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NEW YORK, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Alexa has a new job: hotel concierge. Amazon has launched a version of Alexa for hotels that lets guests order room service through the voice assistant, ask for more towels or get restaurant recommendations without having to pick up the phone and call the front desk. Marriott has signed up for the service, and will place Amazon Echo smart speakers in 10 hotels this summer, including its Westin and St. Regis brands.

It is another way for Amazon to sell its voice assistant and devices to businesses and get Alexa in front of more customers. Amazon already sells a version of Alexa for workplaces, and has struck deals to place Alexa in cars and refrigerators. Alexa has become an important part of Amazon's business because it keeps users attached to Amazon services, such as music streaming.

Amazon said data from hotel guests will be deleted daily, and Marriott said those who don't want an Echo device in their room can ask to have it removed.

Hotels will be able to customize the responses Alexa gives their guests, such as nearby restaurant recommendations or pool hours. Other tasks that Alexa for Hospitality can do include checking guests out of their room, turning on the lights or playing lullabies to help them fall asleep.

Later this year, Amazon will allow hotel guests to link their Amazon.com account to Alexa so they can listen to their music playlists or audio books during their stay. Shopping, however, won't be allowed through the hotel version of Alexa, Amazon said.

SAN FRANCISCO, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Twitter said it would revamp user timelines as part of an effort to deliver more news and personalised content, the latest effort to attract more users to the platform.

The new features shift further away from Twitter's original chronological feed and represent a stepped-up effort to be a destination to find news, especially breaking news.

“We are announcing a wide set of changes to make it easier to find and discover what is 'happening now' on Twitter - be it breaking news or events,” said consumer product team member Sriram Krishnan in a tweet.

“The goal is to make it easy to quickly find and follow the events and breaking news you care about on Twitter. Especially if you already don't have a well-curated timeline.”

The redesign builds on a feature called “Happening now” introduced last year to allow people to follow their favourite sports teams.

“We're now expanding this to include Tweets about breaking and personalised news,” said Twitter vice president Keith Coleman in a blog post.

“At the top of your timeline, you'll see news that's relevant to you along with the surrounding tweets and videos.”

Coleman said Twitter is also expanding news notifications for smartphone user who choose this.

“We've been sending breaking news notifications to keep people in the know, in the moment,” he said.

“Now we're experimenting with sending notifications to you based on your interests (like who you follow and what you tweet about), so you won't miss a beat.”

 

NEW YORK, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - YouTube extended its music streaming service to Europe a month after it launched in North America and parts of Asia.

YouTube Music will offer Europeans millions of songs and videos advertising-free for a subscription of €9.99 a month - 11 per cent more expensive than its US version.

An existing free version of the standalone service with ads will continue with “a reimagined mobile app and brand new desktop player”, it said.

The Google-owned giant said it would have “thousands of playlists... millions of songs, albums and artist radio” - a tool than allows listeners to build radio lists around a singer or band.

The new service is an attempt by the Californian digital empire to combat its fast-growing rivals like Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer.

Google boasts that 1.3 billion internet users already listen to music via YouTube, but it wants a bigger slice of the paid-for music market.

The music industry lobby group, the IFPI, said that 176 million people around the world paid to stream music in 2017, the majority on Sweden-based Spotify, which has 75 million paying subscribers.

YouTube has faced criticism from the music industry for abusing its position, with the IFPI saying that it only pays $1 a year per user in royalties to artists while Spotify pays $20.

But YouTube said it has agreed new more equal terms with music companies.

The money paid by streaming operators has helped revive the music industry over the last three years.

Google is also rebranding its YouTube Red services as YouTube Premium offering ad-free music streaming alongside a video platform.

The service, which includes children's shows like the Karate Kid-inspired Cobra Kai and a gaming app, is priced at €11.99 per month.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook said in a recent Bloomberg interview that the company has 50 million paid and trial subscribers on its music service, which launched in 2015 and does not have a free tier.

Deezer, which claims to specialise in “cooler” bands and in niche and local markets, has around 15 million subscribers, according to the IFPI.

 

SYDNEY, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Apple was on Tuesday fined a $9 million by an Australian court for making false claims about consumer rights when refusing to fix faulty iPhones and iPads previously repaired by a third party.

Customers of the US tech giant had complained to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) after an operating system update disabled their devices in a global issue known as “error 53”.

The users were told by Apple that they were not eligible for a remedy if the iPhone or iPad had been repaired by another company.

The ACCC took Apple to the Federal Court last year over allegedly false or misleading representations to customers with faulty iPhones and iPads about their rights under the law.

“If a product is faulty, customers are legally entitled to a repair or a replacement under the Australian Consumer Law, and sometimes even a refund,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said in a statement.

“The court declared the mere fact that an iPhone or iPad had been repaired by someone other than Apple did not, and could not, result in the consumer guarantees ceasing to apply, or the consumer’s right to a remedy being extinguished.”

Apple admitted misleading at least 275 Australian customers over the issue between February 2015 to February 2016 on its US website, by its Australian store staff and on its customer service phone calls.

The consumer watchdog said Apple had also committed to providing new devices as replacements, after allegations that the company was giving customers refurbished goods instead after a device suffered a major failure.

There was no immediate comment from Apple, which has previously described the error as appearing “when a device fails a security test”. It has released an operating system update to fix the issue.

