Walmart teams with Google for grocery voice play

Walmart teams with Google for grocery voice play

Walmart is teaming with Alphabet Inc. to take the grocery fight via voice ordering to Amazon and its Whole Foods, Alexa combination.

In a blog post, Walmart shared that starting this month, customers would be able to grocery shop through the Google Assistant by saying, “Hey, Google, talk to Walmart.” This seems like a positive for Google, especially if they are able to share in the data collection with Walmart, while for Walmart it seems like the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It’s also a way to add the functionality associated with our Disruptive Innovators investing theme without having to develop a solution in house.

Kudos to Walmart for continuing to innovate and partner for the new digital world we live in. And to be clear, while Amazon and Walmart compete on several levels, Walmart lacks the profit and cash flow powerhouse that is Amazon Web Services.

According to data from Loup Ventures and published by Voicebot.ai, Amazon’s Alexa had 52% global market share in 2018 vs. 32% for Google Home/Assistant. For now, that would appear to give Amazon the edge, but the reality is it comes down to the percentage of people using these devices to order groceries.

Here’s the thing, just because Walmart makes it available, it doesn’t mean consumers will be using Google Assistant to order groceries. Even I still like to pick out fresh produce and select my cuts of meat. But for generic and boxed items ranging from detergent to garbage bags, this could give not only Amazon a run for its money but also Costco Wholesale and Target.

Now to see how usage develops and what if any other other potential partnerships follow.

Retailers are turning to voice assistants to make it easier for customers to shop for groceries amid strong competition. Walmart, in one case, has rolled out an offering called Walmart Voice Order by working with partners such as Google.

The feature allows consumers to use voice commands to shop for groceries. Beginning in April, shoppers will be able to say “Google, talk to Walmart” and Google Assistant will add products directly to their Walmart grocery carts. Shoppers can also manage their shopping carts on the go, as the technology is available on a host of devices, such as Android phones.

The technology uses the shopper’s past purchases to create a more personalized experience. If a shopper instructs Google Assistant to add milk to the shopping cart, for example, the feature will add the size, brand and type of milk he or she regularly chooses.

In a blog post, Walmart Senior Vice President of Digital Operations Tom Ward noted, “We know when using voice technology, customers like to add items to their cart one at a time over a few days – not complete their shopping for the week all at once. So, this capability aligns with the way customers shop.” While Walmart is rolling out the function with Google, Ward hinted that other voice assistant options will be available in the future. “We’re kicking off the work with Google, adding others to the mix as time goes on,” he noted, adding that the service would be available to more customers in the weeks to come.

Source: Voice Shopping: Walmart’s Newest Grocery Play | PYMNTS.com

Amazon and Qualcomm put Alexa assistant in more headphones

Amazon and Qualcomm put Alexa assistant in more headphones

It looks like we are approaching an inflection point with digital assistants as Qualcomm looks to expand where and how they are used by focusing on the wireless earbud market. The most recognized adoption of that technology for that purpose, which is in keeping with our Disruptive Innovators investing theme, has been Apple’s AirPods, which include connectivity with its own digital assistant Siri. To say the AirPods have been a hit would be an understatement, and while there are competitors in the wireless earbud market, it would appear the competition is only now going to heat up as Qualcomm brings Amazon’s Alexa into the playing field in a meaningful way.

It could be the enemy of my enemy is my friend given how Apple competes with Amazon in the digital assistant space, and Qualcomm is at odds over chips and royalties, but odds are it will foster more wearable digital assistant powered devices at better price points and hopefully foster far greater innovation as well. Underneath it all, Qualcomm is sticking with the strategy that made it a formidable mobile phone and smartphone chip company – being a merchant arms dealer that wins no matter who wins the war.

 

Microchip firm Qualcomm is joining Amazon.com to spread the use of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in wireless headphones, the companies said on Monday.

Under the deal, Qualcomm will release a set of chips that any maker of Bluetooth headphones can use to embed Alexa directly into the device. When the headphones are paired to a phone with the Alexa app on it, users will be able to talk to the voice assistant by tapping a button on the headphones.

