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Apple Music Coming to Alexa Echo Devices December 17

Nov 30, 2018, 8:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today said Apple Music subscribers will soon be able to enjoy their playlists through Alexa-powered devices. Apple Music customers can request that Alexa play songs, artists, albums, and Apple playlists, as well as stream Apple Music radio stations. For example, people can say "Alexa, play Beats 1" to hear Apple's global radio stream. In order to pair Apple Music with Amazon Alexa, customers will need to enable the Apple Music skill in the Alexa app. "Music is one of the most popular features on Alexa — since we launched Alexa four years ago, customers are listening to more music in their homes than ever before," said Dave Limp, senior vice president, Amazon Devices in a blog post. "We are committed to offering great music providers to our customers and we're thrilled to bring Apple Music — one of the most popular music services in the U.S. — to Echo customers this holiday." Amazon says Alexa owners stream tens of millions of hours of radio each month, and have set tens of millions of music alarms in the last year. Apple Music comes to Amazon Alexa and Echo on December 17. Before this announcement, Apple Music was only available to Apple's own HomePod speaker.

Amazon Gives Bluetooth Device Makers Broader Access to Alexa

Nov 21, 2018, 8:10 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon has made the Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit available to developers, which will enable them to build the smart assistant into headphones, wearables, and more. Amazon first announced the AMA Kit in January of this year and has been testing it since. This week marks the general availability of the kit. The kit supports Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy audio-capable devices so people can tap into Alexa from just about anywhere. Amazon says end users need only pair their Android phone or iPhone with a Bluetooth headset or smartwatch, install the Alexa mobile app, and perform a quick one-time setup. Most Alexa features are included, such as streaming media, controlling smart home devices, and interacting with tens of thousands of Alexa skills. The AMA Kit includes all the code developers need so they can focus on building their product. Developers interested in the Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit can get started via Amazon's developer portal. Consumers can expect to see more Alexa-enabled gear in the months ahead.

Amazon Will Sell New Apple iPhones, iPads, and More

Nov 9, 2018, 1:32 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon has agreed to sell more products from Apple, including the company's iPhone, iPad, Beats headphones, and wearables. The deal arrives just ahead of the holiday shopping season and means Amazon customers will have access to the iPhone Xs, Xs Max, Xr, iPad Pro, and Apple Watch 4, among other products. Amazon already sells a few Apple devices, including some Beats models and MacBook laptops. Amazon will not sell the Apple HomePod, which competes directly with Amazon's own Alexa-powered home speakers. The distribution deal applies to Amazon's footprint in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, and India. Products should reach Amazon's warehouses in those markets over the next few weeks. Moving forward, only authorized Apple resellers will be allowed to sell Apple and Beats products via the Amazon marketplace. The move means pricing of Apple products on Amazon should normalize. Moreover, it makes Apple's products more available to consumers.

Amazon's Alexa App Upgraded with Fresh Design as Alexa Tacks On New Skills

Oct 5, 2018, 2:59 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon has a number of updates to Alexa in store for phones and in-home connected devices. First, the mobile application for iPhones and Android devices has been given an entirely new look. The revised visual UI is easier to navigate. For example, under the devices tab each device is now listed separately rather than grouped by room. This lets people interact with multiple devices in multiple rooms from one screen rather than several. The fresh app is rolling out to the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store globally this week. Along with the redesign, Amazon has announced a new feature for developers that expands Alexa's skills. Skill connections will let two Alexa skills interact with one another, essentially letting one skill control a second skill. To start, the skill will be limited to printing, ride hailing, and restaurant booking. The idea is to ease the process of completing multi-step requests. With skills able to trigger other skills, it cuts the separate interactions required from two to one. For example, a skill that sells theater tickets could complete that purchase via Amazon Pay and then offer the buyer an Uber or Lyft to the theater without forcing the user to initiate a separate request. Amazon is offering skill connections as a developer preview right now. Amazon plans to add more types of skill interactions over time.

