Would a Smart Speaker from Facebook be welcome ?

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Do you trust Facebook anymore? Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are in damage control mode, due to the data sharing in the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook, due to low privacy controls, allowed the app to access the personal data of potentially up to 80 million people, even data that Facebook users didn’t know they were publicly sharing. The social media site are in a privacy crisis at the moment, with allegations that certain election groups also used people’s data to potentially influence elections. While everyone frantically updates their privacy on the site, and potentially millions receiving notification this week that their data was, in fact, compromised, the bad press cycle continues. It’s doubtful that our appetite for the social media giant will suffer too much, but it definitely means a lack of trust for Facebook. But, we don’t want them inside our homes. It seems that Facebook have quietly admitted the same to themselves, as the launch of their smart speaker, to rival Amazon or Google, has been shelved. This makes sense, as we share so much with our smart devices, like our bank details or appointments or even more personal data about ourselves. Sadly, Facebook have realised that we just can’t trust them at the moment with this kind of personal access, especially while we still await answers and action plans from the company about protecting our data. It remains to be seen whether this indefinite delay will scupper their plans for a smart speaker altogether, as we see Amazon and Google get further ahead every day, and the longer Facebook wait the less chance they have of clawing smart home consumers back from the giants. It’s out of their hands at the moment though, as there’s definitely no appetite for Facebook spying in our homes.

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Beyond Tomorrow, The Future of Housing

Forget about flying cars, self tying shoelaces and hover boards, we know what the real future will look like and it’s ….. kind of already here?
Experts are predicting that in the next five years most of our homes will be completely run by smart technology, building on the success that products like the Amazon Echo have already had. Home automation systems will start doing more of the work for us, predicting what we need before we need it, essentially. So, at the moment we can build a routine by integrating a few tasks together, using one phase, such as ‘good morning’, to turn on the lights and play music. This is going to become even smoother in a few years, apparently, with our home devices getting used to our routine and being able to do things without us asking, like figuring out who’s home based on facial recognition and automatically beginning a routine for that particular person, like turning on the coffee machine and adjusting the heating. All without us saying a word. A.I will also be able to act as a personal assistant, adding information from emails or texts straight into our calendar and predicting, based on our habits, whether we’d like to hear about the traffic or the news before we leave the house. The interesting thing is, a lot of these actions we can do already with our home automation systems, like building a routine or asking about weather. The difference is in the prediction that our home automation systems will make it so easy for us by doing many of our daily requests automatically, fitting seamlessly into our lives. Experts have spoken of ‘Lifestyle benefits’ from these improvements, and it certainly seems like the future of home automation is going to take a lot of stress from our lives. I don’t know about you, but this seems more realistic (and helpful!) than a flying car.

NBN Co CEO resigns

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NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow has announced that come the end of 2018, he will be stepping down in his role, 2 years before the project is currently due to be completed. This latest high profile resignation follows chief corporate affairs officer Karina Keisler’s announcement that she’ll be leaving in the summer. Despite high praise for Malcom Turnbull, who said Morrow ‘turned the project around’, whilst the PM used the opportunity to take a dig at his political rivals, Morris leaves in a period of continuous turmoil for the company. Many customers have been disappointed at the speeds of their NBN, as they were much slower than advertised by partners like Telstra and Optus, the former of which already offered compensation to their customers at the end of last year. More recently the company have delayed the HFC cable rollout due to connection issues on the network, claiming to be focusing on a better quality for the customer, but it’s little consolation to see the new timetable delayed by months. Morrow himself has stated that customers are being left behind in the rollout and despite a positive outlook from the government, a 3rd CEO change in 4 years, coupled with ever altering plans from NBNCo, only adds to the lack of confidence from Australian consumers.

