Amazon units unit morale wanes amid cuts, weak improvement pipeline

Sep 19, 2023 | blog

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Amazon’s Alexa house Echo is proven on the market in an Amazon retail retailer in San Diego, California, September 28, 2021.
Mike Blake | Reuters

Some staff inside Amazon’s once-storied {hardware} division – chargeable for well-liked units just like the Kindle reader and Echo voice-assistant – say morale inside the division has suffered amid workers cutbacks and a pipeline of units in improvement that they worry are unlikely to show hits.

The division, often known as Lab126, was a spotlight for Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos, who portrayed it as an engine for future tasks, however extra just lately it has been buffeted by mass layoffs and key govt departures, together with chief Dave Limp, a 13-year veteran who has introduced plans to step down later this 12 months.

Reuters interviewed greater than 15 present and former workers, who spoke on the situation of anonymity on account of their employment phrases, who described a hodgepodge of latest units in improvement, lots of them geared toward encouraging prospects to make use of the as soon as ground-breaking Alexa voice service that now faces a stiff problem within the age of generative AI and ChatGPT.

The firm – the world’s greatest on-line retailer – is holding a units and companies launch occasion on September 20 the place it’s anticipated to characteristic refreshed variations of some current merchandise just like the Fire pill, Fire TV stick and Kindle Scribe e-reader, amongst different bulletins. Reuters was unable to find out Amazon’s full plans for the announcement.

The information company was capable of determine 5 totally different new units below improvement. These embody a carbon monoxide detector and a family vitality consumption monitor – each with Alexa constructed into them – in addition to a house projector to make any floor a display screen. Some of the sources talked about different tasks, the total particulars of which couldn’t be confirmed.

Amazon hopes customers will set up Alexa-enabled units in additional rooms of their properties and turn into accustomed to utilizing the system all through the day, the sources stated.

The firm has additionally labored on an Alexa-enabled digital measuring gadget (as an example, for mapping out the scale of 1’s house) and a virus-testing gadget initially supposed to detect Covid, the individuals stated.

Amazon is secretive about its inner tasks at Lab126, which has lengthy been essential to its drive to place itself as a tech innovator. Not all of them will likely be produced commercially, typically on account of monetary or market issues, the sources stated, whereas some have already been reworked or canceled altogether.

Though comparatively small inside Amazon’s sprawling empire, the gadget unit has been symbolically essential as a gadget testing floor and Alexa’s public face by means of voice-assistant units. Amazon has stated its units and companies enterprise just isn’t worthwhile, with out offering figures.

A spokesperson for Amazon declined to touch upon merchandise in improvement.

“To suggest that a few anecdotes paint a picture of reality for an organization as large and diverse as Devices and Services is inaccurate,” spokeswoman Kinley Pearsall stated in written response to questions on morale and units at Lab126. The “business has been a staple of innovation for over a decade and has created a series of products that are meaningful parts of people’s everyday lives.”

The sources stated the lab’s years of losses and shifting methods have contributed to lowered morale. Many pointed to the Astro house monitoring robotic launched in 2021 that, at $1,600, stays area of interest and was criticized for giving some customers the creeps.

That adopted a collection of poorly promoting units, comparable to a voice-assistant-powered clock, the Fire smartphone and a digital camera that doubles as a private stylist, the sources stated.

Amazon, the individuals stated, is making an attempt to handle flagging curiosity in its Alexa voice assistant almost a decade after it was launched and because it faces competitors from AI chatbots from Alphabet’s Google and a number of startups, together with Microsoft-backed OpenAI. ChatGPT and different comparable instruments have dazzled customers and traders since late final 12 months with their capacity to assemble longform and coherent textual content solutions to advanced prompts, a format that’s troublesome to translate to a voice assistant.

Amazon stated it’s creating a generative AI of its personal to bolster Alexa however hasn’t revealed a lot past an August assertion that “every one of our teams is working on building generative AI applications.”

Typically accessed by means of units comparable to Amazon televisions and Echo audio system, Alexa supplies spoken solutions to questions and can be utilized for purchases from Amazon’s on-line retailer. The firm has additionally labored to make Alexa a house automation hub to permit gentle bulbs and home equipment to be voice managed.

But Amazon has didn’t discover a constant means for cashing in on Alexa.

“Amazon’s ability to infiltrate consumers’ lives is limited because they don’t have control of the smartphone,” stated Avi Greengart, president of study agency Techsponential. “Voice-first is not a great shopping experience,” he stated.


Limp, who has overseen gadget technique together with Ring video doorbells, plans to exit earlier than 12 months’s finish. Amazon is about to call as successor Microsoft’s Panos Panay who oversaw improvement of the Surface, in line with Bloomberg. Microsoft declined to remark and Amazon didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Limp follows longtime executives Lab126 president Gregg Zehr and Alexa senior vice chairman Tom Taylor who each retired late final 12 months. Ken Washington, who oversaw Astro, left after lower than two years to hitch Medtronic in May.

CEO Andy Jassy has been decreasing Amazon’s headcount after roughly doubling it throughout the pandemic in response to surging on-line gross sales. The retrenchment additionally affected Amazon’s retail unit, cloud computing, grocery and promoting divisions.

Alexa workers have been included in rounds of layoffs starting final 12 months leading to 27,000 job cuts throughout Amazon. Despite broadly popularizing voice assistants, Alexa, with 71.6 million customers in 2022, trailed Google and Apple’s Siri, which had 81.5 million and 77.6 million, respectively, in line with evaluation agency Insider Intelligence.

For years, Amazon has stated it may well promote units for near manufacturing price and see a revenue by means of companies supplied on them. That’s labored properly with its Kindle group, as customers who personal an e-reader buy e-books for years, with Amazon taking a lower of every sale.

Alexa is one other matter. Most efforts to earn money from it have centered on easing buying from But a dozen individuals who have labored on Alexa say they have not seen robust proof prospects are shopping for issues they would not in any other case.

The problem is customers like Bruno Borges, 40, of Vancouver, Canada, who stated he discovered he used his Echo just for its timer, music and climate updates.

“I would never shop on it because I cannot compare things like on the website, so I wonder if I’m getting the best deal,” he stated. He just lately stowed his three-year-old gadget in a drawer and has no plans to proceed utilizing it.

Employees say management has in recent times shifted in direction of a drive to provide units for cheaper to doubtlessly earn money on the sale of {hardware} itself.

That deal with worth has prompted delays for a sophisticated projector Amazon is creating to forged photos round a room, turning common surfaces into screens, in line with 5 individuals aware of the matter.

With the projector, a person may beam recipes on the wall above their range or make Zoom calls that observe them as they transfer. Amazon purchased a startup known as Lightform to assist propel the undertaking however has been bent on decreasing the projector’s price, beforehand supplied by Lightform beginning at $700, by lots of of {dollars} earlier than it may very well be offered.

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