Amazon Alexa Already Winning Virtual Assistant Showdown

Amazon’s Alexa, the personal in-home assistant, has been ranked as the best digital virtual assistant of 2016 by both industry experts and sales.

Amazon’s Alexa, the personal in-home assistant launched with the Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Echo, completely obliterated its competition in the smart home market last year, and is poised to make an even bigger impact in 2017.

Alexa Ranked Best Digital Virtual Assistant of 2016

Sitting atop CNET’s list for the best smart home devices for 2016 was Amazon’s Echo, edging out competitors like Nest, Phillips, and other top producers. Alexa even took home the top-spot at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, leading major tech website Wired to run the headline: “Alexa Just Conquered CES. The World Is Next.” Alexa’s praise isn’t solely relegated to techies and those within the industry, companies like Ford and LG unveiled new products with Alexa integration last year.

While the market for smart home devices are still comparatively smaller than the one for smartphones, Amazon has quickly asserted itself as the dominant player. Google, Microsoft, and Apple are coming out with their own voice-activated speaker technologies, but Amazon remains the company to beat.

Experts say that Amazon was able to maneuver itself into the top spot by not overselling its Alexa, as Apple repeatedly did with Siri, Business Insider reports. Instead of selling the Echo as a device that was more than just a speaker, Amazon marketed the Echo as a speaker with a few smart voice commands built in. Overtime, as Siri let consumers down and positive press spread about Amazon’s alternative, the online retailer carefully added new sets of capabilities to Alexa. Today, Alexa boasts thousands of commands that allow it to: order its owner an Uber, order products from Amazon.com, or even read the day’s news.

Amazon’s Echo is the now the central device in the market for smart home technology. It has the capacity to interact with nearly every aspect of a user’s home, including: lights, thermostats, and door locks.

The central part of Echo that helps to make Amazon more successful is that it is built to make it easier for the consumer to give more of their money to Amazon. From playing music to making a purchase, the device defaults to Amazon.com. Essentially, the interface always insures that the user is connecting with Amazon, especially when spending money.

Looking at Amazon’s holiday sales of its smart home devices, it is easy to see that consumers are jiving with Amazon’s Alexa.

The company had its best holiday sales season this past Christmas. The firm said it outpaced sales goals for its flagship Amazon Echo family this December, with sales up over nine times what they were compared to last year’s holiday season.  The online vendor sold millions of Alexa devices worldwide. Amazon Fire TV Stick and Fire tablet were also top-sellers this year.

Echo and Echo Dot were the best-selling products across Amazon this year, and we’re thrilled that millions of new customers will be introduced to Alexa as a result,” CEO Worldwide Consumer, Amazon, Jeff Wilke said in a Tuesday press release. “We couldn’t have made this holiday season possible for customers without the dedication and hard work of our customer service, transportation, and fulfillment associates along with our carrier partners.”

The online vendor was so successful in selling its Amazon Echo this holiday season, that it had to halt shipping of the product because it ran out of inventory.

As sales of Alexa devices are on the rise, the clock is ticking for Amazon’s competitors to find a viable option to compete.

Amazon Alexa Photo via Shutterstock

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In the News: Legal Heroes, Wix Make Big Announcements

There are plenty of online resources available for helping small businesses find legal resources. But obtaining actual legal counsel has still been a relatively involved process — until now. Legal Hero just introduced a new service that offers on-demand legal help for small businesses.

In addition, Web building software company Wix made headlines recently with an announcement of its own.

Read about these news items and more in this week’s Small Business Trends News and Information Roundup.

New Features

Looking for General Counsel? This Site May Do the Trick

Legal Hero, an online portal designed to connect small businesses and entrepreneurs with legal help, has introduced a new service that will provide “on-demand” legal counsel for these companies.

New Wix Web Editor Launched to Make Sites Easier to Build

Wix.com, the drag and drop Web design platform, has just announced a full redesign of its cloud based Web editing software. The redesign introduces a range of new features, including some to help businesses personalize and tailor their sites to be more effective. If you are a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to your small business and its website, you may already be familiar with Wix.com.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding Platform Kickstarter is Now a Public Benefit Corporation

It’s not unusual for businesses to proclaim their commitment to the greater good, although only a few actually live up to their promises. That’s why Kickstarter’s decision to reincorporate as a public benefit corporation has pleasantly surprised many. The crowdfunding company has joined the ranks of organizations like Patagonia and This American Life to take this big step.

Social Media

Is the Twitter 140 Character Limit About to Change?

