Amazon devices unit morale wanes amid cuts, weak development pipeline

Amazon devices unit morale wanes amid cuts, weak development pipeline

Morale within Amazon’s hardware division, Lab126, has reportedly suffered due to staff cutbacks and concerns about the success of upcoming devices. Lab126, responsible for popular products like the Kindle reader and Echo voice-assistant, was once seen as a key driver of future projects for Amazon. However, it has recently experienced mass layoffs and the departure of key executives, including leader Dave Limp. Current and former employees, who spoke anonymously, described a range of new devices in development, many of which are focused on promoting the Alexa voice service. However, they face competition from generative AI and ChatGPT.

Amazon is set to hold a devices and services launch event on September 20, where it is expected to unveil refreshed versions of existing products and make other announcements. While RushHourDaily was unable to confirm Amazon’s full plans for the event, it was able to identify five new devices under development, including a carbon monoxide detector and a household energy consumption monitor with Alexa built-in. Other projects were mentioned but not fully detailed.

The sources revealed that Amazon’s goal is to have consumers install Alexa-enabled devices in multiple rooms of their homes and integrate the system into their daily routines. In addition to the devices mentioned, Amazon has also been working on an Alexa-enabled digital measuring device and a virus-testing device initially intended for Covid detection. However, not all projects developed at Lab126 will be released commercially, and some have already been reworked or canceled due to financial or market concerns.

Although Lab126 is relatively small within Amazon’s vast empire, it has been significant as a testing ground for gadgets and the public face of Alexa. Amazon has acknowledged that its devices and services business is not profitable, but has not provided specific figures. When asked about morale and devices at Lab126, an Amazon spokesperson declined to comment, stating that a few anecdotes do not accurately represent the reality of the organization. The spokesperson emphasized that the division has been an innovative force for over a decade and has created products that are integral to people’s everyday lives.

The sources cited Lab126’s years of losses and shifting strategies as contributing factors to lowered morale. They pointed to the Astro home monitoring robot, launched in 2021, as an example of a device that remains niche and received criticism from consumers. Other poorly selling devices mentioned include a voice-assistant-powered clock, the Fire smartphone, and a camera that doubles as a personal stylist.

Amazon is facing challenges in maintaining interest in its Alexa voice assistant, especially as it competes with AI chatbots from Google and startups like OpenAI. These chatbots have impressed consumers and investors with their ability to generate coherent text answers to complex prompts, a format that is difficult to replicate in a voice assistant. Amazon has stated that it is developing its own generative AI to enhance Alexa, but has not provided many details beyond a previous announcement.

Alexa, typically accessed through devices like Echo speakers, provides spoken answers to questions and facilitates purchases from Amazon’s online store. The company has also worked to make Alexa a hub for home automation, allowing users to control light bulbs and appliances with their voice. However, Amazon has struggled to find a consistent way to profit from Alexa. Avi Greengart, president of analysis firm Techsponential, noted that Amazon’s limited control over smartphones hinders its ability to fully integrate Alexa into consumers’ lives.

Lab126 has experienced a series of executive departures, including the planned exit of leader Dave Limp, who oversaw device strategy. Microsoft’s Panos Panay is expected to succeed Limp. Other longtime executives, including Lab126 president Gregg Zehr and Alexa senior vice president Tom Taylor, retired last year. Ken Washington, who oversaw the Astro robot, left to join Medtronic. These departures are part of CEO Andy Jassy’s efforts to reduce Amazon’s headcount after a period of rapid expansion during the pandemic.

Despite popularizing voice assistants, Alexa lags behind Google and Apple’s Siri in terms of user numbers. Amazon has attempted to monetize Alexa by focusing on facilitating purchases from its online store, but employees who have worked on Alexa have not seen strong evidence that customers are buying things they wouldn’t otherwise. Users like Bruno Borges have found limited use for Alexa beyond basic functions like timers and weather updates.

Employees have observed a shift in leadership’s focus on producing devices at lower costs to generate profits from hardware sales. This emphasis on price has caused delays in the development of an advanced projector that can turn regular surfaces into screens. Amazon acquired startup Lightform to assist with the project, but has been determined to reduce the projector’s cost before releasing it for sale.

In conclusion, morale within Amazon’s Lab126 division has been affected by staff cutbacks and concerns about the success of upcoming devices. The division, once seen as a key driver of innovation, has faced challenges such as executive departures and the need to compete with generative AI and chatbots. Amazon is striving to promote the Alexa voice service and expand its presence in consumers’ homes. However, the company has struggled to find a consistent way to profit from Alexa and faces competition from other voice assistants. Despite these challenges, Amazon remains committed to innovation and creating products that are integral to people’s everyday lives.

About News Team

Hi, I'm Alex Perez, an experienced writer with a focus on lifestyle and culture news. From food and fashion to travel and entertainment, I love exploring the latest trends and sharing my insights with readers. I also have a strong interest in world news and business, and enjoy covering breaking stories and events.

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