 

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Hey, Google, order a large pizza! Alexa, I need vitamins! Voice shopping using smart speakers and smartphone apps is starting to gain traction among consumers, opening up a new “conversational commerce” channel and potentially disrupting the retail sector.

Devices such as Amazon’s Alexa-powered speakers and Google Home, which use artificial intelligence to respond to voice commands, are offering new choices to consumers who are looking for more convenient ways to order goods and services.

Voice shopping is expected to jump to $40 billion annually in 2022 in the United States, from $2 billion recently, according to a survey this year by OC&C Strategy Consultants.

“People are liking the convenience and natural interaction of using voice,” said Victoria Petrock of the research firm eMarketer.

“Computing in general is moving more toward voice interface because the technology is more affordable, and people are responding well because they don’t have to type.”

A recent eMarketer survey found 36 per cent of US consumers liked the idea of using a home-based assistant like Amazon Echo for making a purchase.

Amazon’s devices, which hit the market in 2015, were designed in large part to help boost sales, and Google Home was launched a year later.

The use of smart speakers has expanded the possibilities available through smartphone chatbots or text-based systems including those from Facebook and Apple.

“This is growing exponentially,” said Mark Taylor, an executive vice president at consultancy Capgemini and co-author of a study on conversational commerce.

“We’re getting very used to asking Alexa or Google to do something on our behalf, which makes it simple to switch and say, ‘Hey Alexa, buy me dog food.’”

Capgemini research shows many consumers are satisfied with voice interactions and that this is growing for search and information as well as for purchases and that this is likely to become a “dominant” mode of consumer action within a few years.

“It’s becoming part of the fabric of our lives,” Taylor said.

The most commonly shopped categories through voice are groceries, entertainment, electronics and clothing, according to OC&C.

For now, Taylor said, most voice-based purchases have been “low consideration goods” such as items consumers have purchased before.

But as people grow comfortable with voice assistants Taylor sees a potential for growth in “higher consideration” items including insurance or financial services.

An important element will be the tonality and personality established by intelligent assistants that will help companies establish an image or brand.

“People like to talk to human beings because humans give insight and guidance, and AI can do the same thing,” he said.

The “conversational interface” is a tremendous advantage in some situations, said Manlio Carrelli, executive vice president at LivePerson, which provides technology for firms in online platforms.

“This is like ‘Star Trek,’” Carelli said. “I can just say what I want and get it. Consumers don’t care what’s on the back end, they just want to be able to get what they want.”

Carelli said these systems are important not only for sales, but for customer service — reducing the need for dreaded call centres and saving millions for businesses.

“We’re now entering the mainstream for this market,” Carelli said. “I don’t think you’ll find a single major brand that isn’t looking at this.”

Walmart last month launched a text-based concierge shopping service called Jetblack which uses both artificial intelligence and professional assistants offering buying suggestions as part of its effort to compete with Amazon.

But Walmart is one of dozens of retailers offering voice-based shopping through Google Express as well, along with sellers of flowers, hardware, groceries and other goods.

Domino’s Pizza has embraced this technology, allowing orders through Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Facebook Messenger and other platforms.

In France, Google Home devices can be used to shop at the giant retailer group Carrefour. And retailers in China have been partnering with tech firms for similar services.

According to OC&C, Amazon Echo speakers are used in around 10 per cent of US homes, with four per cent for Google Home.

According to the report Apple is lagging in this sector because its Siri assistant lacks the AI capabilities of Google, and the new HomePod has only just hit the market.

Apple just this year rolled out “business chat,” enabling consumers to ask questions and place orders through iPhone text or voice commands, and see images of products on the iMessage service. Retailers Lowe’s and Home Depot are among the partners.

Some analysts, however, expect more players to enter the market, with speculation rampant about a speaker from Facebook, which now allows business and consumers to connect through Messenger chatbots.

“Voice commerce represents the next major disruption in the retail industry, and just as e-commerce and mobile commerce changed the retail landscape, shopping through smart speaker promises to do the same,” said John Franklin of OC&C.

LONDON, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Many people are switching from Facebook to closed forums like WhatsApp to discuss daily news because of worries about privacy, fake stories and toxic debates, a survey said recently.

The latest Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that news consumption via Facebook is falling, particularly among the young, who prefer WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat.

“People are... getting a little bit bored with Facebook,” Nic Newman, lead author of the seventh annual report said.

Facebook remains the most popular social network for news, with 36 per cent using it in the last week. But it has lost ground to other apps, especially WhatsApp, which has tripled in popularity as a source of news in four years to 15 per cent.

People feel more comfortable chatting on closed platforms in countries with polarised divides and where it can be dangerous to express political views openly, such as in Malaysia and Turkey, the study said.

Respondents said they often find stories on Facebook and Twitter and post them to a WhatsApp group for discussion with a smaller set of friends.

Although much of Facebook’s fall is attributable to its changed algorithms, which prioritise interactions with family and friends, trust is also a major concern.

Only 23 per cent of 74,000 people polled in 37 countries said they trust news on social media, compared to 44 percent trust in news overall.

More people are paying for online news in some countries, reaching 30 per cent in Norway, with donations also emerging as an alternative strategy, said the study by the Reuters Institute, which is funded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“People find that some news is worth paying for, but much of it is not,” Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the Reuters Institute’s research director, said in a statement.

“The challenge for publishers now is to ensure that the journalism they produce is truly distinct, relevant, and valuable, and then effectively promoting it to convince people to donate or subscribe.”

 

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