Alexa Cast Simplifies Playing Music from Phones to Alexa Devices

Jul 26, 2018, 9:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today revealed Alexa Cast, a new feature that simplifies the experience of interacting with Alexa-powered devices. Alexa Cast specifically targets the action of casting music from a mobile phone to an Alexa speaker. At launch, it is only compatible with Amazon's own Amazon Music app for controlling music playback. The feature works with all Alexa-enabled devices, including those made by Amazon and those made by third-party companies. The new feature is coming to the Amazon Music app for Android and iOS starting today, which will contain an icon for Alexa Cast on the Now Playing screen. What users see on the app will be in sync with what's playing through the speakers, so they can manage playback in real-time. Third-party apps cannot yet access the new Alexa Cast feature and Amazon hasn't said if or when Alexa Cast might reach more of its own apps.

Amazon Adds Moto Z3 Play and G6 Play with Alexa to Prime Exclusive Lineup

Jun 21, 2018, 7:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today made the Motorola Moto Z3 Play and Moto G6 Play, both with Alexa on board, available through its Prime Exclusives program. Phones sold through the Prime Exclusive program have a single sign-in for all Amazon services, such as Amazon Video and Amazon Music. The phones include a number of Amazon apps preinstalled. The Moto Z3 Play (pictured) has a 6-inch screen and is compatible with Motorola's Moto Mods accessories. It features a 12-megapixel main camera with a 5-megapixel secondary camera, and an 8-megapixel selfie camera. The Z3 Play ships with the Moto Power Pack Mod, and Amazon is offering a free Moto Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa for hands-free access to the Alexa assistant. Amazon is selling the Z3 Play for $450 (a $50 discount). The Moto G6 Play is a mid-range phone with a 5.7-inch screen, 13-megapixel main camera and 5-megapixel front camera. Amazon is selling the Moto G6 Play for $190 (a $10 discount). Both phones run Android 8 Oreo and are compatible with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Preorders start today, and the phones will ship June 29.

Nokia 3.1 Is Up for Preorder from Amazon

Jun 13, 2018, 7:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon.com has listed the Nokia 3.1 on its site for $159. The phone, announced last month, is available for preorder from the online retailer, but it won't ship until July 2. The 3.1 has a 5.2-inch full HD+ screen with the 2:1 aspect ratio and Gorilla Glass. It is powered by a MediaTek 6750N processor and includes 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage with support for memory cards up to 128 GB. The primary camera has a 13-megapixel sensor at f/2 with LED flash, while the front camera has an 8-megapixel sensor at f/2.2. Other specs include a 2,990mAh battery and Bluetooth 5.0. The Nokia 3.1 comes in black, blue, and white. Nokia-branded phones are made by HMD Global.

LG's K30 Lands On Amazon As a Prime Exclusive for $140

May 22, 2018, 10:04 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated May 22, 2018, 11:15 AM

Amazon has added the LG K30 to its list of Amazon Prime Exclusives for the low price of $140. The K30 is a rebadged variant of the K10, which LG announced earlier this year. The K30 has a U-shaped metal frame and a 5.3-inch 720p display and a 1.4 GHz quad-core processor. While T-Mobile's version has a 13-megapixel camera, Amazon's has an 8 megapixel camera. The front camera is 5 megapixel. Photo tools include bokeh/portraits and a Low Light Noise mode that works with HDR to reduce grain and provide more contrast in low-light shots. Other features include a 2,880mAh battery and fingerprint reader; LTE with support for Band 71 (600 MHz), GPS, Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi, and FM radio; and a microUSB port. It comes in black, ships with Android 7 Nougat, and is sold unlocked.

Amazon Raising Price of Prime to $119 On May 11

Apr 26, 2018, 5:13 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today said it will increase the price of its Amazon Prime service from $99 to $119 on May 11. "We continue to increase the value of Prime," said Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky during the company's quarterly earnings call with analysts. Amazon Prime scores members expedited shipping, shipping discounts, and access to cloud-based services such as Amazon Prime Movies and Prime Music. Amazon also offers discounts on select phones to Prime members via its Amazon Prime Exclusives program. Olsavsky noted that it is seeing "rises in cost" for these "digital benefits." The May 11 rate increase will apply to new members. The price goes up to $119 on June 16 for existing Prime customers who renew the yearly service.

