Waitrose switches up a gear to launch two-hour grocery deliveries in London

Up market UK supermarket chain Waitrose will start trialing two-hour or same day delivery options in certain London postcodes from tomorrow.

It’s partnering with CitySprint Group courier delivery spin-out On the Dot for the deliveries which will be made by electric and hydrogen vans and push bikes and cargo bikes (billed as a zero-emission fleet).

The supermarket says the service is being launched in response to customer demand for more ‘little and often’ shopping trips rather than the traditional weekly haul.

Waitrose has long had its own online supermarket, Waitrose.com (and prior to 2010 via Ocado), but the new on-demand delivery option (which it’s calling Waitrose Rapid Delivery) looks intended to supplement that and fill in any competitive gaps opened up as a result of young shoppers not being so keen to commit to a big weekly shop — with the supermarket flagging “flexibility and convenience” as the drivers.

It cites research it commissioned which found two-thirds of UK shoppers regularly or occasionally visit a supermarket more than once a day, saying the trend is particularly prevalent among 18-to 24-year olds who it found to be twice as likely to visit a supermarket twice a day as the over-55s.

Other UK supermarkets have already made moves to cater to Brits’ changing grocery shopping habits, with Sainsbury’s first to the punch to offer a 60-minute delivery service (called Chop Chop) for small food shops in London in 2016, before extending it to additional London postcodes last year.

Tesco responded with its own one-hour delivery service in summer 2017, including in central London.

Not directly mentioned in Waitrose’s PR for the rapid delivery launch, but likely also on its mind, is additional competition from ecommerce giant Amazon — which launched its AmazonFresh grocery delivery service for Prime members in London two years ago.

Prime members must pay an additional subscription to sign up for Prime Fresh, with the subscription business model acting as a sort of double lock-in.

Waitrose’s rapid delivery option is being launched in the following London postcodes initially: SW5, SW6, SW10, WC1, WC2, EC1, CR5 and CR8 — with a wider rollout slated as “likely” next year, if the trial goes to plan. 

Customers in the trial areas can choose up to 20 items per delivery from more than 1,500 products at rapid.waitrose.comThey then get the option of receiving their shopping within two hours of placing the order or they can specify a one-hour time slot that same day.

The service has a £10 minimum spend and there is also a £5 charge applied for delivery in either two hours or the same day.

Waitrose says products will be hand-picked and prepared for delivery by Waitrose Partners — at either its London shops in Fulham and Bloomsbury or at its dot.com distribution centre in Coulsdon, Surrey.

On-demand grocery delivery may now be increasingly on offer to urban dwellers from UK supermarket giants but five years ago startups were toying with offering Instacart-style personal shopper services.

It now looks like grocery deliveries will be mostly folded into the existing supermarket mix via add-on services — depending on the size of grocery pie-slice Amazon can carve itself.

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Amazon helps others make accessories for Echo speakers


Engadget

There aren’t many Echo-oriented accessories beyond Amazon’s own Echo Button, but that’s about to change very shortly. Amazon has released a beta Alexa Gadgets Toolkit that lets hardware brands make Echo-focused Bluetooth accessories that respond to Alexa commands. You can have a cuckoo clock that responds to your Echo’s wake word or a notification, a switch that releases dog food after an alarm, or a chime that sounds when time’s up. A future update will even allow visual interaction with music — it’s easy to see a lamp that pulses in sync with Amazon Music tracks.

Child-oriented updates will also let developers build gadgets that include compatible kid-friendly skills.

The toolkit is invitation-only and focused on businesses in the US, UK and Germany, so this isn’t available to absolutely anyone. Amazon does have big name partners like Hasbro, TOMY and WowWee , and the first products (including smart plush toys and Gemmy’s Big Mouth Billy Bass) are due before 2018 is over.

While the restrictions aren’t going to make do-it-yourself enthusiasts happy, this does promise to significantly expand the Echo ecosystem. Companies won’t need to implement sophisticated processors, audio capture or cloud services. Instead, they can let an Echo do the heavy lifting and focus on a gadget’s special features. Don’t be shocked if an Echo quickly becomes a must-have component for play time, or even around-the-house widgets like clocks and timers.

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Behold Ubisoft’s gloriously ridiculous Assassin’s Creed Amazon Echo

The Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Echo Plus is a limited edition, which will no doubt make fans want the thing that much more. It’s a standard Amazon device that Ubisoft dressed up in a Spartan helmet, to be given away in small quantities through the company’s site.