The functionality would be similar to Apple Inc’s AirPods wireless earbuds, which enable users can tap the devices to talk to Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri.

Amazon and Alphabet’s Google, whose voice assistants have most often been found in their respective smart speakers for the home, are rushing to partner with headphone makers.

Models from Bose and Jabra feature Alexa built in, and Sony said earlier this year that a software update will make some of its headphone models work with Alexa. Google Assistant can be used on headphones from Bose, JBL and Sony, along with Google’s own Pixel Buds.

The Qualcomm partnership could expand that lineup. Qualcomm has developed a pre-made circuit that headphone makers can drop into their device to imbue it with Alexa.

Source: Amazon.com, Qualcomm to put Alexa assistant in more headphones

Amazon announcing Alexa-enabled hardware products including new security

Amazon announcing Alexa-enabled hardware products including new security

Last week all eyes were on Apple and Fall 2018 new model iPhone launch and this week Amazon is taking the new product spotlight as it announces a number of new Echo products and others that include its digital assistant, Alexa. These products confirm that our view several years ago that voice would be the next killer interface is ringing true. Amazon also unveiled Amazon Guard, which moves it further into our Safety & Security investing theme as it partners with security companies like ADT. That leaves us wondering what the economic relationship will be between these two groups, and if it will add to Amazon’s subscription revenue stream…

Executives at Amazon’s secret event at its headquarters in Seattle on Thursday announced a new suite of Echo products including a microwave, clocks and security devices as well ways to integrate Alexa with third-party devices. , further cementing the company’s commitment to the voice assistant space.

The company announced a brand new Echo Dot, its most popular Echo speaker. The new product, which will cost $49.99, will be 70 percent louder and have clearer sound. It will have a completely new industrial design, and the fabric face will come in multiple colors. Orders for the new Echo Dot start on Thursday, and it will ship next month to every country Alexa is available.

Amazon also announced a new Echo Plus, which has cleaner sound and better bass. It too will have a fabric design, as well as an internal temperature sensor inside. This new model will build on last year’s smart home hub, and will add lock controls so you can control your home even if your WiFi goes down.

Other new devices an Amazon Basic Microwave, which is deeply integrated with Alexa inside. It works in conjunction with a nearby Echo, but it failed during a test on Thursday. However, it eventually successfully started microwaving a potato based on voice commands. The microwave will cost $59.99, and ship later this year.

Amazon also introduced a $25 Alexa smart plug. The device will allow users to plug items directly into it, and it will automatically sync with an existing Echo. A demo of the product allowed Limp to set up a smart lamp in 20 seconds using only voice commands.

The company also announced an Echo Wall Clock, which can be used to set timers and other time-based Alexa tasks. It will cost $30, and ship later this year.”You never have to worry about daylight savings,” Limp said. “The motor will automatically change.”

Amazon also moved further into the security space. Alexa Guard will take your Echo, smart lights, and security service provider if you have one, and sync them all together. Users could say, “Alexa, I’m leaving,” and the product will move all your Echo-linked devices into guard mode. Other smart alerts include away lighting mode, so smart lights will intelligently randomize lighting to make it look like someone is home. Alexa Guard will be integrated with Ring and home alarm company ATD to begin.

The company also announced new Ring stick up security cameras, which come in wired and wireless versions. It will be available for $179.99 later this year.

A new Echo Input will give Alexa-capabilities to existing speakers, microphones and Bluetooth devices. Amazon will sell the product with partners, including Bose, for $34.99.

The company also announced the Echo Link Amp and Echo Link, which can couple with higher-end speakers. The Echo Link Amp will be available for $199 later this year, and the Echo Link for $299 early next year.

An Alexa Connect Kit will allow the smart assistant to be added to other devices made by third-parties. P&G and Hamilton Beach are among the partners.Echo will also soon be able to handle left and right inputs for stereo sound. To improve the listening experience, Amazon announced an Echo Sub to add additional bass. It will ship this month for $129.99. Pre-orders begin Thursday.