Alexa Blueprints Let Anyone Create Personalized Alexa Skills

Apr 19, 2018, 8:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today released Alexa Blueprints, a tool that people can use to create their very own skills for Alexa. Amazon published a new web site that makes it easy to build the skills, with no coding knowledge needed. Users pick from a handful of prefabricated blueprints, fill in some blanks, and publish the skill. Amazon says skills created with Alexa Blueprints will be added to the Alexa app on their phone and available from all Alexa-powered devices associated with the account. The skills will not be made public. "Alexa Skill Blueprints is an entirely new way for you to teach Alexa personalized skills just for you and your family,” said Amazon VP Steve Rabuchin. "You don’t need experience building skills or coding to get started — my family created our own jokes skill in a matter of minutes, and it’s been a blast to interact with Alexa in a totally new and personal way." Some of the initial blueprints include jokes and stories, trivia, motivational quotes, quizzes and flashcards, and skills for guests and babysitters. Amazon's Alexa Blueprints are free to use.

Opera Discontinuing Its Android and iOS VPN Service

Apr 19, 2018, 8:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Opera Software says its mobile VPN service will go offline on April 30, 2018. The Opera VPN service has been around for several years and allows Android and iOS users to connect to open WiFi network securely. With Opera VPN shutting down, Opera is pointing people to the SurfEasy VPN. Opera Gold subscribers have the option to redeem a free one-year subscription to the SurfEasy Ultra VPN. Non-Gold Opera VPN users will be able to redeem an 80% discount for SurfEasy via the Opera VPN app ahead of the April 30 shutdown. SurfEasy Ultra offers unlimited usage on up to five devices per account, with access to 28 regions, and a no-log policy. SurfEasy VPN is available to more platforms, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Amazon.

Microsoft's AI-Powered Translator App Now Works Offline

Apr 19, 2018, 8:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said its Microsoft Translator application can now function when offline. End users will need to download free AI-powered packs for the language of their choice ahead of time. Once downloaded, the Translator is able to take advantage of Microsoft's neural translation technology without a network connection. The AI-powered offline language packs are available to Microsoft Translator for Android, iOS, and Amazon Fire devices. Beyond the end-user features, Microsoft is allowing developers to integrate online and offline AI-based text translations into their own apps. This would let, for example, camera applications translate text in real time even with the phone is offline. Developers can find the new tools on Microsoft's developer web site. Microsoft Translator is free to download from the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store, and Amazon Appstore.

Nokia 6 for Sale from Amazon and Walmart for $269

Apr 16, 2018, 8:52 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Nokia 6 phone from HMD Global is now available to U.S. consumers. The device, first announced in February, is being sold unlocked from Amazon and Walmart for $269. The Nokia 6 (2018) is a refresh to last year's model. It carries over the same design as the original, but improves the specs under the hood. It includes a 5.5-inch screen and premium materials. Key features include NFC and a fingerprint reader. It jumps from the Snapdragon 435 to the Snapdragon 630 and is sold in the U.S. with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. The frame is milled from 6000 series aluminum and now comes in black/copper, white/iron, and blue/gold. Other features include a 3,000mAh battery, face unlock, wireless charging, USB-C, and Android 8 Oreo. Support for U.S. LTE networks is unclear at this time.

ESPN Launches ESPN+, a $5-Per-Month Video Service

Apr 12, 2018, 10:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ESPN today made a new over-the-top video service available to cord-cutters. ESPN+ can be streamed to most devices, including phones, and delivers a selection of live games from MLB, MLS, NHL, and other leagues. It also includes Grand Slam tennis, college football and basketball, and golfing events. Beyond games, ESPN+ offers subscribers access to ESPN originals, studio programs, international soccer, basketball, and rugby matches, and the ability to record, pause, and rewind live games. The service supports HD streaming on Android and iOS phones and tablets, and Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast streaming devices. ESPN+ costs $5 per month, but a promotion offers early adopters the first month for free.

