Friday Five: Amazon sizes up and YouTube loses a star

Each week Zone’s Letty Key handpicks the five best stories on new trends and technologies…

1. The internet of things can only get better

Hot on the heels of Facebook’s F8, the good folk at Google held their very own developer conference, I/O, which saw the launch of Android Things 1.0, an operating system for internet of things (IoT) devices (think smart lightbulbs, wi-fi enabled fridges and the like).

Android Things was first announced nearly three years ago but it’s now out of beta, meaning developers are able to order kits and get stuck in. The aim is to create a universal operating system so that all IoT devices can integrate with each other for a smoother and smarter experience, while also patching up inherent security issues.

2. Size matters to Amazon

Amazon already knows a fair bit about its users, but things are about to get even more intimate for a group of volunteers, as the online retail giant plans to conduct a 3D scan of their entire body twice a month over a 20-week period. Why? To better understand “how bodies change shape over time”, apparently.

And while many people are hoping this will enable Amazon to help users find clothes that fit perfectly, thus eliminating the hassle of returning items, the data being collected could quite as easily go into public health studies or the manufacture of a new product entirely. Fingers crossed it’s the former, but we’ll have to wait and see.

3. Don’t leave my AI hanging on the telephone

Back to I/O now, where where one of the most contentious announcements was without a doubt Google Duplex, an AI assistant function that is able to call businesses and make bookings on behalf of its user.

Duplex does a scarily good job of impersonating a real human, and therein lies the concern. Why mimic the cadence, pauses and casual inflections of human speech? Attempting to hide the fact that the person on the other end of the phone is talking to a robot sounds dubious to me. The AI stands up well to sustained questioning in the demo, but it also has the potential to waste people’s time should it start to flounder.

4. YouTube loses one of its best

YouTube star Philip DeFranco has launched his own video-based app, DeFranco Now, as he looks to move away from relying on a platform he has described as an “alcoholic, negligent stepfather” and establish a deeper connection between himself and users.

The relationship between YouTube and its creators is often strained, which has partly motivated DeFranco, who has 2 billion views and 6 million subscribers, to go it alone. Sitting somewhere between Snapchat and YouTube, the new app will be based around video-to-video communications between DeFranco and his viewers, allowing for an emotive interaction and offering them a more equal stake in the conversation.

5. Feeling is the new believing

Ford has created Feel the View, an incredible new feature that uses an audio guide and haptic technology to make different areas of a car window vibrate at various frequencies so that visually impaired passengers can quite literally feel the view they’re driving past.

I’m very excited by haptic technology and the potential it has for making digital experiences tangible and meaningful, but what’s really great is the prospect of taking this beyond the car and making the visual experiences of everyday life accessible for those with sight loss.

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