Amazon's secret new OS is already here
Welcome to Lowpass! This week: Amazon’s new Vega OS is already here, and Sonos has big plans for next year.
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Amazon has been testing its new Vega OS on its Echo Show 5 for months
While working on last week’s scoop about Amazon looking to ditch Android for Fire TV, Echo Show and other devices for its own, Linux-based operating system, I had a conversation with an industry insider with a background in consumer electronics who told me something interesting:
A company the size of Amazon wouldn’t just push a new OS onto one of its flagship devices without trying it on something less risky, that insider mused. Perhaps a device that wouldn’t require much buy-in from third-party developers.
I can now confirm that Amazon has been following this exact playbook: The company has been quietly testing its new Vega OS on its third-generation Echo Show 5 ever since introducing the device in May.
Amazon declined to comment.
Dave Zatz was first to report about this earlier this week, highlighting a few clues hinting at a move away from Android. Dave must have read my mind, because I bought an Echo Show 5 earlier this week after stumbling across many of the same clues:
The 3rd generation Echo Show 5 hasn’t been able to play Netflix since its launch, despite the fact that the streaming service has been available on other Echo Shows for years.
When consumers complained about this, they were told that “software improvements made in this new Echo Show 5 generation, unfortunately, don't allow the best Netflix viewing experience.”
That’s an odd explanation, considering that Amazon positioned the release of the device as primarily a hardware refresh. The more likely explanation is that the new OS running on the device simply hasn’t gotten certified by Netflix.
The new Echo Show 5 says it runs OS 1.1, while other current-gen Echo Shows run OS version 7.5.
Dave also mentioned “significant changes documented in Amazon’s open source disclosures,” and it’s worth digging a little deeper into these. Like all consumer electronics, Amazon’s devices make liberal use of a variety of open source software components, and the company has to make the source code for these available for download under the terms of various open source licenses.
After I downloaded the source code for the latest-gen Echo Show 5, I quickly noticed that this wasn’t code meant to run on an Android device.
Instead, it’s code for a system running a modified version of Linux based on the Linux 5.16 kernel.
There’s even at least one mention of Vega in the code. One of the file names indicates that it is part of a “Vega Build Hypnos Release,” with Hypnos being the code name for the 3rd-gen Echo Show 5 hardware.
What’s next for Vega: As I reported last week, Amazon plans to replace Android with a new, Linux-based OS across all of its devices. Next year, the company is going to ship the new OS, which is internally known as Vega, on a first Fire TV device.
The fact that Amazon has already shipped an Echo Show device running Vega shows how serious the company is about this transition. It also indicates that the company has a gradual transition plan in place: There’s no Android app store for Echo Show devices, so Amazon needed little to no buy-in from developers for this initial roll-out.
That will change once Vega makes the leap to Fire TV devices. Amazon’s app store currently lists over 10,000 Android apps for Fire TV devices. I fully expect the company to become a lot more vocal about its OS plans months before the device running Vega ships. The company needs to secure buy-in from key developers to make sure that a Fire TV device running a completely new OS won’t get rejected by consumers.
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Sonos may finally release its headphones in 2024
Sonos has big plans for next year: The smart speaker maker is looking to enter into a "new multi-billion dollar” product category next year, and expects that it will be able to sell more than $100 million worth of new products throughout the year.
That’s according to the company’s fiscal Q4 2023 earnings, which Sonos released Wednesday. The release didn’t include any further hints about what that new product may be, but we’ve long known that Sonos has been working on its own headphones.
“This year marks the beginning of a multi-year product cycle, which will demonstrate the payoff of the investments we’ve made in research and development over the past few years,” said Sonos CEO Patricks Spence on the company’s earnings call Wednesday. “In the second half of the year, we will be launching a major product in a new multi-billion-dollar product category that will complement our current offerings, excite new customers and drive immediate revenue.”
Sonos is still struggling amid widespread inflation across the globe, with consumers cutting back on spending.
The company’s fiscal 2023 revenue was down 6% year-over-year, despite the fact that Sonos released new versions of its most popular speakers this year.
Revenue was flat in the Americas, but declined 10% in the EMEA and a whopping 32% in the APAC regions (some of that was due to unfavorable exchange rates).
Sonos executives have long said that the company intends to release at least two products every year. This year, Sonos went above and beyond and released four products of its own, while Ikea also released a new Sonos-powered speaker product.
We don’t know when we might see that new Sonos product come to market, but here’s a clue: Sonos is one of those companies whose fiscal year doesn’t neatly align with the calendar year. This means that the second half of its fiscal 2024 actually begins in April. This year, Sonos announced the release of its new Era100 and Era300 speakers in March.
The company’s fiscal calendar also tells us a bit about the expectations Sonos has for its new product: By stating that it expects to generate more than $100 million in revenue “largely from one product in a new, multi-billion dollar category to be launched in 2H24,” Sonos telegraphs that it believes sales will be massive even before people buy their holiday gifts.
That’s because for Sonos, the holiday shopping quarter counts as Q1 of 2025. In its fiscal 2023, Sonos generated 40% of its total full-year revenue during that critical holiday quarter.
Why Scripps is betting on a DVR revival. A quarter century after the introduction of the first DVR, Scripps is looking to bring back some of its magic with its new Tablo recorder. My latest for Fast Company.
Amazon is laying off 180 games staffers. The company also eliminated roles in its streaming music and podcast divisions, according to Reuters.
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Apple’s spatial videos can be viewed on any headset. Apple’s Vision Pro headset won’t ship until next year, but the company is already allowing people to capture spatial footage for it with their iPhones. A new app converts those videos for third-party headsets.
Meta aims to reenter China with new VR headset. The company has teamed up with Tencent to bring a still-unreleased cheaper Quest headset to China next year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
YouTube creators will have to disclose AI-generated content. Users will also be able to ask YouTube to take down deepfake videos that impersonate them.
NPR’s new Spoken Word Audio Report is out. The report, which NPR compiles in partnership with Edison, is a must-read for anyone working in radio, podcasting or music streaming.
How’s this for an anniversary: A year ago this week, Protocol suddenly shut down. I had to think about this approaching anniversary lot over the past few weeks, especially since we’ve seen so many other publications lay off great reporters, or fold completely.
At the same time, we’ve seen a resurgence of independent web publishing, ranging from small newsletters to ambitious publications like 404 Media. And yes, there’s also Lowpass. Especially in light of the anniversary of Protocol’s demise, I can’t help but feel proud about what I’ve been able to accomplish with this newsletter so far, and eternally grateful for all the support I’ve gotten from my readers.
Just take the last couple of days: My story about Amazon ditching Android got picked up by dozens of publications from all around the world. Then, I got to talk about it on TWiT and on Android Faithful, two independent and creator-owned podcasts. And then, an indie blogger scooped my follow-up scoop … lesson learned: Never underestimate the power of independent media.
Thanks for reading, have a great weekend!