Source: Amazon announcing Alexa-enabled hardware products

Voice interfaces are challenging and changing marketing tactics

Voice interfaces are challenging and changing marketing tactics

We’ve seen a number of interface technologies over since the dawn of the PC age, but until now and in one way or another they have all hinged on the screen. No matter how big or how small, consumers have been able to see what they have been looking for or working on, but with the adoption of voice-based digital assistants that are being used to play music, send messages, and shop the screen, at least for now, is more than likely not there. Ever one to follow consumer eyeballs or in this case consumer voices, we are poised to see a change in how marketers and brand companies try to reach would be buyers of their products.

Lord knows I’m not going to fare very well if I’m read a verbal list of multiple items — odds are by the time it gets to the fourth, I’ve already forgotten the first one. Perhaps, it means advertising fees to be listed in the top two? I suspect this could be some of the data analysis Amazon is working on with Alexa.

 

Research conducted in the US by PwC in February 2018 found that searching for information, playing music, sending messages and shopping were among the activities conducted by large percentages of voice assistant users.

As this reliance on voice-first communications grows, so too does interest among brands. Companies in all industries are experimenting to figure out how these new communication channels can help them interact with their target audiences and build brand engagement in more personalized and frictionless ways.

Voice, however, is unlike anything that’s come before, which is forcing brands to think differently about how they design their campaigns. Rather than using traditional “push” messaging, they must work harder to make brand interactions useful and valuable—or they risk becoming irrelevant.

The biggest change is that voice-first technology requires marketers to design auditory interactions, without screens or keyboards. “When you do a visual search on a desktop or a mobile phone, you’re presented with multiple choices or answers to your query,” said Allen Nance, CMO at Emarsys. “But when you do voice, you’re pretty much getting whatever answer the device—or the company that owns the device—thinks is the right answer.”

Source: Voice Control Forces Marketers to Think Differently – eMarketer

Pilot study shows how Amazon’s Alexa helps older adults feel independent and safe

Pilot study shows how Amazon’s Alexa helps older adults feel independent and safe

In February 2017, the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) launched its Amazon Alexa Pilot at Carlsbad By The Sea (CBTS). The positive results from the pilot showed the positive impact Alexa and smart home technologies can have in the lives of older adults:

  • 75% used their smart devices at least once a day.
  • 100% felt the Alexa overall made their life easier.
  • 60% of individuals said that they felt more connected to family, friends and their community since starting the pilot.
  • 100% of respondents felt that their device overall helped make life easier
  • 82% reported that using a smart plug/lamp with Alexa was “very easy”

The pilot also explored how Voice First technologies could promote independence and self- management by allowing older adults voice control and automation of their environment. The pilot program found that:

  • Participants submitted a 9.4/10 satisfaction rating of their smart home experience.
  • 6 of 9 participants (67%) believed that smart temperature control with Alexa was helpful; an additional 33% found it “very helpful”.
Those results underscore one of the reasons why Amazon (AMZN) shares are a part of our Aging Population investing theme and included in Tematica’s Boomer Economy index.

Among the findings from the research (which initially included about 20 residents and later expanded to 90 homes, with most participants older than 80): 75 percent used the smart devices daily, and almost as many said Alexa helped them feel more connected to family, friends and the rest of the community.“

When we deployed the Alexa devices, we focused on helping [the older adults] find a meaningful connection with the technology,” Park said. “So we would ask people, ‘What kind of music do you like? Who’s your favorite sports team?’”Once a connection was made and participants were trained in using the device, they started to explore other ways to interact with Alexa, such as using it to listen to audiobooks and get medication reminders.

Tying Voice-First Technology to the ‘Smart Home’A second phase of the project offered residents the opportunity to see how Alexa can be tied to “smart home” technology. Soon, a number of them were controlling lights and thermostats in their homes with voice commands.

