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Posts tagged with "Amazon"

John Gruber’s Explanation of the Apparent Prime Video Deal Between Apple and Amazon

Yesterday, as reported by 9to5Mac and other publications, Amazon updated its Prime Video app to permit video purchases and rentals without using Apple’s In-App Purchase system in some circumstances. It wasn’t clear what was going on at first because some users saw what looked like an Amazon checkout process, while others got an Apple checkout flow. To add to the confusion, Apple issued a statement that said Amazon Prime is using “an established program for premium subscription video entertainment providers.”

John Gruber did some investigating and has an excellent explanation on Daring Fireball on how the deal between Amazon and Apple seems to work. As Gruber explains, If you’re signed in to the Amazon Prime app with an Amazon account and are a full Prime or Prime Video member, renting or purchasing video uses an Amazon checkout process. Otherwise, Apple’s In-App Purchase system is used, which interestingly, can also be used to sign up for a Prime Video subscription.

Gruber makes a compelling and detailed case for what seems to be going on:

So the deal seems to be this:

  • The Prime Video app supports every feature that makes a third-party subscription video service a first-class citizen in Apple’s multi-device TV ecosystem.
  • For users with existing Prime subscriptions, or new subscriptions made on Amazon’s website, Amazon now gets to bill them directly for movie rentals and purchases made in the app, giving Apple no cut of the transactions.
  • Users can subscribe to Prime Video in-app using an iTunes subscription, giving Apple a recurring cut, and leaving subscription management in Apple’s hands.
  • For users without a Prime subscription, or with a Prime subscription made through the app, Amazon now bills them for purchases and rentals through Apple’s In-App Purchase mechanism, giving Apple a cut.

Based on a few reasonable assumptions, Gruber concludes that the deal is a win for Apple, Amazon, and also consumers who get a first-rate app experience that includes the ability to buy and rent TV shows and movies in the Prime Video app for the first time.

I hope we see more deals like this. Having Prime Video available in Apple’s TV app where it’s included in the Up Next section of the app and being able to rent and buy content without resorting to a web browser makes for a much better overall experience for users looking for something to watch.

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Apple Podcasts Now Available on Amazon Alexa Devices

Amazon today has announced a new partnership with Apple that brings the full Apple Podcasts catalog to all Alexa-enabled devices in the U.S.:

Beginning today, Alexa customers in the U.S. will be able to listen to more than 800,000 podcasts available through Apple Podcasts on their Alexa-enabled device.

Whether you’re listening at home or on the go, you don’t need to worry about losing your spot. Link your account in the Alexa app using your Apple ID, and you can seamlessly pick up where you left off listening on the Apple Podcasts App or your Alexa device. Pause the subscribed episode you’re listening to in the Apple Podcasts app on your commute, and continue listening with your Alexa device at home by asking Alexa to resume the podcast.

When you first start using Apple Podcasts on an Alexa device, you’ll need to specify “on Apple Podcasts” in your command; for example, “Alexa, play The Daily from yesterday on Apple Podcasts.” However, you can remove that requirement by setting Apple as your default podcast provider.

If you’d like to make Apple Podcasts your preferred podcast provider with Alexa, you can set Apple Podcasts as your default podcast provider in the Alexa app. To do so, open the Alexa app, go to Settings, select Music & Podcasts, and link/manage new services. Then, each time you request a podcast, we’ll prioritize playing it from Apple Podcasts if it’s available.

This announcement marks a major expansion of Apple Podcasts and the latest evidence of Apple’s multi-platform services strategy. Just last year, Apple Music arrived on Alexa devices, and earlier this fall the Apple TV app debuted on Amazon Fire TV. Those two moves were in some ways less surprising than this one though, since they both involved granting access to Apple’s paid services, Music and TV+. Apple Podcasts, on the other hand, is entirely free, at least at the moment. Rumors have indicated Apple may be funding some exclusive new podcast content, but it’s unknown whether that will be part of a forthcoming paid subscription service, or simply an added perk of using Apple Podcasts.

Spotify this past year has made significant moves in the podcasting space, and it’s likely that their efforts, which have developed real momentum in the market, are propelling Apple to invest more heavily in its own podcast ecosystem – great news for users.


Apple Heavily Promotes the Amazon Echo’s Apple Music Integration

At the end of November, Amazon announced on its blog that Apple Music would be coming to Echo devices the week of December 17th. The music streaming service showed up on Echos a little earlier than expected last Friday, December 14th.