Android Phones Gain Access to Amazon's AR Shopping Tool

Feb 27, 2018, 10:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon has made its AR View mobile shopping application available to Android handsets. The app allows people to visualize products in their home, such as furniture, before they buy them. Amazon says everything from couches to kitchen appliances and more are rendered in life-size, so shoppers can gauge whether or not the items will fit their space or style. The app is free to download from the Google Play Store. Other retailers, including Ikea, offer similar tools in their mobile shopping apps. AR View has been available to iOS devices since last year.

Essential Selling Halo Gray Essential Phone with Alexa via Amazon

Feb 16, 2018, 2:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Essential Products today outed a fourth new color of its PH-1 Essential Phone that's exclusive to Amazon. The Halo Gray version of the Essential Phone is available for preorder from Amazon.com for $449 starting today. In addition to the fresh coat of paint, this Amazon exclusive ships with the Alexa app preinstalled. It will ship starting February 21. Essential recently revealed new black, blue, and gray models that are for sale directly from Essential's web site. The Essential Phone includes an edge-to-edge display, 13-megapixel rear cameras, 128 GB of storage, Snapdragon 835 processor, and magnetic connectors for modular attachments.

Amazon to Nix Lock Screen Ads On Prime Exclusive Phones

Feb 6, 2018, 12:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Feb 6, 2018, 12:45 PM

Amazon today said it will no longer require people to view ads in order to score a discount on an unlocked smartphone. As it exists now, the Amazon Prime Exclusive program offers devices at lower cost as long as owners agree to view advertisements on the lock screen. Starting February 7, Amazon will sell Prime Exclusive Phones without the lock screen ad requirement. "As smartphone technology has evolved, we also want to evolve the Prime Exclusive Phone experience to ensure customers can easily use features such as the phone’s mobile unlock technologies like facial recognition and fingerprint sensors, as well as be able to personalize device lockscreens with photos or wallpapers," said Amazon. People who own a Prime Exclusive Phone will receive an update this week that removes the lock screen ads. Moving forward, Amazon says discounted Prime Exclusive Phones will be available to customers who subscribe to Amazon Prime. Such devices will be sold unlocked. Prime Exclusive Phones will provide a single sign-on experience for Amazon services, such as Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, and more. The Amazon Widget will continue to display personalized offers and deals. As a result of this change, the individual device discounts won't be as deep. Amazon said it will increase the price of every current Prime Exclusive Phone in the portfolio by $20.

Amazon to Let Devs Add Alexa to Headphones, Wearables, More

Jan 6, 2018, 5:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon hopes a new set of developer tools will expand Alexa's footprint to a much wider set of devices. The Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit lets hardware makers add Alexa to their gear, such as hearables, headphones, smart watches, fitness devices, and more, without extra coding work. It supports Bluetooth audio-capable devices so people can tap into Alexa from just about anywhere. Most Alexa features are included, such as streaming media, controlling smart home devices, and interacting with more than 25,000 Alexa skills. Amazon says developers interested in this functionality can sign up for the kit, which will be made available later this year.

Internet Association to Fight FCC's Net Neutrality Repeal

Jan 6, 2018, 5:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Internet Association plans to fight the FCC's attempt to repeal net neutrality. The FCC this week published the final version of its Report & Order to sack the Obama-era laws that govern the internet. The FCC seeks to reclassify broadband internet under Title I of the Communications Act as a private service, rather than as a utility under Title II. The FCC also plans to ditch the bright-line rules that prohibit throttling, blocking, and prioritization. In response, the Internet Association said, "The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule, as expected, dismantles popular net neutrality protections for consumers. This rule defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet. IA intends to act as an intervenor in judicial action against this order and, along with our member companies, will continue our push to restore strong, enforceable net neutrality protections through a legislative solution." Members of IA include internet giants Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, Spotify, eBay, Twitter, Pandora, PayPal, and others.