One of Twitter’s trademark features is its 140 character limit. But is that about to change? A report from ReCode suggests the social media company is considering a product or feature allowing users to create longer-form content on the service.

Are YouTube Advertisers Paying for Bots?

A new study by European researchers questions the reliability of the method used by Google to charge advertisers for YouTube ads. In their study (PDF), the researchers claim that Google charges advertisers for YouTube views even when YouTube’s systems flag a view as coming from a robot rather than a human.

Facebook Notes Transforms into a Publishing Platform

The long-forgotten Facebook Notes feature is finally getting a much needed makeover. The refreshed feature now comes with exciting new tools to add images, format layout and resize photos — and is available to everyone. Facebook published a post to announce the official roll-out of the revamped feature currently available on its desktop version.

Technology

Dennis Mortensen of X.ai: Artificial Intelligence is Driving the Rise of Virtual Agents

I’ve been using the Amazon Echo device for almost a year. And most of what I do is ask Alexa — the virtual assistant in Echo — what the weather is, who won the Rams game, add batteries to my shopping list, or even to play the new song from Prince. I also use Siri to dial people on my iPhone when I’m in the car.

The First LG Laptops Are on Their Way to the U.S. Market

LG, the Korean electronics giant known for its smartphones, appliances and tablets is bringing its first laptops to the U.S. market. The company announced the release of the Gram series of laptops in a press release recently. The machines, named Gram to highlight their light weight, are available in 13-inch and 14-inch models.

9 Photo Apps for Windows 10 to Spruce Up Your Images

Nearly everything associated with your small business online presence — and some offline tasks — requires having top-notch images. These images have proven to be vital for social media updates and to make your website look a little better. Quality images can also spruce up presentations and more.

Loans

Biz2Credit Index Sees Institutional Lending Continue to Climb

While institutional lenders continued to gain ground on the small business lending front, Biz2Credit’s Small Business Lending Index for August saw a slight slump for big and small banks. Biz2Credit ascribed the 0.1 point drop to the issues related to the Small Business Administration reaching its $18.75 billion spending cap in late July.

Small Biz Spotlight

Spotlight: GreyCampus Offers a New Way to Train Your Team

Training employees in different areas of your business can be a time-consuming and expensive process. You want employees to learn from an actual instructor who knows what he or she is talking about. But the smallest of businesses don’t always have the personnel available to drop their own work and train new team members. That’s where GreyCampus comes in.

Mobile

Here Are 6 New Devices from Microsoft’s Mega Event

Microsoft just wrapped up a live event in New York. There, the company announced a fleet of new products it is calling the new era of Windows 10 devices. Two new Surface devices, several Lumia phone,s and a HoloLens — yeah, one you might actually be able to buy — top the list of the most interesting devices unveiled.

The Moto X Pure Edition is an Anti-Bloatware Smartphone

The Moto X Pure Edition is the third and latest iteration of the Moto X, and surprisingly priced lower than 2014’s Moto X. It’s the first Motorola phone with which Lenovo has been involved. And the device may become best known for what it doesn’t have rather than for what it does.

Stagefright Update: Your Android Phone May Still be Vulnerable

It looks like Stagefright strikes again. The security bug that preyed upon phones running versions of Android OS between 2.2 and 4, has now reared its head to attack devices running Android 5.0 and above. Joshua J. Drake, Zimperium zLabs vice president of research, has found another security issue in Android called Stagefright 2.0.

LG Launches Smartphone with Multimedia Capabilities

LG has introduced a new smartphone series. Dubbed the V series, this fleet of new mobile devices was launched recently with the unveiling of the LG V10. And the company boasts there are many more “firsts” coming with this newest phone. Perhaps most noteworthy is LG’s claim that the V10 represents the “first” smartphone with “multimedia capabilities never seen in a mobile device.

More 4G for India and Africa? Here’s How Your Business Benefits

Emerging markets such as India and Africa are focused on the potential of high-speed mobile connectivity to boost their economies like never before. As a result, faster 4G connections are rapidly gaining momentum in these markets. For small businesses — including those in the U.S. — this could open a window of exciting opportunities too.

Samsung Will Actually Pay You to Buy This Device

Samsung is literally paying for customers to buy its smartphones. The company is lagging behind Apple in smartphone sales lately and hopes paying the first three months of a new customer’s phone installment payment will sway some people to try one of its devices. The company’s offer lasts until Oct. 16.