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Amazon is in it for the long haul

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Amazon are on a hiring spree for Alexa, taking on not only more than Google are for their home automation department but more than google is hiring for….well, everything. Amazon are really going hard at the moment and are on the lookout for developers, engineers and analysts amongst others and they currently have job listings for more than 1000 potential workers. So what does this mean? For Amazon, it obviously shows that they’re committed to the growth and success of Alexa, which isn’t surprising given the popularity of the Amazon Echo. It also perhaps demonstrates that they’re continuing to be aggressive in competing with Google Assistant. As most of the positions open are technical ones, Amazon is clearly pushing forward to make Alexa even more advanced in the near future. Of course, this doesn’t discount Google, as Amazon’s workforce as a whole is still comparatively smaller than Google’s, by about 200,000 people. It’s also important to remember that Google has always been a technology company, and many of the resources of the overall company are used towards Google Assistant, whereas Amazon had to create a whole technology department essentially from scratch. So that doesn’t mean that Google are scrimping on their Assistant by not hiring as many people: they already have the numbers.

Of course, with this well publicised move, Amazon are making their position clear: they’re betting big on Alexa.

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Alice Towndrow
Article Author

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Subscribe to About Automation to stay up to date on this subject, and many others.

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Dissappointed in Australian Echo Devices?

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Amazon's launch in Australia had a few Road bumps along the way, With false starts eventually making an Underwhelming catalogue. But the online retail giant did promise. Bring its own smart AI assistant. To Aussie Shores. In early 2018. That promise has been kept. With the echo range. Available in stores and online and with comes Australia's own true blue Alexa. While the echo range was the same physically as the American line, it was the ai assistant software that makes the unit unique to the Australian culture.

The Australian Amazon Alexa app launched in the past week, and the Amazon Alexa software was a major letdown for many, first off and not a huge issue is that Alexa has lost her bubbly sing-song voice, and now speaks in a thicker “more Aussie” accent. Which frankly sounds like an insult to many Australians, unless you sound like an 'ocker' computer. Alexa's Australian voice doesn't sound quite as natural as Google's, especially on the tiny Echo Dot which falls significantly short of the Google Home Mini when it comes to sound quality.

The biggest problem that many early users have though is the LACK OF SUPPORT, AND COMPATIBILITY Australia has received for Alexa. While it does feature a long list of Australian companies and websites that Alexa can connect to, which is excellent for weather recipes or news, the list of compatible devices skills … TINY!

For the company that single handly fueled the smart assistant and voice-controlled market in the states, and with significant competition from Google beating them to market on our shores, the smart devices companies that many consumers around the world turn to are nowhere to be seen.

It has not been announced why Amazon was unable to get more well-known companies to be ready launch day, but an unofficial source within Amazon told About Automation that they plan to release those skills at a later stage. “With more skills to be built on and release, and to expect an update to the skills list in the coming weeks”. To understand where I am coming from with this, let me list you all the “smart Home” Skills Alexa Aus can currently use.

Philips Hue

Harmony

Telstra Smart Home

LIFX

Koogeek smark Home (not work with p2)

Neo smart Blinde controller

YD Home2

Vertilux Shades (VTi Celtic Motors)

MyArticSpa

Feit_electric

eHomeLife

HomeMate New

mydlink Smart

Lanbon Smart Living

Meross

SSG Smart Home

Yeelight

Node-RED

B One VoiceAct

Harmony

mydlink Home

TP-LINK Kasa

Yonomi

AND THAT'S IT!!!!!!

Brands we want and need are ones like Samsung SmartThings, Wemo, Nest, Osram, eWeLink. I could go on, but I won't bore you. Personally, I find this a significant let down however you can not wholly blame Amazon for this, but with reliable companies like Amazon and Samsung, you do expect a bit more readiness for a major product launch.

There is also small let downs when you compare Alexa to the well established U.S AI Software. For instance, the Australian software can keep a shopping list, but they can't purchase directly from Amazon (yet). Nor can they control Amazon's Fire Stick for streaming, This combined with the lack of skill to recognise different users by voice. The average consumer would seem to think that Amazon is still treating Australia as a second-rate country,  which does appear to be the leading reason why we are not on par with the US or even the UK technology market. Large companies just seem to think we don't want or need it. With companies like Google, we ahead of this curve, however still fail to provide the services they do to other countries, but beating Amazon to market for home assistant hardware has already given Google a big head start. 