Amazon Rolls Out New Appstore for Android Devices

Oct 25, 2017, 7:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon has made available a new version of its Amazon Appstore mobile app for Android. Amazon says the Appstore has been rebuilt from the ground up with revised navigation tools. For example, a nav bar at the bottom of the app lets people jump between different pages, while the categories tab lets users quickly sort through apps in a more visual way. A tab called My Apps helps people manage the apps they've already downloaded from the Appstore to their device. The Appstore makes use of Amazon Coins for making app purchases. People can buy Coins in bulk at a discount, which Amazon says saves money over the long run when compared to traditional payment methods. Amazon says most Android app developers won't need to do anything to adjust their apps for the new Appstore. The Amazon Appstore for Android is free to download directly from Amazon.

Amazon to Sell Moto X4 Via Prime Exclusives

Oct 18, 2017, 9:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Oct 18, 2017, 9:42 AM

Amazon today said it will soon offer the Motorola Moto X4 through its Prime Exclusives program. Devices sold under the Prime Exclusives banner are offered at a discount in exchange for viewing ads on the lock screen. The phone will be available for preorder starting today for $330, a discount of $70 off the full list price of $400. Amazon is offering both the black and blue colors and says the phone will start shipping on October 26. The Moto X4 is a mid-range phone with dual cameras, including a 12-megapixel main camera with PDAF, and a 120-degree wide-angle second camera with 8-megapixel resolution. The LCD screen measures 5.2 inches with full HD resolution. The phone is rated IP68 for water-resistance, and has a metal frame with Gorilla Glass on the front and back. The X4 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor and the 3,000 mAh battery supports Turbo Charging. Motorola says the Moto X4 will be generally available in the U.S. for pre-order beginning October 19 at Best Buy, BestBuy.com, B&H, Fry's, Jet.com, Motorola.com, Newegg, Republic Wireless, and Ting. Like the Amazon variant, Motorola expects its retail partners to ship the standard Moto X4 beginning October 26

Microsoft and Amazon Let Cortana and Alexa Talk to One Another

Aug 30, 2017, 12:18 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft and Amazon today announced a new partnership that will allow Windows 10 users to access Alexa via Cortana, and Echo users to access Cortana via Alexa. The tie-up lets people use one personal assistant to open the other. For example, people who own Windows 10 PCs will be able to say "Hey Cortana, open Alexa" and then speak queries to Alexa through their PC. Conversely, people who own an Amazon Echo device will be able to say "Alexa, open Cortana" to set reminders, check appointments, and make other requests of Cortana. Microsoft says this capability is available to Windows 10 PCs first, but it will come to Android and iOS devices later this year.

Amazon Prices the Motorola Moto E4 Plus at $140

Aug 3, 2017, 2:44 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon has added the Motorola Moto E4 Plus to its lineup of Amazon Prime Exclusive handsets. The phone is available for preorder today, with shipments kicking off Aug. 11. Amazon lists the 16 GB model of the phone at $140 and the 32 GB model at $160. These represent $40 in savings when compared to purchasing the phone outright from Motorola or other retailers. Amazon Prime Exclusive handsets are discounted because owners agree to view advertisements on the lock screen. The Moto E4 Plus is also available today from Best Buy, B&H, Fry's, Newegg, and Motorola.com for $180 (16 GB) and $200 (32 GB). The Moto E4 Plus boasts a metal design, and improves the screen size compared to the standard E4 to 5.5 inches (still 720p HD) and the battery to a massive 5,000mAh. The phone ships with a 10W charger for rapid power-ups. The E4 Plus also packs a 13-megapixel main camera with f/2.0 aperture, LED flash, and autofocus, and a 5-megapixel front camera with selfie flash.

Alcatel A30 Reaches Amazon Prime”‹ for Just $60

Mar 25, 2017, 9:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Mar 25, 2017, 9:56 AM

Amazon recently added the Alcatel A30 to its roster of Prime Exclusives. This entry-level Android handset includes a 5-inch HD screen and a 1.1 GHz Snapdragon 210 processor with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. The phone supports memory cards up to 32 GB. The main camera has an 8-megapixel sensor with time-lapse recording while the front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor. Alcatel says the phone's 2,460mAh battery provides all-day life. The phone runs Android 7 Nougat and is sold in both CDMA and GSM variants, with LTE for AT&T and T-Mobile. Amazon is selling the phone for $60 with lock screen ads or for $100 without ads. It goes on sale April 19.

