Amazon Will Open Physical Bookstores Because Life Is a Practical Joke Played On Us All

"Amazon is working on plans to open hundreds of brick-and-mortar bookstores, according to a new report from CNBC. Yes, following in the footsteps of chains like Borders, Amazon apparently thinks that the future is in dead trees.

Amazon already has one physical store that opened back in November. The Seattle store was dismissed as a “vanity project” when it was first announced, but apparently it worked out well enough that Amazon is willing to bet big money on it. It ain’t cheap to open 300-400 retail stores."

People said that Apple was crazy to open up retail stores back in 2001, when Dell and others were experiencing extreme costs savings with the Direct-To-Consumer business model. Still, people went crazy when it opened and Apple remains the most productive retailer, measured in revenue by square foot.

I've had a chance to check out the Amazon Bookstore in Seattle. It's probably the only public place other than CES where you could really try out the Echo; a device that's hard to explain but easy to love. Add to that the fact that there's something about being able to touch and hold a book before purchase.

Samsung Introduces Powerful Smarthome Devices

Despite a growing consensus that today's households are saturated with human-interaction diminishing screen-time, Korean-based Samsung has decided that the solution to meaningful family interaction involves MORE screens, rather than less. Enter their new line of connected home devices:

1) The Samsung Activewash (TM) clothes washer includes a deeper and wider sink than last year's model, allowing users to pre-treat a load right on top of their washer rather than having to locate the unit near a sink. For Front-loading machines, Samsung has added a portal-like feature that allows one to pause the cycle and subsequently shove anything from a sock to a towel or pair of jeans through to add it to the wash. Both of these devices include new controls that are set in the middle of the lid rather than in the "difficult-to-reach" rear of the machine. But wait-- what abou the screens? Both types of machines feature wifi that allows them to connect to users' phones for notifications about cycle duration and status, as well as command and control of the machines. 

2) For centuries, the kitchen has been the heart of technology in the home. We've shoved fire, ice, and water into the room and today take for granted that each appliance is something of a testament to both our oldest and newest food processing technologies. Taking that paradigm to a new level, Samsung has introduced a new version of it smart fridge. With its wifi-connection, apps and HUGE 21.5" screen, Samsung's smart fridge includes not only connectivity, but collaboration and interactivity. Citing the way the recent trend in stainless-steel finishes has removed the family's ability to use the refrigerator as a billboard for childhood art, important announcements, and novelties like magnets, Samsung has created several apps that allow families to use their smartphones to post not only images, but notes and other information on the fridge. In addition, the refrigerators can now mirror the content displayed on a user's Samsung Smart SUHD television set, so that they don't have to miss that critical moment of the Big Game while getting up to retrieve a drink or some snacks. 

Not only does the fridge watch TV, it also contains robust grocery-shopping functions, that are designed to help contemporary families save money and time when it comes to keeping their homes stocked with food. 

The most straightforward of these tactics is the fridge cam. Samsung have developed a system in which every time the users closes his or her refrigerator door, the machine take a photo of the contents of the cold Box. Users can gain access to the fridge's photos through the available Samsung app and use the image to determine what they need for the next week's stores,

At first glance there's a "who cares" reaction but apply a little thought and you begin to realize how much money (over time) you'll be able to save by checking the fridge before you buy. It's something we should all be doing before going to the store, but let's be frank-- the vast majority of us forget to. When you consider the fact that Amaricans throw out something like 45% of food, it's clear that we've got too much of it lingering in our fridges-- and some of that is from over-buying. 

The second trick that this fridge has in store for its users is deep integration with MasterCard's vendor partners like FreshDirect. Through the fridge, you can buy groceries and have them delivered to your door. No word on what the delivery cost might be, but it's an interesting way to make good on Samsung's promise to deliver technology which provides convenience by saving both time and money. 

3) The Smart TV got smarter. A lot smarter. Not only has Samsung added a complimentary USB dongle enabling support from their mid-2014 purchase of Smart Things, but the company has retooled the Smart TV interface to support a number of new and intuitive interactions. 

The Smart Things dongle enables users to vocally command any device compatible with the Smart Things hub. With the device properly installed inserted into the side of the television set, the functionality seems to mirror Amazon's Echo, which also connects to various connected home devices platforms, including Smart Things. 

The the interface update is perhaps more exciting. The Smart TV places content directly in front of users, rather than the typical app-enabled paradigm of having to click into an app in order to gain access to its content. Rather than opening Amazon Video and browsing the app, the Smart TV can lay out the trending content from Amazon or ESPN or any other connected service right as soon as the user selects that source of content. 

Further more, the television is equipped with technology that empowers it to learn various remote functions quickly and easily so that your Samsung remote can easily become your only remote. On top of all thins functionality is Samsung's ability to quickly access devices attached to the Smart TV without having to focus on changing inputs. The television seamlessly move the user over to an Xbox One or, a Time Warner's cable system. That last bit's a boon to anyone who's ever wanted to hide or get rid of their clunky cable box. 


On their own, all of these devices, with their robust feature sets and well honed interfaces would be compelling to even lead in their respective categories. working together, Samsung has put together a suite of devices that work well together and are accessed by the same app in a phone. This means users can just look for the Samsung brand on any of these electronics and assume that it's going to play nicely with their other Samsung devices. 

Among other items mentioned were wifi connected... 

...Which belies a significant marketing pain point: why aren't all of these devices protected under the very same brand. We've got the Galaxy phone and the Smart TV. The wifi-enabled stove and oven are all named with disparate brands. Would that I were in charge of marketing, it might be fun to rebrand the line of products to just read "Galaxy." This way phone owners would recognize immediately that this washer or TV, or other device was compatible with their phone.

But that would make too much sense. 

Walt Mossberg isn't impressed: His Year in Review

Walt Mossberg on the tech of 2015:


 "Perhaps the most disappointing new twist came from Apple's 3D Touch. In my iPhone 6S review, I said I thought it could become a big deal. But, so far, it hasn't seemed to take off. Maybe next year. Maybe never."

new 12" MacBook:

"The newest Mac is slow, overpriced, and has a keyboard some find tough to get used to."

Mossberg continues with a discussion about the resurrection of MS and the general "meh" surrounding the Apple Watch, along w/ similar wearables. 

 I'd agree with most of his assessment but for one thing-- the Amazon Echo. To be sure, it was m released to a pilot audience in (late) December 2014, but it changed my domestic life in 2015. The Echo has gotten better and better-- week after week and month after month without my ever needing to approve an update or download apps for it. Between its lightning fast voice recognition, growing library of content along with it's aforementioned seamless updates and robust IFTTT support (you can set custom voice command triggers), Amazon really felt like the Queen of the Cloud.  What made the device stand head and shoulders above Apple's Siri and Google Now was the way the Echo was implemented, with seven microphones and a bunch of other kit, meant that I didn't need a phone nearby to take advantage of its functionality. I spoke to my house and it listened. I even picked up a second device for the bedroom to replace an app-enabled iHome clock radio. 

Other smart/connected home devices like Piper NV and the growing suite of Belkins WEMO tools also came in handy, with the latter certainly integrating nicely with the Echo directly as well as with IFTTT. 

It's true that the idea that every year needs a breakout super hit is part and parcel with what Paolo Bacigiulupi often "the Expansion Economy," in his work. It's a flawed measurement of success. Indeed for me, the Echo became indispensable (I very much want some version of it for my car), but like so many things, Echo is a remix of many ideas, implemented well. A revolution every hearsay make for great news cycles, but I'd rather tech giants take what they have, and refine it than drop half-baked moonshots at us all year long.