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Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine teams with Amazon’s Audible on audiobooks and originals

Reese Witherspoon’s media empire, Hello Sunshine, has teamed up with Audible to work on an audiobook project. The collaboration will initially see the launch of a showcase of Audible audiobooks as selected by Reese’s Book Club, which focus on strong but complex female characters. However, the two companies said that further down the line Hello Sunshine Witherspoon and Amazon-owned Audible will work together on original audio productions, details of which will be announced later in the year.

You may already have heard of the Hello Sunshine brand in passing.

Witherspoon’s company is producing a range of content including feature films, TV shows, social series, and more, including the upcoming Hulu original series starring Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, “Little Fires Everywhere,” based on Celeste Ng’s 2017 bestseller. It’s also producing a number of series for Apple’s forthcoming streaming service, including a comedy series with Kristen Wiig, a true crime thriller with Octavia Spencer, and a two-season drama series with Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. Amazon, meanwhile, has yet to tap into the Hello Sunshine brand until now, by way of its Audible subsidiary.

“When I started Reese’s Book Club, I wanted to highlight the voices of female storytellers and I am so excited to work with Audible to literally deliver on our mission!” read a statement by Witherspoon about the new project. “It can be hard to find time to read a highly recommended book, and love that with this partnership we are providing a way to experience these beautiful stories in audio form.”

The deal makes sense in terms of growing Hello Sunshine and anointing books as “must-reads” that are later turned into video projects, as is often the case today.

For example, the Apple/Kristen Wiig drama is based on Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection, “You Think It, I’ll Say It;” a film for Fox 2000 by Hello Sunshine is based on Catherine Steadman’s novel “Something in the Water;” and Hello Sunshine’s psychological thriller for TriStar Pictures “A White Lie” is based on Karin Tanabe’s novel “The Gilded Years.”

And for Amazon, a collaboration between its audiobook business, Audible, and Hello Sunshine, could give it insight (and potentially leverage) in the negotiations for upcoming Hello Sunshine video projects.

The new audiobook collection will kick off in June, the companies said.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Anker Mars II projector promises solid summer fun

Anker, a popular if battery and cable company, recently announced the Mars II projector under its Nebula brand. The company, which primarily sells via Amazon, is expanding out of batteries and cables and is now creating audio and other portable AV gear. This compact, battery-powered DLP projector is their latest creation and it has found a place of honor at our family barbecues.

The projector is actually an Android 7.1 device stuffed into a case about as big as a Bluetooth speaker. A physical lens cap slides down and turns on the system and you control everything from he included remote or the buttons on the top of the device. You can also download an app that mimics a mouse and keyboard for choosing videos and information entry. It projects at a maximum of 300 lumens and projects at 720p. You can also connect an HDMI device like a game console or stick in a USB drive full of videos to view on the fly.

Again, the real benefit here is the ability to stream from various apps. I have YouTube, Netflix, Plex, and other apps installed and you can install almost any other Android app you can imagine. It has speakers built in and you can cast to it via Miracast but you cannot insert a Chromecast.

If all you want to do is throw up a little Santa Clarita Diet or Ice Age on a sheet in the back yard, this thing is perfect. Because the brightness is fairly low you need solid twilight or a partially dark room to get a good picture. However, the picture is good enough and it would also make a great presentation device for a closed, dark conference room. Because of its small size and battery life – four hours on a charge – it makes for a great alternative to a full-sized projector or even a standard TV.

At $539 the Mars II is priced on par with other 720p projectors. The primary use case – connecting a computer or console via HDMI – works quite well but streaming user experience is a bit of a mixed bag. Because Anker didn’t modify the Android installation much further than adding a few default apps, some apps require a mouse to use and others can be controlled via the arrow keys on the remote or body of the device. This means that some apps – like Plex, for example – let you pick a video via the arrow keys but require you to press the “mouse” button to begin simulating a mouse cursor on the screen. It’s a bit frustrating, especially in poor lighting conditions.

One of the interesting features is the automatic focus system. Instead of fiddling with a knob or slider, you simply point this at a surface and the system projects a bullseye focus ring until the picture is in focus. The focus changes any time you move the device and sometimes it gets caught up if the screen or projector are moving. However in most cases it works perfectly fine.

Like most portable projectors you aren’t buying the Mars II to watch 4K video in 5.1 surround sound. You buy it to offer an alternative to sitting on the couch and watching a movie. That means this is great for on-the-road business presentations, campouts, outdoor movie viewing, and sleepovers. It is cheap and portable enough to be almost disposable and it’s not as heavy and hot as other, larger devices. In short, it can go anywhere, show anything, and works really well. Anker also makes the Mars, a more expensive 1080p device, but this one works just fine for about $400 less – a big drop in just about a year of brisk sales. It’s nice to see a good, low-cost manufacturer dabble in the world of complex consumer electronics and come up with a product that is truly useful and fun.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Amazon FreeTime Unlimited finally lands on Apple’s App Store

Five and half years after it launched, one of the more popular apps for kids’ reading and entertainment has finally arrived on the iOS. Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, the e-commerce giant’s subscription service for children 3-12 that gives unlimited access to 10,000 books, movies and TV shows for $2.99 per month for up to four users across tablets, phones, e-readers, and smart speakers, is now available on the App Store.

Apple is promoting the new app at the moment on the home page of the App Store, where a reader saw it and flagged it to us.

“We launch new products and features as they’re ready,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “We’re excited to bring the FreeTime Unlimited experience to iOS devices, including iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.”

FreeTime Unlimited is already available on Amazon devices and on Android. Now, when users sign up for a subscription on any one platform, they can use it across all of them — whether it be a Fire tablet, a Fire Kids Edition tablet, compatible Android phones and tablets, or compatible Echo devices.