Amazon Adds Alexa AI to iPhone Shopping App

Mar 16, 2017, 11:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today made Alexa, its artificial intelligence, available to a much wider selection of devices by adding Alexa to its iOS mobile shopping application. Now any iPhone with the Amazon app aboard has access to Alexa, allowing people to search for and buy goods simply by asking Alexa for it. Amazon says customers can say things like "search for paper towels" or "reorder batteries" and Alexa will do those things within the confines of the Amazon app. The app lets people listen to music and play Kindle books, ask basic questions, add skills, access Smart Home features, and check the news, weather, and traffic — all via voice requests. The app works hand-in-hand with iPhone owners' Amazon accounts and subscriptions to services such as Amazon Music Unlimited or Amazon Prime. The revised app includes a new microphone button that people tap in order to access Alexa from wherever they happen to be. Separate Alexa-powered devices, such as the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, or FireTV are not required. Amazon's main mobile shopping app is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Amazon didn't say when Alexa might reach the Android variant of its app. Amazon's Alexa artificial intelligence competes on some level with Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant, and Microsoft's Cortana. This marks the first time Alexa has been made widely available to smartphones.

AT&T Customers Will Be Able to Send Text Messages via Amazon Echo

Nov 17, 2016, 2:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 17, 2016, 5:10 PM

The AT&T Send Message Skill, set to be made available on November 19, will let AT&T customers send text messages by asking their Amazon Echo to do it for them. The skill we be added to the Amazon Alexa application (for Android and iOS). AT&T says it is the first carrier to bring messaging to Alexa and the Echo. Alexa is the artificial intelligence that powers the Amazon Echo in-home speaker and assistant. Echo-owning AT&T subscribers will need to enable the skill and can then add up to ten frequent contacts to the skill for messaging via voice command. Messages will appear as though they were sent by the account holder's main AT&T mobile number. The feature will be available to the original Amazon Echo as well as the Echo Dot. Alexa is already able to read news headlines, sports scores, and the weather report, as well as answer general trivia questions, play music, and pay bills. AT&T plans to sell the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot at its stores starting November 18.

Amazon Music Unlimited Gains Family Plan

Nov 16, 2016, 1:34 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Following its promise to do so earlier this year, Amazon today launched a family plan option for its Amazon Music Unlimited service. The family plan costs $15 per month (or $150 per year) and gives up to six family members all the benefits of the streaming music service. The family plan costs the same whether or not the subscriber also belongs to Amazon Prime. All users will be able to manage their own music, library, and playlists, and will receive personalized recommendations. The service includes ad-free listening, and will permit local downloads for offline playback. It differs from the Amazon Prime Music service in that it includes more songs and doesn't match or sync with user-owned libraries. Amazon Unlimited Music competes with Apple Music, Google Play Music, and Spotify.

Amazon Must Repay Customers for In-App Purchases

Nov 11, 2016, 3:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon will have to reimburse customers whose children ran up large bills making in-app purchases, says a federal judge. The FTC sued Amazon in 2014 following consumer complaints about the ease with which children were able to spend money in apps. Amazon wanted to offer customers gift cards, but U.S. District Judge John Coughenour said Amazon must instead notify impacted customers and allow them to make a claim for cash reimbursement. Amazon's apps and app store now require passwords to make purchases. Apple and Google were hit with similar complaints and eventually settled with the government.

Amazon Invites People to Share Photos with Family Vault

Oct 18, 2016, 7:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today announced Family Vault, a new service for Amazon Prime members that allow them to share photos with family members and friends. Family Vault supports the Prime subscriber plus up to five invitees, be they friends, family, colleagues, or others. Invitees will have access to free unlimited online photo storage along with 5 GB for videos and other files. Members of Family Vault can add photos and videos one-by-one as they go, or automatically from most any mobile device or PC. Prime Photos includes technology to help find people, places, or things, as well as keyword search for general photo subjects (sunsets, et al.) or filter by location or date. Last, Prime Photos and Family Vault include photo printing services. Customers can create intricate photo albums or print individual photos. Amazon says print products start at 9 cents per photo and delivers to Prime members is free. Family Vault is available within the Prime Photos mobile app for Android and iOS devices.