Now on to what the Alexa Australian Software CAN do…

for music streaming, you have a choice of iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Spotify and the newly released Amazon Music Unlimited. The echo dot, in particular, doesnt have a powerful sound like the Google home devices. However, All the Echo speakers have an impressive trick up their sleeve: the ability to connect to an external speaker via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm audio cable.

Like Google, you can create routines such as “Alexa, good morning” or “Alexa, I'm home” to trigger a string of smart home commands. This will prove to be a favourite set up for many smart homes.

If all this bad talk from many reviews and news outlets is dragging you down, or you already have an Alexa device and are sick of asking what the weather is like? Or to tell you a joke. There is hope yet.

The good news is as mentioned before amazon echo devices are identical to the units sold in America. It's just the software that changes its compatibility. The way it tells what country you are is far more straightforward than it seems, for now, if you which to continue to use American Alexa software you can follow this guide to switch countries software.

So your smart home can continue to function until the skills are more readily available in australia.

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AMAZON AUSTRALIA SOFTWARE DROPPED EARLY!

IN BREAKING NEWS – a fluke discovery for any Australian users of Amazon Alexa.
If you have shipped an Amazon Echo device from the UK or USA, and have had to do some tricky set up to get it to work, chances are on the 24th of Jan, it stopped working.
Things like not recognising your account, even dropped off basic set up features like switching accounts and answering set up questions. It appeared to have been in factory restored mode, forgetting all of your settings and account.
Well, there’s a reason for that!
As of tonight, Amazon has pushed the Australian Software for Amazon Alexa. (whether or not it was testing or intending this change, remains to be confirmed)
Upon further inspection (and a lot of back and forth trying to figure out why our lights weren’t talking to echo), we discovered that the Amazon app (not available in Australian app stores YET), gave us a preview of what is to come.
Below is a list of all new Australian and New Zealand skills ready to go come on launch day, set to be the 1st of Feb (in 6 days’ time).

Lastly, a massive feat for Austereo. Not only having Hit105 and sister stations all with skills but also Triple M Radio Stations, in particular, have been very busy working on TWO skills per major station. One for news, and one dedicated to sports news. This is a great skill to have for your morning briefing.

  • Triple M news for Sydney
  • Triple M news for Brisbane
  • Triple M news for Melbourne
  • Triple M news for Adelaide
  • Triple M sport for Sydney
  • Triple M sport for Brisbane
  • Triple M sport for Melbourne
  • Triple M sport for Adelaide

We are sure that there are many still to come, these are all the confirmed skills. There are many NON-BRANDED skills like games, facts and jokes ready to go as well.

Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018 Automation ROUND UP

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The Consumer Electronics Show 2018, was in Las Vegas this year with thousands of companies exhibiting every year, and hundreds of thousands in total attendance its no wonder CES is known as – the global stage of innovation. This year there was over a whopping 900 startup companies in Eureka Park (the home for startup exhibitors). 2018 CES was Jan 9th to 12th this year, a while the number of gadgets featured that will go to market did not overshadow the previous years,  we are on the next leap forward in smart technology.

Couldn’t get to Las Vegas this week? That’s ok; we have you covered. Here are all the headlining products and concepts featured at CES this year. With leading electronic companies such and Samsung, Amazon, Google, Apple, LG, Sony and thousands more previewing and launching multiple products or at least attempting to preview those products – gadgets can get a little bit temperamental at the worst times, as LG learnt while showing-off there home assistant CLOi. Cloi might even show up in shopping carts if she ever learns to listen.

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With so many TV’s, speakers, Smartphones, Cars, Computers and Gaming rigs, there was also a feature of the extensive integration of smart home gadgets and devices. Here is a summary of exciting and promising items featured at this years CES for your smart home.

Straight off the bat, let’s talk smart assistant integrations. One of the well-known smart home companies Netamo has turned to Facebook to interact with your smart home. The free chatbot available through Facebook Messenger service made to respond to your queries with your home or out and about. The Netamo smart home devices already integrate with Siri, Alexa and Google assistants but have now expanded to Facebook messaging service to allow for greater mobility and privacy. Such as using it in places where you can’t or wouldn’t want to use a voice command instead you can type out questions to the smart home bot.

