Weekend Roundup: AWS re:Invent, Apple’s Best Apps, Fate of Alphabet?

The week after Thanksgiving is always a tough one for some folks: You have to re-accelerate to full working speed after a few days of nonstop eating and family (but not eating your family—that would be weird). This past week was also a particularly big one in tech, marked by a huge conference and a pair of iconic tech executives stepping down from the company they co-founded. Let’s jump in!

AWS re:Invent Tries to Reinvent Machine Learning

At this year’s AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, Amazon unveiled a number of products that heavily leverage artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning. In doing so, the company made it clear that it intends to challenge Google, Microsoft, and other rivals that are pushing hard into the A.I. space.

For example, one key announcement centered on a new tool, Kendra, that enhances enterprise search with machine learning. All the user needs to do is identify significant content repositories, and Kendra indexes that content; from there, natural-language queries will theoretically surface whatever the user needs.

Some of Amazon’s announced forays into A.I. were weirder than others. It offered a preview of DeepComposer, a 32-key keyboard that’s designed to train you in machine learning fundamentals via the power of music.

“AWS DeepComposer is the world’s first musical keyboard powered by machine learning to enable developers of all skill levels to learn Generative AI while creating original music outputs,” reads Amazon’s ultra-helpful FAQ on the matter. “DeepComposer consists of a USB keyboard that connects to the developer’s computer, and the DeepComposer service, accessed through the AWS Management Console.” Play a snippet of music, and the onboard software will use that “seed” to generate totally new music.  

Whether DeepComposer will actually help developers learn more about machine learning—rather than just spitting out subpar, machine-generated “music”—is an open question, but you can’t deny that it’s an interesting experiment.

In addition to its machine-learning plans, Amazon also revealed a number of updates related to AWS, including AWS Outposts, a hybrid cloud service that allows companies still running on-premises datacenters to use AWS services. As GeekWire helpfully pointed out, that’s Amazon’s way of competing against Azure Arc, Microsoft’s own enterprise hybrid-cloud platform. Expect the brawl between Amazon, Microsoft, and Google for business-cloud primacy to only intensify from here.

Apple Names Its Top Apps and Games

Apple offered up its favorite apps and games of the year. As you might expect, every winner boasts clean design and some innovative functionality. For example, the “iPhone App of the Year,” Spectre Camera, allows smartphone uses to take incredible long-exposure photos. Pretty neat!

The best game for iPhone: “Sky: Children of the Light,” in which you can fly your avatar through a very pretty landscape (see the screenshot above). For best iPad game, meanwhile, Apple named “Hyper Light Drifter,” an homage to old-style 16-bit adventures. You can check out the full list (including Apple Arcade Game of the Year) on Apple’s website.

What to Make of Alphabet?

With Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepping down from their leadership positions this week, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) could undergo some radical changes. Sundar Pichai, already CEO of Google, will take over Alphabet’s CEO seat from Larry Page. But what does that mean for Alphabet?

Alphabet was always a weird animal, ostensibly designed to separate Google’s “moonshot” initiatives (such as self-driving cars) away from Google’s lucrative ad business. That calmed down some institutional investors who thought that Google’s strategy was a bit too scattered when it was pursuing a bunch of “weird” projects in addition to its core search-and-ads business. Some Alphabet projects (most notably Waymo) have even become their own sub-companies.

But does Alphabet still need to exist, especially in its current form? That’s up to Pichai—and there’s every chance that he could make some big changes in 2020. Keep an eye on this one.

Have a great weekend!