Amazon Launches Apple, Spotify Music Competitor

Oct 12, 2016, 7:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today announced Amazon Music Unlimited a streaming music service that offers on-demand access to tens of millions of songs. Amazon is offering Music Unlimited at several different price points. The standard price is $10 per month for non-Prime members and includes unlimited playback across all the user's devices. People who subscribe to Amazon Prime can get this plan for $8 per month. Alternately, those who own an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, or Amazon Tap can subscribe to the Echo plan, which provides unlimited streaming to just one of these devices for $4 per month. Last, Amazon Unlimited Music will also offer a family plan (soon) that allows up to six family members to use the service across their devices for a single fee of $15 per month. Amazon's new music service includes ad-free listening, and will permit local downloads for offline playback. People who own an Amazon Echo or other Alexa-powered device can ask for songs by name, artist, album, decade, and more. It differs from the Amazon Prime Music service in that it includes more songs and doesn't match or sync with user-owned libraries. Amazon Unlimited Music competes with Apple Music, Google Play Music, and Spotify.

Amazon Prime Reading Lets Prime Subscribers Read for Free

Oct 5, 2016, 7:25 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today announced Prime Reading, a new benefit for subscribers of Amazon Prime that provides a selection of free books, magazines, and comics each month. Amazon says Prime Reading includes access to more than one thousand popular books, the latest magazines, and exclusive short content all presented within the Kindle app. Prime Reading is available to iPhones, iPads, Android phones, and Android tablets, as well as Amazon's own Fire and Kindle devices. Prime Reading is free to existing Prime subscribers, who already have access to Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, Audible Channels, and free/expedited shipping. Those who don't already subscribe to Prime can take Prime Reading for a 30-day trial.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft Team Up to Quell AI Fears

Sep 29, 2016, 7:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A handful of big tech companies have formed a partnership with the goal of keeping people informed about the development of artificial intelligence. Many people already use technology that is aided by AI, and that number will only continue to grow. The group includes Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft, each of which has its own AI tech (such as Alexa, Watson, and Cortana). The primary aim of the Partnership on AI will be to educate the public about the uses of artificial intelligence and calm any fears that AI will take over our lives. The secondary goal will be to ensure that all companies developing AI are using best practices formed by non-business experts such as philosophers and ethicists. Founding members of the coalition are expected to contribute financial and research resources that will be shared among all members. The group has mandated that the board be equally split between corporate members and non-corporate members. "AI technologies hold tremendous potential to improve many aspects of life, ranging from healthcare, education, and manufacturing to home automation and transportation," said the Partnership in a statement. "Through rigorous research, the development of best practices, and an open and transparent dialogue, [we] hope to maximize this potential and ensure it benefits as many people as possible."

Amazon, Boingo Giving Away 6 Months of WiFi

Jul 6, 2016, 9:58 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon Underground and Boingo Wireless today said people who download Boingo's app from Amazon Underground will be rewarded with six months of free WiFi. The offer is good between now and December 31. Boingo's Wi-Finder app is free to download and helps people find and access the company's thousands of WiFi hotspots around the world. Free access to WiFi could be beneficial to international travelers over the summer months. Amazon Underground is only available to Android devices and must be side-loaded directly from Amazon's web site. Amazon Underground offers free versions of games and other apps that normally carry some sort of fee. The apps are supported through advertising.

Amazon to Sell Nextbit Robin for $299

May 3, 2016, 1:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon is kicking off sales of the Nexbit Robin with a limited price. Anyone who buys the phone from Amazon between May 4 and May 10 will pay $299, rather than $399. The sale price is only available in the U.S. Nextbit will continue to sell the phone directly at the full price of $499 through its own web site. Nextbit recently updated the Robin handset, making improvements to speed, reliability, the camera, and sound quality. The Robin was designed by former HTC employees and is unique in that it dynamically offloads files and apps to make room for new content.

