Amazon.com Inc said it would add more than 120,000 seasonal workers in the United States for the holiday season, an increase of 20 percent more than last year, highlighting the growing threat the e-commerce giant poses to traditional retailers.
U.S. retailers such as Macy’s Inc, Target Corp and Kohl’s Corp have said they plan to hire fewer temporary workers or to keep seasonal employment levels little changed this holiday season.
More than 14,000 seasonal positions were transitioned to regular, full-time roles after the holidays last year, and the company expects to increase that number this year, Amazon said on Thursday.
The U.S. National Retail Federation earlier this month forecast a 3.6 percent rise in holiday sales this year, with online sales expected to climb 7 percent to 10 percent.
U.S. brick-and-mortar retailers’ biggest challenge in recent years has been tackling the growth of online retailers, specially Amazon, which offer the same products at lower prices and have made shopping more convenient.
They are also keeping sales expectations and inventories low – and hiring light – ahead of the holiday season to avoid a repeat of last year, when unusually warm weather hit sales and piled up unsold goods.
For game critics, loving Gears of War has been problematic since the very beginning. The rippling, testosterone drenched surface of Epic’s franchise served as a distraction from its abundant qualities. Looking back, it’s clear that the first game, released in 2006, provided the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era with the kind of moment that arguably still hasn’t arrived for the current generation. It was a new visual benchmark, its sense of weight and physical force was entirely distinct, and – a year before the launch of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – it introduced the most credible new multiplayer experience since Halo. For those who based their professional integrity on distinguishing good games from bad, to notice and appreciate any of this was to miss the square-jaws and lumpen dialogue that comprised its story.
Looking back now, it’s clear that Gears of War was one of the defining series of the last console generation, influencing the creative direction of a large proportion of action games, driving the development community towards the Unreal Engine in droves, and with Horde mode in Gears of War 2, introducing a multiplayer concept that would be adopted by everything from Uncharted to Mass Effect. Even its marketing was influential: Gears of War’s popular “Mad World” trailer might well be the origin of action games using pained, acoustic covers of popular songs to score their artfully spliced carnage.
Despite this estimable legacy, however, the reviews of Gears of War 4 are shot through with an almost apologetic tone; a need to address the (arguably misplaced) perception of Gears as nothing more than a dude-bro power fantasy. Polygon, which awards the game an impressive 9 out of 10, spends a full third of its review on story and characterisation, opening with a declaration that, “Gears of War 4 is about home and family.”
“Gears of War as a series has dealt with accusations of hyper-masculine excess and an emphasis on gore and violence since it was first announced more than ten years ago. And it’s not that those observations are wrong, exactly – the characters have always been larger than life, the men in particular wide and heavy, and the violence of the series has always been extreme and enthusiastic. But beneath or even in parallel to that aspect, there’s always been consistent themes of friendship, of relationships of support and camaraderie that would seem corny in most other games but, somehow, work in Gears of War for a passionate fanbase.”
This protagonist of this reboot – which was developed by Microsoft’s The Coalition – is J. D. Fenix, the son of the original series’ central character, Marcus Fenix. Both father and son play pivotal roles in the game’s story, which Polygon describes as, “more focused, less sprawling story than the last few entries… A lot of time is spent exploring the strained relationship between Marcus and his son, with a lot of perspective on both sides of the equation.” The game’s various other key characters all have their own emotional journeys, largely relating to those themes of family and friendship. Gears of War 4’s story and character time works as well as it does for several reasons,” Polygon says. “The writing is matter-of-fact, avoiding over-stoicism and also overwrought fluff for the most part.”
If this is an area of weakness that The Coalition sought to address, then the abiding sense from the game’s reviews is that it has made a significant improvement. Whether that’s what the vast majority of Gears of War’s players care about is another matter, of course, but The Coalition hasn’t dropped the ball with the series’ core strengths, either. Polygon praises Gears of War 4 as “simply a joy to play,” and that sentiment echoes throughout the critical discourse.
The Daily Telegraph, which awards four stars, applauds the “muscular and endlessly gratifying thrill” of the gunplay, which carries the game through a slow start that serves, “as an elongated (re)introduction to that well-oiled Gears combat, flashing between cover-to-cover, switching between shotgun and rifle and familiarising yourself with the rattle of an emptying clip and the satisfaction of a well-timed, power-boosting active reload.” There are two new enemy races to fight in place of the original series’ Locust, and “weaponry…as exotic as the bestiary” with which to fight them. The need to switch between distinct weapons to fight equally distinct weapon types has always been central to Gears of War’s appeal. Here, again, The Coalition has honoured its heritage.