The ridiculous thing is the game maker’s way of promoting a new Alexa skill, designed to provide useful tips for the upcoming action role-playing title. The download will be available for all Echo devices (Greek battle helmet or no) starting October 2 — three days before Assassin’s Creed Odyssey officially hits consoles.

There are 1,500 responses available through the skill, which describe points of interest, offer up contextual information and just generally help you through the game. There also are some fittingly goofy ones designed to echo common Alexa questions like,

“What’s the temperature today?”

“It’s colder than the heart of Hades after a bad breakup.”

and

“What’s on my shopping list?”

“Blood-stain remover. That is all.”

and also

“Tell me a joke.”

“An Athenian declared war. HAH! Get it?”

They say comedy’s all in the timing, and that one’s about 2,500 years late.

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Audi is adding Alexa to the E-Tron and other select models


Audi

Audi is joining the growing list of automakers, including BMW and Toyota, choosing to add Alexa voice control to their vehicles. The company will integrate Amazon’s voice assistant into select models in North America and Europe, starting in January 2019 and with the newly unveiled E-Tron electric SUV. Audi will load Alexa onto the selected vehicles’ infotainment systems, so there’s no need to dock your phones — simply link your car to your Amazon account and then activate the assistant through the onboard voice control system. You’ll then be able to ask Alexa to play music, read audiobooks, order groceries, tell you sports scores and to add items to your shopping lists while driving.

Ned Curic, VP of Alexa Auto, says you’ll also be able to ask Alexa to locate points of interest, as well as to control smart devices from your car. Say, you want to adjust your room’s temperature before you arrive home — you can do that while you’re on your way. “Our vision is to bring Alexa to customers wherever they are — at home, at work, and on the go,” he said. “With Alexa built directly into the vehicle, customers can ask Alexa to play music, locate points of interest, control smart home devices, and access thousands of Alexa skills, and we’re excited to work with a brand like Audi to bring that experience to the all-new Audi e-tron and additional models in its vehicle lineup.”

Audi has always been a likely candidate for Alexa integration, seeing as the myAudi app already gives you a way to access Amazon Music in some of the brand’s newer models. The e-commerce giant released its Alexa Auto software development kit in August, though. That means more automakers now have access to tools needed to be able to add the voice assistant to their vehicles, and Alexa will likely make its way to more brands and models in the future.

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'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' leads the pack of streaming Emmy winners

Just a few years ago it was still novel to see Emmy winners coming from internet services instead of cable or network TV, but now it’s just a part of the landscape. Netflix notably edged out HBO this year when it came to nominations, but now that all the trophies have been handed out they ended up tied with 23 wins each.

While Game of Thrones won the most awards in total with nine, including Outstanding Drama Series, Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Maisel came out looking the best by winning five of the awards given out during NBC’s 70th Primetime Emmys broadcast and eight altogether. Last year Amazon missed out on the big stage altogether while Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale cleaned up, but this year the roles were reversed as Hulu’s four wins were all accounted for ahead of the show.

While that was the only show to win for Amazon, Netflix spread the love around, with The Crown and Godless winning twice during the telecast, including one awarded to Claire Foy (The Crown) for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama. It also snagged another for John Mulaney’s stand-up comedy special Kid Gorgeous, Regina King won for her performance in Seven Seconds and Black Mirror was celebrated for its Outstanding Writing. The complete list of primetime Emmy nominees and winners is available here.

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Amazon’s ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ wins big at the Emmys

Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” dominated the comedy categories at tonight’s Primetime Emmy Awards, winning for outstanding comedy series, supporting actress in a comedy series (Alex Borstein), lead actress in a comedy series (Rachel Brosnahan), writing in a drama series (Amy Sherman-Palladino) and directing in a comedy series (Amy Sherman-Palladino).

It’s an impressive showing for a freshman show, but long overdue recognition for Sherman-Palladino — who somehow was never nominated for “Gilmore Girls.” As of tonight, she’s the first woman to win the combination of best comedy writing and directing.

It’s also amusing to see Amazon do so well at the awards after CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly decreed that the streaming service shift its focus from critically acclaimed shows with a niche audience to big budget blockbusters like its “Lord of the Rings” prequel.