Today, Apple began promoting Apple Music’s availability on Echo devices through three different channels. The Echo integration first appeared on the App Store, which gave the Alexa app top billing in a Today tab story that highlights the new feature. Apple is also promoting the Echo integration on the Apple Music features page of its website along with other third-party devices like PCs, Android devices, and Sonos music players. Finally, late in the day US time, the Apple Music app began delivering push notifications highlighting the Echo feature.1

Amazon’s Echo devices aren’t the first third-party hardware to get Apple Music support as the Apple Music website demonstrates, but it is unusual for Apple to promote another company’s hardware alongside Apple Music to this degree. It’s also surprising because, in the two weeks that followed Amazon’s announcement, Apple said nothing. Nor did it acknowledge the change four days ago when the Alexa app was updated.

I wouldn’t be surprised if promoting the Echo was part of a bigger deal that got Apple products back on Amazon shelves in early November. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s still interesting to see Apple, which offers the competing HomePod, put so much promotional weight behind Amazon’s smart home speaker.


  1. I’m not a fan of promotional push notifications like these, which violate App Review Guideline 4.5.4 against using push notifications for advertising and promotional purposes. Unfortunately, that’s a rule that Apple has violated itself before and one that it has never meaningfully enforced against third parties. ↩︎

Apple Music Coming to Amazon Echo Devices

In a blog post published this morning, Amazon announced that Apple Music is set to launch on Amazon Echo devices next month, starting the week of December 17.

According to Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices, Echo users will be able to ask Alexa, the device’s built-in voice assistant, to play their favorite songs, artists, albums, playlists created by Apple’s curators, as well as radio stations available on the service. Beats 1, Apple Music’s own live radio station featuring artist interviews and daily programs, will also be accessible via the Amazon Echo, the company said. The integration will be enabled just like any other skill on the Amazon Echo by connecting your Apple Music account to Amazon’s device using 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. “We are committed to offering great music providers to our customers and since launching the Music Skill API to developers just last month, we’ve expanded the music selection on Alexa to include even more top tier services. We’re thrilled to bring Apple Music – one of the most popular music services in the US – to Echo customers this holiday.”

While Apple Music has long been available on Android in addition to iOS and macOS (and on Sonos speakers in addition to HomePod), the upcoming Amazon Echo integration marks a major shift as Apple Music has never been able to integrate with competing smart speakers through third-party voice assistants. It’ll be interesting to see if the Amazon Echo integration will be more limited than the HomePod’s native Apple Music access, which we’ll make sure to test once Apple Music’s Alexa skill goes live next month.


Voice Control is Coming to the Alexa App Soon

Amazon is adding voice control support to its Alexa app on Android and iOS. According to TechCrunch:

The addition of voice commands means users can speak directly to their handset the way they would an Echo — to play music, trigger Alexa skills and the like. The update is being rolled out over the course of the coming days through Google Play and Amazon’s own Appstore. A similar update is also on the way for the iOS App Store, but its timing is still up in the air, likely due to Apple’s stricter vetting process.

Unlike Google and Apple, Amazon doesn’t have a smartphone platform for its smart assistant. That puts Amazon at a disadvantage because it precludes users from activating Alexa with a trigger word on Android phones and iOS devices. Still, the move feels like a natural extension of the services surrounding Alexa and Amazon’s Echo products.

There’s precedent for this sort of app on iOS too. Astra is a simple iOS utility that acts like an Echo device. It’s registered in the Alexa app alongside any Echo products you own. Pressing the microphone button lets you issue the same commands you can to an Echo. It remains to be seen what Amazon’s update to the Alexa app will mean for Astra, but in any event, it will be interesting to see where Amazon’s push into mobile leads.

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Apple and the Alexa Ecosystem

I recently read two interesting takes on the ever-growing Alexa ecosystem as it relates to Apple that made me think about the future of Siri and HomeKit. Here’s M.G. Siegler on Amazon’s plan to put Alexa everywhere:

The Echo Dot was the number one selling device across all of Amazon during the holiday shopping season. (The Fire TV stick with the Alexa-enabled remote was the second-most popular product.) Again, no absolute sales numbers beyond “tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices” — more than we usually get, by the way — but no matter: tens of millions is impressive enough.

I’ve been thinking about this recently not just in the context of putting Echoes in hotels, but also relative to Apple. As we’re all well aware, Apple had to delay their foray into the space, the HomePod, into 2018. But not only did they miss the all-important holiday shopping season, I’m increasingly thinking that they may have missed the boat.

Believe me, I know how dangerous this line of thinking is with regard to Apple. Apple is almost never the first-mover in a market. Instead, they prefer to sit back and let markets mature enough to then swoop in with their effort, which more often than not is the best effort (this is both subjective in terms of my own taste, and often objective in terms of sales). But again, I increasingly don’t believe that this will be the case with their smart speaker.