Amazon Held Responsible for Kids' In-App Purchases

Apr 27, 2016, 9:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A federal judge says Amazon deserves to be on the hook for charges rung up by children on mobile devices. Consumers complained it was too easy for children to spend money on in-app purchases without proper authorization. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission took action against Amazon. The judge overseeing the case agreed with the FTC's position that Amazon should be liable, but has yet determine what recourse is needed. The FTC is pushing for full refunds to the impacted consumers.

Amazon, Google, Microsoft Working On Open Media Formats

Sep 4, 2015, 3:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A handful of tech companies this week launched the Alliance for Open Media with the intent of creating an open standard for high definition video that will be compatible with all devices across the web. The companies hope to field next-generation codecs that are interoperate and open, optimized for the web, and scalable to any device at any bandwidth. They also hope the video codec will deliver consistent performance in real-time, while having a low computational footprint that is flexible for commercial and non-commercial use. The Alliance for Open Media is working on a video standard first, but will target other standards, such as audio, over time. Founding members include Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix. The alliance will use its" collective technology and expertise to meet growing internet demand for top-quality video, audio, imagery and streaming across devices of all kinds and for users worldwide." The alliance said it will provide more information about itself and its goals later this year.

Amazon Pushes Significant Update to Fire Phone

May 8, 2015, 7:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon has made Fire OS 4.6.1 available to the Fire Phone, which pushes the device up to Android 4.4 KitKat and makes a significant number of improvements. Fire OS 4.6.1 adds support for Bluetooth Low Energy and wireless printing; adds keyboard options and color choices for the calendar and lock screen; and makes improvements to the lock screen, notifications, messaging, and calling apps. The updates OS also adds new enterprise and accessibility features, and fixes dozens of bugs. Fire OS 4.6.1 is free to download and install.

Consumers Drop Lawsuit Over Google Android Apps

Apr 6, 2015, 7:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Two consumers have withdrawn a lawsuit filed against Google in which they claimed the OS-maker artificially inflated smartphone prices by requiring phone manufacturers to include its apps. The class action lawsuit was filed in May 2014. The plaintiffs asserted that phone OEMs were forced to favor Google apps and were restricted from using apps from competitors. The judge overseeing the case said the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate how this illegally raised prices. Google contends that phone makers don't have to use its apps at all. "Since Android's introduction, greater competition in smartphones has given consumers more choices at lower prices," said Google in an email to Reuters. Amazon's Fire Phone is a good example of a device that runs Android without Google's apps on board. Amazon supplanted Google's services with its own. Google is still facing a similar lawsuit in Europe.

Amazon Wallet App Headed for the App Graveyard

Jan 21, 2015, 8:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon has informed users of the Amazon Wallet application that it will shut down the app and remove it from the Appstore today, reports CNET. Amazon launched the app as a beta service in July. Amazon Wallet let people store gift cards, loyalty cards, and membership cards. Amazon originally pitched the app as a way to reduce clutter in wallets and purses. The wallet app did not connect to bank accounts or credit cards and couldn't be used to make tap-and-go payments. "We have learned a great deal from the introduction of the Wallet and will look for ways to apply these lessons in the future as we continue to innovate on behalf of our customers," said Tom Cook, an Amazon spokesperson. Amazon said customers will be able to use the balances of any gift or loyalty cards stored in the app, but it will no longer track balances. Amazon didn't say if the app will return at some point in another form. Consumers are able to use alternate services, such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Softcard, to make contactless payments at participating retailers around the country.

Amazon Slashes Unlocked Fire Phone to $199

Nov 26, 2014, 8:25 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today dropped the price of the Fire Phone to $199. The company, sitting on unsold stockpiles of the device, is offering it unlocked and without a contract. Further, Amazon is still including a free year of Amazon Prime, which has a value of $99. The Fire Phone went on sale over the summer. At that time, Amazon sold the phone for $199 with a contract. It later dropped the on-contract price to 99 cents. Today's mark-down signals Amazon's hope to clear out its inventory.

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