That capability gave people, particularly those with mobility issues, a greater sense of control and independence, Park noted. They no longer had to bother partners or caregivers to turn on lights or adjust the temperature.“

Amazon still dominates the voice-first market, with other smart speakers, including Google Home and Apple HomePod, playing catchup. Overall, it’s become a booming business, with sales tripling from 2016 to almost $25 million last year.

Source: How Voice-First Technology Like Alexa Helps Older Adults

WEEKLY ISSUE: CES 2018 Delivers for the Tematica Investing Select List

WEEKLY ISSUE: CES 2018 Delivers for the Tematica Investing Select List

Welcome to this week’s issue of Tematica Investing, where we leverage our proprietary thematic lens to invest in well-positioned companies when it comes to our investment themes.

Over the last week, we’ve seen one of the best starts to a new trading year in some time, and the Tematica Investing Select List has been benefitted from not only that start but news being made at the currently occurring annual technology tradeshow better known as CES 2018. I’ll recap some of the meaningful announcements below in a minute, but the impact of those results have moved our positions in Universal Display (OLED), Applied Materials (AMAT), Nokia (NOK) and AXT Inc. (AXTI) higher over the last week.

These moves and the causes behind them have me once again revisiting my price targets on OLED and AMAT shares to the upside. Confirming data will likely be had in the coming days as 4Q 2017 earnings begin in earnest next Tuesday. As I discussed in this week’s Monday Morning Kickoff, the likely scenario is we see U.S. listed companies offer an upbeat outlook and use the benefit to be had from tax reform to boost 2018 EPS expectations. On an annual basis, those tax reform related benefits should more than outweigh the cold snap weather and winter storm Grayson disruptions that we have likely encountered with restaurant, retail and construction companies. This means that at least in the near-term investors will need to be choosey, hwoever, the net effect should see the stock market melt higher, especially if more Wall Street strategists boost their price targets for the S&P 500, the proxy for the overall U.S. stock market. I expect this to be the likely scenario.

My perspective that I laid our in this week’s Monday Morning Kickoff remains – I continue to suspect expectations could be getting ahead of themselves given the recent climb in consumer debt levels and continued growth in the lack of qualified workers that could hamstring business investment in the coming months despite lower taxes. The strategy that we’ll follow near term is to listen to the data and look for opportunities – companies at prices that offer a skewed risk-to-reward proposition that is in our favor. It has been that discipline married with Tematica’s thematic lens that has steered us clear of such 2017 disasters as GoPro (GPRO) and Blue Apron (APRN).

 

Watching the Fed minutes this afternoon

Later today, we will receive the next iteration of the Fed’s FOMC meeting minutes. While we know the policy impact from the December meeting, I’ll be interested in seeing more on to what degree the Fed factored in tax reform into its GDP forecasts, and what it sees as some of the swing factors to watch.

 

A first pass from CES 2018

While CES 2018, the annual technology trade show held in Las Vegas that features more than 4,000 exhibitors, officially got underway yesterday, we’ve received a number of announcements in the last few days that have sent tech shares in general, and several of our holdings, higher.

Starting with TVs, which are one of the more high-profile items to kick off the annual gathering, we are starting to see artificial intelligence (AI) embedded into these devices. For example, is adding both Alphabet’s (GOOGL) Google Assistant and Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa to its latest 4K OLED and Super UHD LCD TV lineup. But TVs aren’t the only things that will embed AI in the coming year – yesterday it was announced by Moen that its cloud-based, Wi-Fi enabled shower system “U by Moen” will add support for Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa AI assistants in the first half of 2018.

Outside of Moen, both Kohler and Whirlpool (WHR) are also bringing voice activation capabilities to their smart kitchen, bath and appliance products. No stranger to voice assistants in its products, Whirlpool is going one step further as the appliances it is debuting at CES this year can be controlled using Alexa or Google Assistant. Per Whirlpool, its offering includes “dishwashers that can be set and started remotely by voice, refrigerators that homeowners can change temperature settings on using a voice assistant, and washing machines that let the user check with Alexa to see how much time is left on a cycle.”

