Rob’s Roundup: Amazon’s Future Homes, Facebook Messenger Gets Ads, Virtual Rollercoasters

Rob’s Roundup: Amazon’s Future Homes, Facebook Messenger Gets Ads, Virtual Rollercoasters
Friday, March 04, 2016
Rob Walker

In this week’s roundup, we look at some new technology offerings from both Amazon and Samsung that are making our world look more like The Jetson’s, as well as Facebook opening up its Messenger platform to advertisers. 

Amazon Expands Alexa with Amazon Tap and Echo Dot

I’ve been waiting for the day when I can wake up and say: “Florence, play me some indie folk music.” and have my house kick into gear, making me coffee and playing some tunes as I get ready for the day. Yes, I will be naming my house ‘Florence’ (Because then it would be Florence and the Machine that I’m speaking to…right?). Amazon’s Echo, a mix of hardware and software that listens to voice commands and will run simple programs, is getting a bit of an expansion. Although it’s not quite at the point where it will make me coffee.

The Amazon Tap and Echo Dot are assistants that cost less than the $180 Amazon Echo and offer some slightly different features. For the Dot, the big change is that instead of being its own speaker system, it connects to your home audio system via wires or Bluetooth. Which honestly makes more sense to me anyway than having a single smaller stereo in one room. The technology is changing and adapting as well, since it can now read out news headlines and connect to numerous streaming services like Spotify and internet radio/podcasts.

You’ll be able to use Alexa with whatever speakers you want – a great solution if you’ve already invested in an audio setup. Plug in Dot, and you’ll be able to ask Alexa to stream music from Amazon Prime Music, Pandora or Spotify. You’ll also have access to Internet radio and podcasts through iHeartRadio and TuneIn, as well as audiobooks from Audible and the Kindle Store.

Facebook Opening Messenger to Branded Content

As more and more people move to messenger services and tighten their social networks, Facebook is poised to allow publishers into their Messenger feed. The idea will be that publishers can distribute content automatically through the service. They’ve already made deals with some publishers, which will be unveiled in April at its annual developer conference.

Since Facebook has already announced they were expanding Messenger to be more than a chat app and make it a full platform, it’s no surprise that they want advertisers joining that channel. Although it does make you wonder what will happen to the Facebook app itself – in a year’s time, if you open Messenger, will you basically be getting a streamlined Facebook app?

There’s a lot of speculation so far, but no one has really been able to get a handle on how advertisers would generate revenue from inserting themselves into messenger conversations.

Six Flags and Samsung Bring Virtual Reality to Roller Coasters

I love rollercoasters. Love love love them. So even though it looks a little silly, I would absolutely love to test out the new partnership between Six Flags and Samsung to bring virtual environments to 9 amusement parks in the US. Aside from the interesting addition of interactivity to what was before a purely ‘sit and scream’ experience, the idea of being able to have multiple types of experiences while you take the same ride is very cool. For example, one week it could be flying through a city in a fighter jet, the next dodging asteroids in space.

Like a lot of the current roster of VR-augmented experiences, the New Revolution experience looks a little hokey. The CGI graphics don’t look too amazing and the whole thing has a ‘let’s add fighter jets to a rollercoaster! Yeah!’ vibe going on. Sort of like an excited 12 year old if they were the VP of Operations for a major company. But, this continued expansion into virtual reality  – and more importantly the new and wildly different ways in which companies are trying to use them – bodes very well for the industry as it continues to grow.

It’s just the early days of virtual reality, so 10 years from now we might be really happy to have projects like ‘The New Revolution’. At the very least it’ll be a story to tell our kids about via hologram.