The move is a significant one both for Apple and Amazon. At a time when other media companies are launching kid-friendly versions of their services that bring in more parental controls and better filters to help block out content that is inappropriate for young ones, FreeTime Unlimited has proven to be one of the most popular kids-focused entertainment apps of them all — content includes video from Disney, Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, PBS Kids, National Geographic and Amazon Originals for Kids — and yet it wasn’t available on one of the most popular (and well reviewed) tablets used by children.

While Amazon initially kept it as an Amazon-only product for its early years — as a way of driving more sales to its own hardware — last year it finally launched a version for Android devices, but it’s taken over a year more to finally bring it to iPhone and iPad devices.

One of the reasons for this could be the ongoing struggle between Amazon and Apple. In some regards, the two are complementary companies: Amazon ships a lot of Apple products, and iOS is a very strong platform for Amazon in terms of online sales, for example.

But in others — such as in hardware, increasingly online entertainment and “owning” customers, and for talent to build its products — the two are rivals. Apple, for one, has not allowed apps on its iOS platform to enable Amazon book purchases directly from their apps, and Amazon doesn’t sell books and movies from its own app to avoid Apple’s cut. So it’s not surprising to see Amazon also delay certain content and features from the Apple platform in some kind of tit-for-tat.

I’m guessing those skirmishes will go on for a long time to come, but for now, iPad and iPhone users will have a little more Amazon than they did before on their devices. Why now? It could be that Amazon felt that user growth was tailing off on the other platforms, so now is a good time to boost with new availability.

It’s also likely influenced by Apple’s increased attention to parental control features on iOS, which may have some parents feel like they have enough options to lock down their kids’ devices while still allowing them access to more wholesome and educational content. That could limit the appeal for a subscription service like Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited. But iOS 12 – which includes the new parental controls – doesn’t launch to the public until later this fall. That gives Amazon time to attract users to its own service in the meantime.

As with the existing version of FreeTime Unlimited, the app is divided into age groups and will have parental controls by way of the Amazon Parent Dashboard, as well as Discussion Cards that give them talking points about the work and summaries of what the kids are watching.

There may be variations based on geographies, but in the US the content will include films like Frozen, Moana, Star Wars, and Inside Out; TV shows like Sesame Street, Arthur, and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood from PBS; Bubble Guppies, Team Umizoomi, and Dora the Explorer from Nickelodeon; Marvel comics including Spider-man, the Avengers, and Captain America; and Amazon Originals such as Just Add Magic, The Kicks, Thunderbirds are Go, Creative Galaxy, and Tumble Leaf.

One drawback to the iOS implementation of FreeTime Unlimited is that, unlike on Amazon’s own tablets, you can’t configure FreeTime Unlimited to completely reskin the device’s user interface to keep kids locked into the experience. Apple simply doesn’t allow third-party apps to have that level of control. Instead, FreeTime Unlimited works like any other app – you can launch it and exit at any time.

As with other apps, subscribing to FreeTime Unlimited will come via a user’s iTunes account (and thus Apple will get a cut) and will get automatically renewed until you turn off the auto-renewal 24 hours before the renewal date. There is also a free 30-day trial.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Amazon Prime Wardrobe officially launches to all U.S. Prime members

Prime Wardrobe, Amazon’s “try before you buy” shopping service first announced last summer, is officially out of beta and open to all Prime members in the U.S. as of today. The service has been gradually opening up to more customers over the course of the year, so many Prime members may have already had access before today’s official unveiling.

Prime Wardrobe is Amazon’s answer to the increasingly popular personalized shopping services like Stitch Fix and Trunk, which send a curated box of clothing to customers on a regular basis. These services allow consumers to try on clothing and other items in the home, then keep what they like and send back the rest.

However, Amazon’s service is more of a DIY version – instead of using stylists, you fill your own box with at least three and as many as eight items at a time. You then have a week to try on the items and return those you don’t want before being charged.

Like many of its rivals, Prime Wardrobe isn’t just aimed at women – it features collections for men, children, and baby, too.

The service is largely meant to help address one of the biggest problems with shopping for clothes online: fit.

Clothing designers have their own interpretation of sizing, and it’s often difficult for shoppers to get a sense of how something will really look without trying it on. Items may be too short or long, too long or tight in some spots, or shoppers might have an issue with how the fabric feels, the draping, the hemline, the quality of the workmanship, and other concerns.

Home try-on eliminates this obstacle to online clothing shopping, because it makes it easy to send items back when they don’t work.

Not all of Amazon’s online inventory is included in Prime Wardrobe, which means you can’t just browse the site and pick anything you want for home try-on.

Instead, you have to visit the Prime Wardrobe section to fill your box.

The site favors Amazon’s in-house clothing brands, but also features a good handful of bigger names, like Lilly Pulitzer, Tommy Hilfiger, Adidas, Guess, Levi’s, Calvin Klein, Nine West, Fossil, Lacoste, Hugo Boss, Stride Rite, Disney, Puma, Crazy 8, Gymborree, New Balance, Stuart Weitzman, Rebecca Taylor, J Brand, A|X Armani Exchange, and many more.

The retailer says that during its beta period Prime members have ordered “thousands of styles.” Women have bought denim and dresses; men bought tops, jeans and casual pants; for kids, shoes have been most popular.

Also of note, Amazon says its private label brands Lark & Ro, Daily Ritual, Amazon Essentials, and Goodthreads are the top-ordered items. That means Prime Wardrobe is doing well for Amazon, at least, even if it’s a more limited selection of clothing than online shoppers may have wanted.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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