We’re also seeing connectivity make its way into toothbrushes courtesy of Colgate’s (CL) Smart Electronic Toothbrush uses Apple ResearchKit with the user’s permission to crowdsource toothbrushing data so the company can “anticipate the future of oral care.”

This is a first pass at the CES news flow and I’ll have more over the coming days, so be sure to check back at TematicaInvesting.com for those thoughts.

Stepping back we find the rising number of connected devices – be they through voice assistants, smartphones or other – driving incremental demand for RF semiconductors. This, in turn, bodes very well for incremental substrate demand for AXT’s (AXTI), the basic building block for RF semiconductors from the likes of Skyworks Solutions (SWKS), Qorvo (QRVO) and others.

That is poised to drive semiconductor manufacturing utilization rates higher and bodes well for incremental orders at semi-cap company Applied Materials (AMAT), which is also benefitting from the ramp in organic light emitting diode display demand I noted above. With AMAT shares trading at just 13.5x on expected 2018 earnings, I’m once again reviewing my $65 price target with an upward bias.

I also see Amazon making a significant “land grab” with its Alexa voice assistant, which, in our view, bodes very well for continued growth in Amazon’s Prime membership and the company capturing consumer wallet share.

  • We continue to rate AXT Inc. (AXTI) shares a Buy at current levels and our price target remains $11.
  • We continue to rate Applied Materials (AMAT) shares a Buy at current levels and our price target remains $65.
  • We continue to have a Buy on Amazon (AMZN) shares, and our price target remains $1,400.

 

 

Having Siri and Alexa join you in the shower

It used to be there were a handful of places on could retreat to find some downtime, but it looks like we are on the verge of losing one as Moen is bringing the connected home and virtual assistant connectivity into the shower. Based on the price points, this functionality will mesh with our Affordable Luxury investing theme, but much like we’ve seen with cars the technology will trickle down to lower-tier offerings over time. How long until we can voice dictate messages? Better yet, how long until we can change the music?

 

Plumbing hardware giant Moen is building out its U by Moen smart shower system with the latest virtual assistant technology from Apple and Amazon, allowing users to turn on fixtures, adjust temperature settings and more with their voice. U by Moen saw release last year as a digitally controlled smart shower and valve system that lets users preheat shower water, adjust temperature settings for up to four outlets, set timers and remotely start or stop water flow via a touchpad or connected app.

Announced at CES on Sunday, the latest iteration of the U system integrates voice control through Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistants. Alexa compatibility arrives in the first quarter as a third-party extension, while Siri and HomeKit will see integration in quarter two. Moen showed off U in a demonstration, explaining that users simply ask the assistant of their choosing (Alexa on the show floor) to turn on the shower head or set a desired temperature. Water begins to flow from the outlet until a desired temperature is reached, then the system pauses, waiting for a user to enter. Other commands include macro presets that can be customized in the U by Moen app. For example, a multi-fixture spa setup might include different temperatures for separate water outlets like a shower head, hand wand or side sprays. Pricing varies, but a basic controller and valve system comes in at $1,160 with included shower head and wand, while a four outlet spa style arrangement goes for $2,200.

Source: Moen wants you to take a shower with Siri and Alexa

Amazon adds payments to Alexa skill sets

Over the last year, we’ve seen considerable progress in the use of voice interface technology, due in part to the success of Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa, but also efforts by Alphabet and to a lesser extent Apple. Like most Disruptive Technologies, we are seeing the use cases continue to expand and ripple across our Cashless Consumption investing theme. Not surprising given Amazon’s efforts into voice-driven shopping as well as its online and mobile payments initiative known as Amazon Pay.

Amazon Pay is coming soon to apps developed for Amazon’s Alexa by third-party developers.

Starting out, Alexa’s payment-embedded skills will fall into the following categories: donations, restaurants and event ticketing.A developer preview made available yesterday also indicated that Alexa’s Amazon Pay-powered skills will expanded more dramatically in 2018. That change will roll out with a public beta for the Gadgets API, giving developers a chance to start making games that interact with the Echo Buttons for multi-person gameplay. Those will be in stores starting next month, according to reports. The new payments skill will likely leverage voice recognition technology, as Amazon has also announced that it will expand access to that capability as well.