The same is true of Gears of War 4 as a spectacle. You won’t find a single review that doesn’t proclaim it to be one of the very best looking games on either Xbox One or PlayStation 4, and the same is true is the PC version. Indeed, PCGamesN calls it “a visual and technical tour de force,” maintaining “searing frame-rates on ‘ultra’ settings during some of the most mind-blowing – if cheesy – set-pieces I’ve seen in games, while also inviting me to appreciate the vivid redness of sycamore leaves lazily billowing on a cracked yellow wall in a medieval town square on some parallel-to-Earth planet.”
That last observation is crucial, because the beauty of Gears 4 goes beyond polygons, framerates and animations, and extends to art direction. “This certainly ain’t the grey-brown Gears of old,” PCGamesN says, before adding, “the diversity of what it shows is stunning… This is a far cry from the game that single-handedly started the stereotype of the ‘murky brown war shooter’, taking us instead on a historical tour of the vestiges of a world parallel to ours, yet still different enough to be mysterious; I almost felt guilty as I stomped around a scenic town as a giant mech, casually calling in airstrikes to smash my way through buildings. Almost.”
Words like “jawdropping,” “stunning,” “incredible” and “breathtaking” are scattered throughout this and many other reviews, to the point where the handful of scores that fall below 8 out of 10 demand close attention. For Jimquisition, the website started by ex-Destructoid personality Jim Sterling, “there’s nothing quite like Gears on the market. The sense of weight, the meaty impact of combat, the gruesomely satisfying way heads pop and bodies burst, any given Gears game has a baseline quality even at its worst thanks to its undeniably unique style.” However, Gears of War 4 relies on that “baseline quality” a little too much, The Coalition happy to make the improvements necessary to maintain relative standards but, “doing very little to rock the boat and making minor improvements and evolving where needed.”
“Such a tactic provides a game that’s decent just because it’s Gears of War, relying on the groundwork established across four older games to maintain the baseline. And that’s most certainly what Gears 4 is. A maintenance of the series as opposed to an injection of fresh blood.”
In a sense, then, the game’s most ardent supporters and most vocal critics are in full agreement: Gears of War 4 absolutely meets the standard set by its forebears, which is either something to praise or lament depending on the individual. One suspects, though, that in the absence of new Gears, the public will be more than happy to settle for more Gears.
Amazon is holding discussions with European Union antitrust regulators regarding settling a year-long investigation into its e-book deals with publishers without a fine, a person familiar with the matter said.
The move comes as Amazon is also under scrutiny over its tax deal with Luxembourg, which may result in the U.S. online retailer paying millions of euros in back taxes.
“Amazon is in talks to settle the e-book case but it is too early to say whether it will reach an agreement,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Under the EU’s settlement rules, the company would not face any fine or finding of wrongdoing if it can offer concessions to allay regulatory concerns.
European Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso declined to comment.
The EU competition watchdog opened an investigation into the case in June last year, saying Amazon’s e-books contracts with publishers giving it terms as good as those for its rivals may make it difficult for other e-books distributors to compete.
The focus is on Amazon’s e-books in English and German. The company is the biggest e-book distributor in Europe, while the market is growing rapidly.
“Amazon’s lead is over,” he said during his keynote address at the OpenWorld conference in San Francisco. “Amazon’s going to have serious competition going forward.”
To that end, the company he co-founded is launching a set of new cloud data centers that are aimed at providing more powerful compute instances to help it compete against the likes of AWS, Azure and other cloud players. The generation 2 data centers will help bring a variety of performance improvements to customers who want to run high-performance workloads in the cloud.
The infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering that Ellison announced on-stage is aimed at giving companies low-cost access to incredibly powerful hardware in the cloud. It’s an attempt to draw businesses towards Oracle’s services as they start migrating applications to take advantage of the performance and low pricing available as a result of not operating their own data centers.
Ellison showed off a new Oracle Dense Cloud IO bare metal cloud server offering that will provide developers with 36 CPU cores, 512GB of D-RAM, and 28.8TB of SSD storage. That’s a ton of compute capacity, all aimed at high-performance enterprise workloads. It’s more power than Amazon offers with one of its most powerful instance, the i2.8xlarge. It comes at a cost of $5.40 an hour, which is cheaper than what Amazon charges.
