Google to counter Amazon’s Echo Show with smart screen device, sources say

Google is rumored to have a new smart device in the works, TechCrunch reports. The tabletop smart screen for the home will serve as the competitor for Amazon’s Echo Show, which has been on the market since June 2017. If true, such a device would keep Google in the smart home market race with Amazon and Facebook.

The rumors follow Amazon’s announcement Thursday of a cast of new Echos. The company now has a total of seven Amazon Echo devices to choose from. With Amazon covering all the bases in the home, and essentially ruling the current smart home market, it’s about time Google expanded from Google Home into other smart home products.

TechCrunch gathered their information from two confirmed sources, one of which received the intel from a current Google employee. TechCrunch learned that the new Google smart screen has been dubbed “Manhattan” internally. It is unclear if this will be the final launch name for the device.

As far as size goes, it appears to be measuring up with the Echo Show, with a screen around 7 inches. One source told TechCrunch that Google previously played around with much larger sizes for the smart home screen, some designs as large as television screens. For now, the plans seem to have honed in on the smaller, tabletop screen.

Manhattan will offer Youtube, Google Assistant, Google Photos and video calling. It will also be able to act as your home’s “smart hub,” connecting with other smart home devices like Nest.

The original launch date was planned for mid-year 2018. Sources report that there is “internal pressure” to get the launch date moved up after Amazon’s Echo Show. With October and the end of 2017 just around the corner, it’s probably safe to assume that the release date will remain some time in 2018. As TechCrunch points out, “establishing smart hub partnerships” and “exploring the possibility of service partnerships with Best Buy Geek Squad and Enjoy for home installation,” the many moving parts surrounding the launch for Manhattan seem to ensure a 2018 launch.

Sources told TechCrunch that Manhattan will run on a version of Android. This will ensure flexibility for third-parties to build apps for it.

What remains unclear is the final price for such a device or even the final look. As the Amazon Echo Show retails for $230, it’s possible Google’s competing device will come out at a similar price range.

Earlier this week Google removed Youtube from Amazon’s Echo Show without any warnings for current Echo Show owners. Critics claim the removal was strategic, as Youtube will be available on Manhattan. With Youtube capabilities on offer, Manhattan owners would be able to stream music videos from Youtube or watch live cable channels on Youtube TV.

It’s too soon to tell if this would give Manhattan enough of an edge to topple the Echo Show. Many disagree with such a prospect. Fast Company has said that once the mystery device finally arrives on the market, assuming it will, “Amazon will already be a step ahead with its second-generation Echo speaker and new devices like the Echo Spot.”

With a biting finish, Fast Company challenges Google’s ingenuity, claiming that Google should stop “lifting ideas” from Amazon and start bringing to market fresh perspectives of their own making.

Seahorse Tails Are Helping To Create Unbreakable Machines

Seahorse limbs are nearly unbreakable, so scientists thought why not replicate that to make a new flexible robot?

At Clemson University, researchers are working to create a robot inspired by a seahorse’s long curly tail. According to the researchers, this tail is the perfect design for its “square prisms surrounded by bony plates that are connected by joints.”

Why not use the design of other animals’ tails? Well, most animals have a cylinder shaped tail that is easily crushed.

seahorse-robot

Image via Clemson University

The researchers share their notes with TechCrunch:

“Researchers found that the square prototype was stiffer, stronger and more resilient than the circular one when crushed. The square prototype was about half as able to twist, a restriction that could prevent damage to the seahorse and give it better control when it grabs things. Both prototypes could bend about 90 degrees, although the cylindrical version was slightly less restricted.”

One of the researchers, known as “Porter,” believes this new discovery will “inspire new forms of armor,” as well as help create a new type of search-and-rescue robot that will be able to slither like a snake and “are able to contract to fit into tight spaces.”

Though there are already bio-mimetic robotic snakes out there, with this added new seahorse design it will be more flexible and able to fold without losing its structure. In tests, the seahorse robot was able to withstand the force of a hammer being smacked into its structure without making any dents, while cylindrical models were dented with the same impact.

This new design could be the beginning of new defensive pieces never heard of before.

Image: Via Flickr/Alex Griffioen

Verizon Acquires AOL, but will it be Enough to Stand Competition?

The deal has been finalized. Verizon will acquire AOL for a reported $4.4 billion. While minuscule considering the mobile phone provider’s net worth of $200 billion, this marks a clear move towards expansion across platforms.

AOL has long been considered past its prime. Its competition has not only increased in volume, but also in capacity as the company has become largely culturally irrelevant.

Once the Goliath and now David, AOL has been forced to change with the times. Google, Facebook and other contemporary media moguls have led the charge in the burgeoning market of Internet advertisement sales.

In this department, AOL has outperformed expectations, yet still has a long way to go and will receive a significant boost from this acquisition. At the end of the most recent quarter, the company outperformed revenue projections by $30.5 million. This included a 12 percent bump in ad sales over the past year to $483.5 million.

$483.5 million dollars may sound like a lot, but when compared to the $59.06 billion Google made from advertising in 2014, it is clear that AOL has a long way to go. That said, these gains are significant because they not only show that there is room for growth, they also point to the fact that there is more of the market to be captured.

When analyzing AOL, its business plan, assets and room for growth prior to said earnings report, Goldman Sachs downgraded the company citing (surprise, surprise) competitive concerns.

Interestingly enough, the acquisition of AOL by Verizon directly addresses the main concern from the report, which was articulated by analyst Debra Schwartz as, “We…are increasingly concerned about relative ad underperformance longer term as companies like Facebook expand off-platform capabilities.”

Currently, AOL almost exclusively exists on traditional computer platforms. With mobile devices widely accepted as the newest, fastest and most promising new industry, Verizon will make the perfect partner to transition the AOL advertising success into new platforms.

Many liken the deal to a very similar deal involving AOL and Time Warner, which signaled the peak of the dot-com bubble. The intention is the same according to Jonathan Miller, chief executive of AOL from 2002 to 2006, “Put together content, distribution and access.”

Verizon has certainly weighed that into their acquisition, but has a different model to achieve more positive end gains. This is an effort to branch out, and shake the perception (and reality) that the mobile provider is just that, solely a mobile provider. Other attempts to utilize Verizon’s hefty investment in its LTE network have largely failed.

AOL provides Verizon with benefits too. Verizon has lacked content and faltered with its automated auction-based advertising programs on mobile platforms, an area that AOL has been relatively successful in as of late.

While these two services will be welcomed into the Verizon family, there are other benefits that AOL provides. While this service is certainly antiquated, AOL is still a core provider of dial-up Internet, raking in $182.6 million from that sphere alone. Dial-up, while certainly not an emerging market, is a consistent revenue stream devoid of annual reinvestment and upkeep costs.

Verizon, anxious for expansion, spent a hefty amount in the transaction. After the its Monday closing, AOL stocks were valued at $42.59 per share. The deal saw Verizon spend a flat $50 per share, leading to a tremendous uptick in the AOL stock not only because of the high per share prices paid by Verizon, but also the potential for expansion provided by Verizon’s wide reach over the mobile phone platform.

AOL is not a solution, but a means to improvement for Verizon in the field of content. This is a small fraction of Verizon’s net worth, and clearly not the final step to leveling the playing field with Google. The benefit for both companies is clear, but the question remains: will it be enough to stay relevant?