Favorite lock company Schlage, a manufacturer of Smart Lock, adds extra connectivity to the sense deadbolt. Previously compatible with Amazon Alexa and Apple Homekit, the ‘Sense Deadbolt’ is now able to connect with Google assistant on Android devices and IOS with an added adaptor which cost about $90.

The company making the most significant headlines from this years event was of course Samsung. Samsung had a few big ticket items to reveal the most interesting being at a micro LED TV. With 4K TV resolution still big slide for many Aussie households, Samsung has gone up the game.

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Of course, it’s far from groundbreaking, with the first TV’s in 8K Revolution being worked on around 2015 Samsung is one of the three major manufacturers to bring 8k tv out to the Western consumer demographic, which is a big turning point, as most Hollywood films still film in 6K. The fact the notable films haven’t caught up yet leaves little content available in 8K as of yet, Only in Korea or Japan which has had a few broadcast in 8K so far, and have also hinted that the Winter Olympics and potentially the Japan 2020 Olympics will be broadcasting in 8K. Call the wall for obvious reasons the 8K TV is an enormous 168-inch bezel-less television- it is basically a jumbotron for your home.

Samsung also provided a first look for other 8K TVs at CES 2018 featuring Q LED display and AI technology. Samsung says the AI technology upscale standard definition content to 8K resolution using an algorithm that adjusts the screen resolution based on picture quality characteristics of each scene. Which reminds me of something Google’s Rick Osterloh explained in October. To simplify, we are at a technological impasse, and AI will be the will be the only way of improving further advancements.

Taking a step up from AI technology, Samsung also announced that their 2018 series of televisions would feature their own smart assistant Bixby.which will integrate with the connected home and Samsung SmartThings even more. This isn’t exactly big news for Australians as Samsung has yet to bring out smart things to Australia – still, no word when or if this will happen.

While we are on the subject of TV’s Samsung has focused on size, and LG focused on user flexibility… sorry TV flexibility.

Yep that’s right LG have featured a flexible display TV that can roll up and be tucked away in the base when not in use sort of like a projector screen. LG’s concept TV has been demo’s at previous CES, and in 2017 released a wallpaper tv (which is thinner than a BIC pen), but this is an impressive feat none the less as it’s still a 65 inch 4K OLED display that is flexible.

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Okay, so let’s get to the reason your here.  VOICE ASSISTANTS!! How would you like one in your car?

Byton electric announced at CES 2018 their latest concept SUV at CES and it should be available in Asia in 2019 followed by the USA and Europe. Still, the best news yet is that they’re coming down under with plans to release in Australia in 2021. Byton is aiming to rival the Tesla Model X and contend with established brands such as Audi and BMW. The SUV has smart features like facial recognition instead of keys, and the SUV also features a first in automotive technology. a massive 49-inch stretch display in the dash of the cabin. 

(check out the video to the left to get to low down on some of the more interesting features) Byton said they have been working with voice control technology alongside Amazon, and together they have integrated the well known smart assistant into the car. They plan the SUV will be significantly cheaper than the Tesla model x.

Amazon Alexa on the road seems to be a popular choice lately with Anker releasing their latest device called Roav(pictured left). Similar to the Garmin speak, Roav is a voice commanded automotive Amazon Alexa. Having Alexa in the car will be so helpful. Especially taking into consideration the strict (but necessary) road rules on device usage. hypothetically you could control many aspects of your drive through voice command in a device that is 1/4 the size of the Alexa Echo.  Anker does intend on releasing the Roav globally but are releasing in the states first.

Both Toyota and Lexus confirm that the Amazon Alexa voice assistant will be in the USA cars later this year.

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Smart homes are going to be more than just security and media rooms with CES 2018 exhibitors promising Alexa in the bathroom and Bixby and Google in the kitchen.

The star in the Smart Kitchen is the Ovie Smarterware that will let you know when your leftovers I have gone bad with an Amazon Echo or Google assistant you can tell your assistant what is in a container and it will tell you when it’s off. Quite handy if you are a household that seems to never have room in the fridge. Estimated to be about 75 Australian dollars for a pack of 3 and its functionality is similar to that seen in the Samsung family hub fridge but can attach to your pre-existing Tupperware.