Amazon has entered the speaker and home automation market with Alexa-enabled devices in two ways: first with their own Echo products, then with a growing roster of third-party manufacturers that are baking Alexa into their devices and almost treating Amazon’s assistant as a “standard” feature like WiFi or Bluetooth. There’s a fascinating parallel between Amazon Web Services – a suite of components embedded in the majority of modern websites and web apps – and Alexa Voice Service – a suite of voice APIs now embedded in hundreds of automation devices, general-purpose accessories and appliances, and web services.

Here’s Ben Bajarin on what Alexa’s presence at CES tells us about the ecosystem surrounding Apple:

While many Apple defenders want to dismiss the momentum we are observing with the Amazon ecosystem on display here at CES, while Amazon is similarly not present just like Apple, I believe it is a mistake to do so.

It is easy to say that because Apple was never present at CES that the show didn’t mean something to them or their ecosystem. It is easy, and correct to say that CES was not, or never was, a measure of the health of Apple’s products. It is, however, incorrect and dangerous to miss that CES had been, for some time, a barometer for the health of Apple’s ecosystem.

As I mentioned, our ability to measure any platforms ecosystem from what we observe at CES, is the main reason so many are paying attention to what is happening with Amazon’s Alexa platform. Google Assistant is certainly more present than it was last year, however, when you look at how third parties are talking about-and marketing-their support of these assistants they are putting significantly more effort into talking about Alexa than Google Assistant. Which is a telling signal. Again, to reiterate this point, third parties used to market, and spend energy talking about their integration with iOS or support of iPhone/iPad with the same rigor they are now talking about Amazon’s Alexa. This can not be ignored.

You could argue that most Apple-compatible gadgets and accessories announced at CES used to appear in tech blogs only to be forgotten a few months later because they were fads, vaporware, or ultimately not essential to the growth of the iOS ecosystem, and that the same will happen with Alexa-enabled devices we’ve seen this year. The difference, I think, is that this new generation of home automation products is an ecosystem in itself with higher value than, say, the iPad keyboards or stylii we used to see at CES. Alexa hasn’t “won”, but it has momentum among third-party companies making products that are or will soon be in our homes, sharing the same space of our TVs, routers, consoles, and mobile devices.

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Amazon Adopts ARKit in iOS Shopping App for Select Products

In an update released for its iOS shopping app, Amazon has introduced a new way of viewing items from the online retailer: AR View. Built on Apple’s ARKit technology in iOS 11, AR View provides shoppers with a better understanding of how products will look when placed inside their homes.

AR View is accessed inside the Amazon app by tapping the camera button, then selecting AR View from the assortment of camera options. You’ll then get to browse through a limited selection of product categories, such as Living Room, Kitchen, and Electronics; there’s also a Top Picks section. Unlike the similar AR experience from IKEA Place, only one product can be previewed in Amazon’s AR View at a time. After placing a product in AR, you can move its position or rotate it, and pressing the button with three dots will take you to the full product page for initiating a purchase.

Amazon claims that thousands of items are available in AR View, but currently only a fraction of that estimate appears for me inside the app; we should except the number of AR-compatible items to grow over the coming holiday shopping season. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see AR View roll out to other parts of the app in the future, such that if you’re viewing the product page for an Amazon Echo, for example, there will be a button that allows you to instantly view the item in AR.

Today’s version of AR View is a first step toward enhancing the Amazon shopping experience with AR. There’s plenty more work to be done, but it’s exciting to see a glimpse into how transformative AR can potentially be for online shopping.


IKEA’s Trådfri Lighting System Adds HomeKit and Alexa Support

After a miscommunication in August, IKEA has added Alexa and HomeKit support to its Trådfri smart lighting system, which it originally promised back in May. The lighting system includes a gateway, remote controls, and LED lightbulbs that can be mixed and matched in different configurations at prices that are competitive with rival systems. For example, two Trådfri bulbs, a remote, and the required gateway costs $79.99 compared to two similar Philips Hue bulbs and a gateway for $69.99. Each gateway controls up to 10 lightbulbs using one of IKEA’s remotes, an iOS app, Amazon’s Alexa App, Apple’s Home app, or your voice via Amazon and Apple’s smart assistants.

The addition of Alexa and HomeKit support means the Trådfri lighting system can be integrated with smart home accessories from other companies and controlled with any Alexa or Siri-enabled device. The IKEA Trådfri app, which can be downloaded for free from the App Store, lets users control their Trådfri lights, customize settings like the warmth of the the light, and set timers.

The release of HomeKit-enabled devices has accelerated this year. An increasing number of manufacturers like IKEA are also hedging their bets by integrating Alexa support alongside HomeKit support, which is good for consumers who benefit whether they’ve chosen one system over the other or assembled a hybrid Alexa/HomeKit environment.