Deepak Patil, a vice president of product development at Oracle, said in an interview that the company was able to compete with Amazon on price and performance for three reasons: The different way that it architects its infrastructure, its access to the latest and greatest hardware and the fact that its cloud platform is built on top of Oracle-made hardware.
Oracle vice president of software development Mark Cavage said that the company plans to charge a flat 7.5 cents per instance hour per core across all of its compute offerings. In addition to its bare-metal options, the company will also offer four- and eight-core virtual machines at launch. By the end of the year, Oracle will also make one- and two-core VMs available.
Twitter Inc rolled out a new video streaming application for Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc TV platforms, as well as Microsoft Corp’s Xbox One gaming console as it brings its video content to the forefront.
The application will also be available for users of these devices without a Twitter account or a pay-TV subscription, the company said.
The application will feature video content from a number of Twitter’s partners, including the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, as well as curated tweets and shorter video from its Vine and Periscope services.
The news comes a day ahead of the first of the 10 NFL Thursday night games that Twitter obtained streaming rights for in April.
Jack Dorsey-led Twitter has made a significant push into video, signing deals with several media companies and sports organizations to stream major events.
Amazon.com Inc and Pandora Media Inc are gearing up to roll out new versions of their streaming music services in coming weeks, the New York Times has reported, citing several anonymous people with knowledge of the matter.
Pandora could announce its plans this to expand its $5-per-month platform this week, with possible features including skipping more songs or storing several hours of playlists, the newspaper said. The company plans to launch a full-fledged on-demand platform by Christmas. Such a platform, priced at $10 a month, would compete with Spotify and Apple Inc’ Apple Music.
Amazon, meanwhile, is expected to reveal a platform with a large catalog of music for $10 per month or about half that amount for customers using its Echo voice-activated speakers, according to the Times.
Both companies are close to completing months of negotiations for deals with record companies and music publishers that will allow them to offer the new services, the Times reported.
Amazon was preparing to launch a standalone music streaming subscription service at $9.99 per month, in line with major rivals, Reuters reported in June, citing sources.
Amazon so far has not responded to a request for comment. Pandora declined to comment.
Google has set an early December deadline for removing most Flash content from its Chrome browser, adding that it will take an interim step next month when it stops rendering Flash-based page analytics.
In a post to a company blog, Anthony LaForge, a technical program manager on the Chrome team, said the browser would refuse to display virtually all Flash content starting with version 55, which is scheduled for release the week of Dec. 5.
Previously, Google had used a broader deadline of this year’s fourth quarter for quashing all Flash content except for that produced by a select list of 10 sites, including Amazon, Facebook and YouTube.
Another anti-Flash change will reach Chrome with version 53, now slated to ship the week of Sept. 5. At that time, Chrome will stop rendering very small Flash elements, which are invisible to users but generate data for Web analytics platforms.
LeForge’s latest deadlines were what will probably be among the closing moves in Chrome’s years-long campaign to eradicate Flash. Like other browser makers — including Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla — Google has championed the elimination of Adobe’s once-dominant media player by arguing that it results in longer laptop battery life, faster page rendering and improved security.
Apple’s Safari has frozen some Flash content since 2013, and will beat Chrome to the no-Flash milestone when it ships Safari 10 with macOS Sierra between now and October: Then, Safari will default to HTML5 and only alert users that a site supports just Flash with a message that they need to download the plug-in. Microsoft’s Edge — Windows 10’s default browser — froze some Flash content in the version bundled with last week’s 1607 upgrade.
Mozilla has only begun to restrict Flash content inside its Mozilla browser. While the open-source developer has said it will require users next year to manually activate the Flash Player plug-in, it has not revealed a timetable for more drastic constraints, like those Google announced.
Alphabet will kick off a research study for Project Wing at a Federal Aviation Administration test site “to help regulators answer critical safety and human factors questions” for drone deliveries, the White House said in a statement.
Alphabet first tested its delivery drones in Queensland, Australia, in 2014, where the company delivered a first aid kit, candy bars, dog treats and water to farmers.
Google and Amazon are both developing drone delivery systems, but lots of questions remain about how the services will actually work, including how and where packages will be dropped off.
The tests at the FAA site could help assuage the U.S. government’s concerns about the safety of such systems and how they will operate.
The Project Wing announcement was one of several made during a White House workshop on drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs.
The National Science Foundation said it would invest $35 million in drone research over the next five years. The research is aimed at designing and controlling drones to be used for infrastructure inspection, disaster response, agricultural monitoring and studying severe storms.