Speaking of the Samsung family hub fridge Samsung have brought out the next model with some important updates and the addition of their voice assistant Bixby. The family hub fridge made it’s first appearance at CES 2016 but will now offer a wider range of features including syncing up food storage keeping it family members better connected and organised with a Bigger screen and AKG speakers with Bixby and AI built-in not only can you get your morning briefing you can also have recommended recipes as to what is in your fridge. The family hub will truly become a family hub allowing you to control your smart home from the kitchen.

Samsung made a promise to have its range of Internet of things products ready by 2020. Even demonstrated CES was Samsung’s new quick drive washing machine that is also smart things capable. But instead of displaying each product on stage Kim Hyunsuk spent most of the hour on stage explaining the vision for the future and trying to rename IOT to the ‘intelligence of things’. Claiming it’s one thing to have a connected home but for the future, we need to have an intelligent home.

Moving into the bathroom of the future, companies Moen, Elmer and Kohler have found a way to integrate Amazon Alexa into your bathroom. With Elmer creating a shower that you can control with Alexa commands such as the temperature, playing your morning briefing. And Kohler has been designing an entire bathroom range that can be controlled by Amazon Alexa commands such as running a bath or setting the water to a certain temperature even flushing the toilet for you. Moen’s Products feature a more family-based element with different settings in memory, and even an Amazon Alexa hub built into the mirrors (you can learn more on these products below in the video from Digital Trends)

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No mention yet on whether any of the ‘connected bathrooms’ will be available in Australia as is with many of the new CES products, both being a preview/concept show, and the fact that we are still waiting to see how Amazon Alexa takes off in Australia which will dictate how many products I brought down under.

SO, that’s not everything from CES 2018 but that’s as much as we’re going to cover if you would like to read more on these products or any others that we didn’t cover we suggest you check out CNET for a broader look at products and gadgets or you can watch the live streams and videos straight from CES TV. If there is something amazing you have heard about or seen from CES, let us know in the comments below.

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live.ces.tech/category/videos/all-livestreaming-content | www.cnet.com/ces/ | www.digitaltrends.com/home/kohler-verdera-mirror-ces-2018/

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Samsung’s ongoing fight to make bixby relevant

Fridges, Phones and Televisions. Samsung are sprinkling a bit of BIXBY into the recipe for all there new big tech items.

At the CES 2018 convention in Las Vegas, Samsung has announced that the 2018 range of televisions will include their smart assistant BIXBY, to allow home connectivity and smart home interaction. This is to go hand in hand with Samsung SmartThings technology platform.

In regards to televisions and SmartThings, Samsung have been working on an app for easy setup and lets the TV serve as the hub to control SmartThings smart home devices, as well as the BIXBY voice assistant into the already “smart” televisions, which is going against the grain with most mainstream TV manufacturers teaming up with google or amazon for their smart assistant. Samsung is of course sticking to their own. which has yet to show anything promising.

Alongside TV’s and phones. Samsung has injected BIXBY into their smart fridges which while this isn’t new, the smart fridge now has added functionality int he SmartThings app allowing bixby voice control in the fridge and the ability to control the houses smart things devices, as well as keep an eye on whats in your fridge. it has been mentioned that Samsung are looking to increase the functionality of screen mirroring already available in the smart fridge, to include phone mirroring too.

Speaking of smart things devices. washing machines, yep Samsung has that too. the newest of which they claim is now smart things compatible. (but no bixby … yet)

it is questionable what on the list of available technology and features will be working in Australia, as down under is yet to be graced with SmartThings line of tech.

To read more about the gadgets and electronics to be featured at CES 2018 CLICK HERE

Underwhelmed by Amazon Australia

Soooo…. This is awkward. Remember all that hype that was around in the news about a week or two ago… YEAH sorry about that. All broken promises.