Toshiba Upgrades Chromebook 2 With Better Processors

Chromebooks are designed to work out of the box without adding anything else. This has proven to be a very successful delivery model in different segments, but especially in education, where it has seen the highest adoption rates. As a company that makes one of the better Chromebooks, Toshiba has launched the second iteration of its Chromebook 2.

10.2 Inch Tablet Coming From Google: Meet Pixel C

Among the many announcements made at Google’s Nexus event on Tuesday, including two new Nexus phones, the company revealed their all in-house 10.2 inch tablet, the Pixel C. You may recognize the Pixel name. Google released the original Chromebook Pixel several years ago, the newest version having come out earlier this year.

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LG’s Latest Budget-Priced Smartphone Includes Nano Coated Tip Stylus Pen

LG will be introducing the latest version of its flagship smartphone at the upcoming Mobile World Congress conference this week. At the event, the South Korean company will show off the new LG5, but fans of stylus devices will be more interested in the 5.7-inch phablet LG Stylus 2.

Currently there is one phone that dominates the stylus segment on mobile, the Samsung Galaxy Note. But other players are introducing their own versions, including LG and Huawei.

The LG Stylus 2 is a follow up to the G4 Stylus, which launched in May of last year to lukewarm receptions. The company made several improvements on the Stylus 2, including a new nano-coated pen for greater accuracy, which is replacing the Rubberdium Stylus of the G4.

While LG has upgraded the RAM from 1GB to 1.5GB and installed more powerful rear and front cameras with 13- and 8-megapixel respectively, the company is most proud of the new stylus, which it calls a pen.

The stylus/pen is becoming a valuable tool for many power users and creative types that own phablets, and the more accurate it is, the better LG can use it as a selling point.

Of course, typing on a phablet is not convenient, but if there is one thing the Galaxy Note has proven, it’s the existence of a large customer base that loves to use a stylus. Small business owners in design, landscaping, architecture, real estate, decorating and more have grown to appreciate the conveniences a stylus offers.

The improvement on the LG Stylus 2 extends to features that are designed specifically for the pen. When you take the pen out from the compartment, it triggers Pen Pop, a shortcut menu for the Pop Memo and Pop Scanner applications. So all you have to do is take the pen out and you can start writing, drawing or just doodling.

Another nifty feature is basically an alarm for your pen. If the phone detects the pen container is empty, an app called Pen Keeper will sound an alert on your phone.

“LG Stylus 2 provides both the big screen and premium notetaking functions of a premium large phone at a price of a mid-tier phone,” said Juno Cho, president and CEO of LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company. This means you shouldn’t expect specs that match the Galaxy Note 5, but an affordable alternative.

Image: LG

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LG Launching G4 Flagship Phone and One for Doodling

LG G4 Stylus G4c

LG’s leather clad flagship smartphone, the G4, will begin rolling out to key markets this week.

On the heels of this announcement, LG has also revealed two additional members of the G4 family, the G4 Stylus and the G4c. Both are scheduled to launch in the weeks to come.

These two new additions will unfortunately not be sporting the G4’s signature leather back. However they will be offering differing size options for customers who like the specs of the G4 but wish it was bigger or smaller.

The LG G4 Stylus, available as G Stylo in North America and Korea, boasts a 5.7-inch display. This is slightly larger than the G4’s 5.5 inches. As you have probably guessed by the name, the phone comes with a LG Rubberdium Stylus to make note taking and drawing easier.

Those looking for a smaller option can consider the G4c, coming in at a petite, by comparison, 5 inches. LG claims the G4c, “offers many of the G4’s premium features and styling but in a more compact form factor.”

Customers will have the option to buy the G4 Stylus in either an LTE or 3G configuration. No such option is being offered for the G4c, which is LTE only.

While both phones sport similarities with the G4, they are nonetheless a downgrade from the flagship. Unlike the G4’s 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, the LG G4 Stylus and G4c will only offer 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. They will offer micro SD for added storage, but it’s still a far cry from the G4.

The LTE version of the LG G4 Stylus and G4c both have a 1.2GHz Quad-Core processor. Oddly enough, the 3G version comes with a 1.4 GHz Octa-Core processor, so it looks like customers will have to choose between a faster phone or better Internet.

Both phones will run Android 5.0 Lollipop, another downgrade from G4’s Android 5.1 operating system.

Shipping for the LG G4 will begin in Hong Kong followed by Turkey, Russia and Singapore. LG says shipping will continue throughout the month of June eventually reaching most of Europe, North America, CIS, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South Central America.

Pricing and additional purchasing information for all three of LG’s new phones will be announced locally at the time of availability. This information may vary depending on carrier and market.

Image: LG

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