The U.S. must avoid crippling the drone industry through slow-moving regulatory processes, FAA administrator Michael Huerta said during the White House workshop.
“This is an industry that’s moving at the speed of Silicon Valley,” he said. “We at the FAA know that we can’t respond at the speed of government.”
The U.S. Department of the Interior said it will use drones to support search and rescue operations, augmenting its manned aircraft operations.
In addition, the Future of Privacy Forum, Intel and PrecisionHawk released a report calling on drone makers to embrace privacy early in the design process, in response to concerns among consumers.
However, analysts at Canalys and IDC are seeing a glimmer of hope for the devices with business demand for detachable tablets like the Microsoft Surface Pro and the iPad Pro. The Windows 10 anniversary update, which rolls out tomorrow, could further the business trend toward detachable tablets as could the next version of Android, called Nougat, with its better multitasking support.
Canalys reported 35 million tablets shipped in the second quarter, down 16% from a year ago. IDC said overall shipments reached 38.7 million, a decline of 12.3%.
According to Canalys, Apple tablets took the top spot at a 28% share of the market, while Samsung took a 16% share and Lenovo and Huawei got 7% and 6% respectively. IDC’s numbers were about the same: Apple had 25.8%; Samsung, 15.6%; Lenovo, 6.6% and Huawei, 5.6%. IDC tracked Amazon with a 4% market share, citing its low-priced Fire tablets, based on an Android variant, including its 6-in. tablet, for the first time.
For more than two years, analysts have watched the tablet market decline. The reasons are primarily because users hold on to the devices for longer and because larger smartphones — those with displays over 5.5 inches — have caught on as an alternative to smaller tablets.
In June, IDC predicted global tablet shipments would drop by 9.6% for all of 2016, up from a prediction of a 6% decline in March.
IDC said the tablet decline would occur even when newer detachables tablets are included with slate tablets. Slates “are not coming back,” IDC analyst Jean Phillippe Bouchard said at the time.
Later in June, Bouchard joined IDC analyst Bryan Bassett in predicting that global business use of tablets would grow by nearly 6% annually through 2020. Even so, that figure would still not be enough to reach the number of total consumer and business tablets shipped in 2015. In 2015, IDC said 206 million tablets shipped, including 35 million for business users, but in 2020, the total number will reach only 202.6 million, including 59.4 million for business users.
The world’s biggest online retailer, which has laid out plans to start using drones for deliveries by 2017, said a cross-government team supported by the UK Civil Aviation Authority had provided it with the permissions necessary to explore the process.
Amazon unveiled a video last year showcasing how an unmanned drone could deliver packages, narrated by former Top Gear TV host Jeremy Clarkson.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said last month the use of drones for deliveries will require separate regulation from their general use.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc said last month it was six to nine months from beginning to use drones to check warehouse inventories in the United States.
Google’s intelligent cloud developer tools added new features with the launch of a new Cloud Natural Language API. The service is aimed at helping developers create applications that understand human language.
It’s an important move for Google, as public cloud providers race to host new applications built with intelligent capabilities. Natural language processing allows developers to build apps that can tackle the challenging task of understanding how humans communicate. It is also key for building intelligent assistants and chat bots.
This API can provide information about a block of text back to an application, including the overall sentiment of a passage and an analysis of the structure of a sentence. The system can also identify entities mentioned, including people, organizations, locations, events and products.
The API is based on the same research that Google used to create Parsey McParseface, an open source parser for English text that the company released earlier this year.
The natural language API entered public beta alongside Google’s already announced Speech API, which lets applications take in recorded voice clips and get text back. By connecting the two APIs, it’s possible for developers to build an app that can listen to a user’s voice and then understand what that person is saying.
By launching these two services in beta, Google continues its competition against Microsoft, Amazon and IBM, which are also launching intelligent capabilities in their public cloud platforms.
The company’s second annual sales event, which was held Tuesday, saw customer orders surpass Prime Day 2015 by more than 60% worldwide and more than 50% in the U.S., the company reported.
“It was a huge success,” said Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, an analyst with Forrester Research. “It was a big day, by all accounts, with enormous growth. It reinforces that e-commerce continues to grow and that Amazon is a significant part of that growth.”
Amazon’s Prime Day is a one-day sales event for members of Prime, the company’s membership program. Products in nearly all of Amazon’s copious shopping categories were put on sale.
Despite some reports of customers’ having problems checking out after making their purchases, more than 90,000 TVs were sold, along with more than 2 million toys, 1 million pairs of shoes and hundreds of thousands of Kindle e-readers.