It sounded amazing did it not? Amazon Australia- no longer did we have to drive to shops, deal with horrid car-parks (thanks Westfeild), deal with screaming kids and angry parents, just to get overcharged for a tech item that is almost sold out. That as usual half the choices are not available because the item had been all over Youtube and the internet for months now, and Australian stores are only JUST stocking it. If your anything like me, you probably HATE dealing with shopping centres (like who even decided to put a 50-100 stores in one building and not expect chaos… insane if you ask me).

I love online shopping because of this, but in today’s market, I like saving money even more. But when you live in Australia, sometimes your just thankful that the brand decided to release to the Australian market. (unlike Samsung, Amazon Technology, most of Nest, most of the 2017 range from madebygoogle – i can keep going but i am sure you get my point). When Amazon Announced they would hit Australia with an online marketplace much like the US Site, that would also include product they would stock in their own fulfilment centre, myself and practically half of Australia started jumping up and down, some out of joy (like my fellow online shoppers), and some out of anger and/or fear (like Gerry Harvey and other retail company owners).

What a Load Of ****! All Hype and no follow through is all we got.

If you live under a rock or haven’t caught on to the message in this article so far, Amazon Australia Dropped today, and it did not live up to expectations.

Firstly it was leaked that Amazon was planning to launch for Black Friday (which is a US Thanksgiving shopping tradition and is only just picking up steam in Australia recently). When news leaked the week of about a inner circle testing the store with a soft launch Amazon.com.au page hits went through the roof,  many people tweeting about how excited they were that they were constantly refreshing the page ready for a surprise launch, or a change of any sort to the site. Some Twitter users even admitting to refreshing the page while at work. Over the next few days that hype almost took a turn to hysteria, as even more Twitter users took to the internet to find out what they were doing wrong

‘Its been 2 days, its been Black Friday both in Australia, and the States. What else are they waiting for?’

Well turns out there was a GST error on the store front, even though Amazon had already been set up to operate in Australia for some time now with the eBooks, and fire tablets already available for purchase for a couple years now, in a fully functional online store.

They told us they would be cheaper, LOTS CHEAPER! – Some items would be 30% cheaper. They told us they would revolutionise Australian shopping. Everything we could ever need in one place, accessed from our very own homes (so long as the NBN isnt Down), with millions of products across 20 categories.

Well as Aussies do best we took to the internet to voice our opinions ( some of the most popular ones can be seen above), with the majority of users complaining that the prices are not cheap, in fact a lot of listed and stocked items are cheaper to go to your local JB-Hifi or Officeworks. Even Amazons Own Products…. like the Kindle e-reader, made by Amazon, that was initially listed for cheaper at Officeworks- Amazon then scrambled to adjust its prices, bringing its Kindle Paperwhite down $20 to $159 to match the cheaper price.

 

We expect this is just the start for the worldwide eCommerce giant, as they have committed to bringing Amazon Alexa smart assistant products to Australia in the year coming.

Amazon Australia Launch Update

Against MANY in the eCommerce and Amazon industry predictions, its been almost a week after the predicted launch date. While Amazon.com.au Google rating must have gone through the roof with a large portion of the Australian Amazon fans admitting in outrage on twitter and Facebook that the spent a good percentage of time hitting the refresh button on the Australian sites homepage waiting for a “surprise” launch.

Further rumours are pointing to a GST glitch in the soft launch and testing stage for the delay of the predicted launch date (can we blame the ATO website for that?)

News broke today from Jason Mahoney, Managing Director of market research firm Kantar Retail, revealed at a WPP client event last night that the reason for Amazon's 'failed' launch last week was potentially due to glitches in their back end. Specifically, he mentioned that Vendor Central – which first-party suppliers use to sell their products with Amazon – was incorrectly calculating GST on purchases.

For now there is a few issues with the Amazon Australian Site, that may delay the launch until 2018, But that hasn't stopped them from the positive approach, reportedly bought 2.11 hectares of vacant land in Smeaton Grange. Which is about 7 million AUD worth of land, this is suspected to become yet another fulfilment centre, which is promising for US Australians and Home Automation enthusiasts. as this COULD point towards amazon bringing out more of there own products such as the Amazon Alexa (smart home assistant) hardware range.