(And yes, it’s embarrassing that I co-host a podcast that’s all about streaming shows and movies and yet we’ve never reviewed “Mrs. Maisel” — we will absolutely have to rectify that.)

Netflix, meanwhile, came in with the most nominations (beating HBO for the first time), and its shows took home plenty of awards, too. The streamer’s winners include “The Crown” (lead actress in a drama series, directing for a drama series) “Godless” (supporting actress and supporting actor in a limited series or movie), “Black Mirror” (writing in a limited series or movie), “Seven Seconds” (lead actress in a limited series or movie) and “John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City” (writing for a variety special).

And while it’s not a streaming show, the wins for “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (including outstanding limited series) probably make Netflix feel good, since executive producer Ryan Murphy recently signed a $300 million exclusive deal with the service.

Beyond the individual awards, streaming was a big theme throughout the ceremony, including a monologue that saw co-host Michael Che wondering where the heck Netflix gets so much money to spend on original content, and concluding, “I think we can keep television going for another five, six years tops.”

You can check out the full list of winners here.

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Apple’s iBooks revamp, Apple Books, is here

Apple’s new and improved iBooks app, now called Apple Books, has popped up on iPhones across the world today with the release of iOS 12, the software update available to download as of this morning.

The new app has five tabs: Reading Now, Library, Book Store, Search and, for the first time, a dedicated Audiobooks tab.

Apple first previewed it at WWDC in June. The company said its sleek new look was the “biggest books redesign ever.” Cleaner UI, coupled with larger images, gives the app a more modern feel and an overall better experience. More importantly, it sets up Apple to better compete with other audio/e-book apps, like the Amazon-owned Audible.

In the Book Store, users can explore recently released titles and best-selling books, as well as curated collections and special offers; it’s available in 51 countries and free books for download are available in 155 countries.

Apple Books is also a lot smarter than its predecessor. As you download titles and engage with the app, the app will send you personalized recommendations based on your activity.

Indeed, it was time for an update. Audiobooks are more popular today than when Apple first launched iBooks in 2010 and are very much deserving of their own tab. According to Pew Research Center, one in five Americans regularly listens to them — a 28 percent increase from 2016.

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Amazon could drop 8 new Alexa-powered devices, including a microwave

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Like this, but a microwave.
Like this, but a microwave.
Image: mashable

“Alexa, cook my burrito.”

Yes, that could be our glorious future as Amazon is planning to introduce at least eight new Alexa-powered devices this year, according to an internal document obtained by CNBC

Some of them will be revealed at an event later this month, CNBC reported. We could see a subwoofer, receiver, car gadget, and amplifier. But also, that microwave. Imagine the possibilities: telling Alexa to defrost your Trader Joe’s pasta, and, um, probably lots of other useful stuff. 

Some of the devices will simply be able to connect to Alexa; others will have the digital assistant built in. 

You can already use Alexa on GE’s smart microwave, which, sadly, is not called the Funcooker. Sonos released two speakers that feature Alexa. 

Amazon isn’t the only company trying to spread its digital assistant. JBL has released several smart displays equipped with Google Assistant. 

Both companies face competition from Apple, which released its Siri-powered HomePod smart speaker earlier this year. 

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Amazon reportedly has an Alexa microwave and more on the way

Roughly this time last year, Amazon unleashed a ton of Alexa devices on the world, including the Spot and new Echos. It follows, then, that the company’s got something up its sleeve for this year, just in time to prime the pump ahead of the holidays.

According to a report from CNBC, the retail giant is planning to release “at least” eight Alexa hardware devices at an event later this month. The list is certainly diverse, including an automotive gadget, amplifier, a receiver and a subwoofer. Those last three likely work in tandem and would put the company in direct competition with the likes of Sonos.

Ditto for the automotive. Companies like Garmin already offer in-car Alexa products, while carmakers have begun incorporating the assistant into their infotainment systems. It’s an interesting tact, given that the company has appeared more inclined to let third parties do much of the heavy lifting with Alexa of late. Many of the low-cost Echo products feel as much like reference designs as anything.

Most interesting of the bunch is a voice-powered microwave oven. Certainly the voice assistant would make sense on this manner of appliance — though a proprietary device would be ambitious for a company that’s already partnered with multiple appliance makers.

Refreshes of existing products like the Show could make sense here, especially as Google has stepped up its gain with a new line of third-party Smart Displays. The long-awaited high-end HomePod competitor could, perhaps, be in the works, as well.

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