Amazon also received twice as many orders via its mobile app than it did during Prime Day last year. More than 1 million customers used the Amazon app for the first time during the sale, the company said.
For U.S. sales alone, Amazon reported that device sales were three times higher compared to Prime Day 2015. It was also the biggest sales day for Amazon’s Echo personal assistant and the company’s e-readers.
When it came to techie purchases, Amazon sold U.S. members more than 14,000 Lenovo laptops and more than 23,000 iRobot Roomba 614 Vacuum cleaning robots.
While it was a big day for the online retailer, one day does not outshine the rest of the year, especially with back-to-school sales, and then holiday sales, coming up.
“No single day is going to change the fortunes of any retailer,” said Mulpuru-Kodali. “It’s one day of 365 or 366 days in any given year.
For all of 2016, global tablet shipments will drop by 9.6% over 2015, market research firm IDC forecast this week, marking the second straight year of decline. In March, IDC had forecast a decline of 6% for this year.
The decline will occur even when newer detachable tablets, often called 2-in-1s, are included with slate tablets, IDC said.
“The impact of the decline of slates is having a bigger impact, faster than we thought. They are not coming back,” said IDC analyst Jean Phillippe Bouchard in an interview.
But Bouchard was quick to add that slates are not disappearing entirely. There will continue to be a robust market for small slate tablets, under 8 inches, that are sold for less than $125 by Amazon and others, primarily for use by children.
“There will also continue to be a slate market for commercial uses in healthcare, education and hospitality, so there are a lot of use cases for slates saying that slates are not going away,” he said. “There will still be a need for slates but not as great as in 2010.” IDC said well over 100 million slate tablets will ship annually through 2020.
As IDC and others have said in the past, slate tablets have saturated the market. “Everyone wanting a slate has one, and there’s very little reason to replace it or upgrade it,” Bouchard added.
IDC pegged the total tablet market of both slates and detachables at 207 million units shipped in 2015, but that figure will decline to about 187 million in 2016. IDC didn’t release its forecast for years beyond 2016, but said the market will continue to decline in 2017 before having a “slight rebound in 2018 and beyond, driven by detachable tablet growth.”
The new brands with names like Happy Belly, Wickedly Prime and Mama Bear will include nuts, spices, tea, coffee, baby food and vitamins, as well as household items such as diapers and laundry detergents, the newspaper reported.
Amazon will only offer these labels to its Prime subscribers, the Journal reported, adding the first of the brands could begin appearing at the end of May or early June.
“We don’t comment on rumors or speculations,” a company spokeswoman said in an email.
Last week, Amazon launched Amazon Video Direct for users to post videos and earn royalties with them, setting it up directly against Alphabet Inc’s YouTube.
The Weather Channel is gearing up to roll out a mobile phone app for its recently launched online local news service Local Now in a bid to expand its viewership, Chief Executive Dave Shull told Reuters in an interview.
The independent TV network, which brings weather coverage from blizzards to tornadoes to millions of American homes, rolled out in January an online service “Local Now” that offers local news, weather, traffic and sports updates. The service is currently only available on Dish Network Corp’s online streaming service Sling TV.
“News should be personalized for you, hyper-local, and on-demand just like your favorite shows on Netflix or Hulu,” Shull said on Thursday. “You shouldn’t have to wait for the local news to come on at 11 p.m.”
The Local Now app, expected to launch in June, lets users access the service on iOS and Android phones by entering account information from their cable or satellite-TV subscription with some operators, such as Time Warner Cable Inc, Shull said. It offers a free trial for a week.
The launch comes as streaming services such as Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc’s Prime Video gain popularity and viewers shun traditional pay-TV offerings.
Streaming or over-the-top services bring slim bundles of channels from sports to kids entertainment to viewers, but often lack rich local news content as streaming rights have to be painstakingly negotiated with hundreds of stations.
The challenge for local news stations is to satisfy mobile demand without undermining viewership for traditional broadcasts, which generate hefty fees from cable operators who pay to carry their content.
By identifying a viewer’s location, ad-free Local Now creates a real-time, short-form newscast using live data from Weather Channel traffic and weather cameras and news from a handful of content partners, such as the Associated Press. The newscasts, which do not feature a news anchor, use automated pre-recorded words strung together to deliver news.
By leveraging existing Weather Channel infrastructure and using cost-efficient technology, Local Now can offer local news coverage to distributors at a “fraction of the cost” charged by local news stations, Shull said.