound. Continue reading Audible, Chooseco Team on Interactive Tales via Alexa Skill

Amazon, Microsoft Introduce Integration of Alexa and Cortana

Amazon and Microsoft gave a public demonstration of the integration of Alexa and Cortana into all Echo speakers and to all Windows 10 users. That means that a user can ask Windows 10’s Cortana to open Alexa, and ask Alexa on Echo speakers to open Cortana. This integration is now available to most users but will completely roll out around the country over the next week, said a Microsoft spokesperson. Some features, such as streaming music, audiobooks and news flashes will not be available at launch. Continue reading Amazon, Microsoft Introduce Integration of Alexa and Cortana

Amazon Debuts New Smart Speaker Edition Designed for Kids

Amazon is introducing the $80 Echo Dot Kids Edition with FreeTime services. Intended for children ages 5 to 12, the modified Echo Dot features a brightly colored, protective rubber case; kid-friendly content from the likes of Audible, Disney and iHeartRadio; and parental controls such as time limits, activity review and content filtering. Users can wake up to alarms based on characters from Disney, Nickelodeon and others. The speaker, which is available for pre-order and starts shipping May 9, includes the same two-year replacement guarantee that Amazon rolled out for its Fire tablets for kids. Continue reading Amazon Debuts New Smart Speaker Edition Designed for Kids

Audible and Amazon Continue to Dominate Audiobook Market

Audiobook sellers like Amazon-owned Audible are competing for the ears, not eyes, of book lovers. And they’re showing promise. In 2016, audiobook sales climbed to $2.1 billion, representing an 18 percent jump from the previous year (the format experienced a 26.2 percent sales increase during the first three quarters of 2017). Audible represents about 41 percent of all audiobook sales, and when paired with Amazon, which sells audiobooks directly through its website, the two make up more than half of the market. Audible’s library includes 400,000 titles and its annual subscriber growth is in the double digits.

Continue reading Audible and Amazon Continue to Dominate Audiobook Market

Amazon and Apple Turn Up the Heat in the Audiobook Market

According to the Association of American Publishers, in the first eight months of 2017, based on data from 1,200 publishers, revenue from audiobooks grew 20 percent, compared to print books sales increasing a mere 1.5 percent and e-books losing 5.4 percent. Amazon, which bought Audible in 2008, has been the dominant player, with Audible carving out a unique and profitable portion of the market. But Apple is now attempting to take on its rival with a redesigned iBooks e-book reading application for iPhones and iPads. Continue reading Amazon and Apple Turn Up the Heat in the Audiobook Market

Amazon Opens Bookstore in NYC, Plans Six More This Year

Amazon just opened its seventh bookstore, a 4,000 square foot space, in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle in midtown Manhattan at the heart of the publishing industry. Nearby is the site of a bygone Borders bookstore in addition to publishers such as Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and Hachette Book Group. Amazon has committed to opening a chain of brick-and-mortar bookstores around the country, an irony given that the company’s online sale of books is often cited as a major factor in the demise of many bookstores nationwide. Continue reading Amazon Opens Bookstore in NYC, Plans Six More This Year

Amazon Debuts Budget Phones Loaded with Apps and Widgets

Amazon unveiled two new Android smartphones for its Prime members, the BLU Products R1 HD and 4th generation Lenovo Moto G. Both phones, dubbed Prime Exclusives, are subsidized by Amazon ads: the R1 HD starts at $50 unlocked, $100 and up without the discount; the Moto G starts at $150 unlocked, $200 and up without the discount. With the discount, the Prime Exclusive phones include Amazon apps, services and ads, the latter appearing on the lock screen. The user has to forego the discount to get rid of the ads. Continue reading Amazon Debuts Budget Phones Loaded with Apps and Widgets

Amazon Expands Its Audible Programming to Include Podcasts

Amazon is recruiting comedians, radio producers, engineers, marketers and lawyers for almost 100 positions in the company’s growing Audible division. Audible currently offers more than 250,000 audiobooks and plays, but the new hires suggest that Amazon is investing in more original programming. Prominent comedians like Maria Bamford and Jonathan Katz, as well as producers from NPR, WNYC and the radio show “Fresh Air,” have already joined the Audible team. Continue reading Amazon Expands Its Audible Programming to Include Podcasts