Skip to main content

The Verge 2016 tech report card: Amazon

The Verge 2016 tech report card: Amazon

Share this story

Amazon stock image

For a company best known for selling cheap books and home goods, Amazon's year has looked surprisingly futuristic. Its 2016 has been filled with drones, tiny home assistants, automatic ordering, and a concept store packed with body-tracking cameras. It has been, on the surface, a spectacle to watch.

And some of it is even quite real. Amazon's Alexa assistant has been a runaway success in 2016, all thanks to regular updates providing new integrations. The debut of the Echo Dot has put Alexa's potential to even better use, making it far more affordable to have a digital assistant living throughout your house.

Drone delivery is starting to happen too, though only in a kind-of-sort-of way: in a trial with two rural customers in the UK. And while Amazon's cashier-free convenience store remains merely a single-location concept, Amazon has continued to expand into physical bookstores, suggesting that it has some real ambitions in real spaces.

Amazon Video has largely been a bright spot as well, with Transparent picking up more awards and Amazon's careful selection of film buys making it a must-have for movie buffs. Its reliance, however, on projects from men dogged by assault or harassment allegations — including Jeremy Clarkson, Woody Allen, and Casey Affleck — remains a troubling disappointment.

The Kindle line tread slowly forward with a simple refresh of its introductory model and a new top of the line model, the Oasis — with pricing too high to recommend buying. Amazon's Kindle Unlimited service remains a major disappointment, too, packed with self-published ebooks but nearly nothing from major publishers.

Underneath the shiny veil of delivery drones, discounted products, and talking speakers is a darker core

All the while, Amazon's real business has continued to shift into the cloud. Amazon Web Services has been growing at a rapid pace — enough so that it eclipsed all of Amazon's North American retail profits last quarter. That's not exciting for consumers, but it's great news if you're an Amazon investor (I'm not).

But underneath the shiny veil of delivery drones, discounted products, talking speakers, and growing revenue is a darker core: Amazon's working conditions, which continue to sound awful. This year, there have been reports of Amazon shaming workers for alleged theft and threatening to fire employees for being sick, as well as those of workers needing to sleep in tents near a warehouse to avoid travel costs and to "defecate in bags" to finish delivery runs.

These are not acceptable costs for two-day delivery and cheap gadgets. Amazon may be pushing technology forward and offering unparalleled levels of convenience for its customers, but it appears to still be doing so at the great expense of its workers. If Amazon wants to do better next year, that's where it should start.

Verge 2016 Report Card: Amazon

C

2016 Grade

Gold Stars:

  • Alexa improving week by week
  • Carved out a specific niche in original films
  • Exciting ideas about the future of shopping

Needs Improvement:

  • Employees' work conditions
  • Choice of TV and filmmaking partners
  • Everything about that Wi-Fi water pitcher it released

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 25 Not just you

E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.