Presently, only Amazon-built Echo apps can use voice recognition.Native payments for Alexa and Echo devices will allow Amazon to offer its 20+ thousand member developer base a chance to monetize their app creations. Thus far, so doing on the platform has been difficult as ads are mostly forbidden — with the exceptions of flash briefings and streaming audio, which are able to run ads.

Source: Amazon Pay Comes To Alexa Skills | PYMNTS.com

Amazon’s stealth play for Alexa – the car

Amazon’s stealth play for Alexa – the car

We at Tematica have shared our view that Amazon (AMZN)is the innovator to watch as it continues to disrupt exisitng business models. Amazon is not always successful as evidenced by its flopping in the smartphone market, but like any true innovator they keep working at it and sometimes that means outflanking a competitor where they least expect it. Despite all the talk of Apple’s (AAPL) CarPlay and Alphabet’s (GOOGL) Android Auto, it’s Amazon that continues to expand its footing in the automotive market with Alexa. As Alexa’s reach is expanded from smart speakers by Amazon as well as third party ones from Sonos, it is moving beyond that and penetrating the appliance and automotive markets with Apple and Alphabet yet to catch up. Once again, Amazon is out innovating the disruptors, making Alexa an even stickier part of our lives with linkages to Nissan, BMW and others.

Nissan owners will soon be able to access their car by asking Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa to unlock the vehicle for them.Certain Nissan models made between 2016 and 2018 will be equipped with the technology that will allow drivers to tell Alexa to carry out tasks such as flashing the lights, unlocking the car remotely and honking the horn.

It works in vehicles that have NissanConnect Services’s telematics system, the Japanese manufacturer’s in-car software. Users will need a subscription to this.Later this month, users can download a new Alexa skill called NissanConnect Services in the Amazon Skills Store.

Amazon has been striking deals with automakers to bring Alexa to cars. Last month, BMW said Alexa capabilities will be in some of its cars from 2018.

Source: Amazon Alexa can now be used to unlock a Nissan car remotely

Google embraces Safety & Security to challenge Amazon’s Alexa

Google embraces Safety & Security to challenge Amazon’s Alexa

The company formerly known as Google that goes by the name Alphabet is quietly expanding its hardware reach. First by scooping up certain HTC assets that helped develop Google’s Pixel smartphone, which we think is a back-door way of protecting its core search business as voice becomes a more dominant method of search. Second, Google is embracing our Safety & Security theme at Nest as it rolls out several new products, including a new alarm system that comes with Google Assistant support. Given the home insurance break once receives once an alarm system is installed, we suspect Google is looking to challenge Amazon and its Alexa digital assistant using an end-around strategy.

Among the announcements, the company is introducing a new alarm system called ‘Nest Secure’ that comes in the form of a $499 home security starter kit.

The kit includes all components of the Secure system including one base called Nest Guard where an alarm, keypad and motion sensor are housed, two ‘Nest Detect’ motion sensors that you can put around your house, and two ‘Nest Tag’ key fobs for controlling the system.

The battery-powered Nest Detect sensors can be used to detect both motion and open or close movements and will be available to purchase separately to expand the system for $59 each. Nest Tags will be available to purchase separately for $25.The company is also taking the wraps off a new video doorbell camera called ‘Nest Hello’ launching sometime early next year in the US and Canada before coming to Europe later in 2018

And lastly, Nest is introducing an outdoor version of its security cam called Nest Cam IQ Outdoor that comes with face recognition and, of course, weatherproofing for $349.

The company is also announcing Google Assistant support, although there is unfortunately still no mention of HomeKit despite the company earlier this year confirming that it would consider it.

Source: Nest announces ‘Secure’ alarm system, ‘Hello’ video doorbell, & Nest Cam IQ Outdoor (still no HomeKit) | 9to5Mac