The Week in Mobile: May 28- June 3, 2017

Essential unveils premium Android Smartphone, Siri Speaker thought to arrive this year, Google introduces Tensorflow Lite and more

Each week we round up the top news stories, think pieces and other content that centers on the fast-paced, quickly changing world of mobile technology. We tell you which companies are employing clever mobile strategies, illuminate new ways of thinking about mobile and offer a peek at meaningful trends in the industry. This content is designed to inspire you and your company to take advantage of the many benefits mobile can offer.

Essential Unveils High-end Smartphone, Home Device and Ambient OS

Andy Rubin, the creator of Android and the CEO of Essential, unveiled a new smartphone for Android, which will officially launch in late June. The Essential phone features a large, edge-to-edge screen and the start of a modular ecosystem (like a 360-degree camera). What’s more, the device is made of titanium and ceramic, so it’s more resistant to chips and scuffs than competing devices made from aluminum. Once available, the device will sell for $699 in the US.

In addition, Essential has announced its Home device, which will compete with Google Home and Amazon Echo. The new AI assistant features a round speaker system and display, which can be activated with a verbal command, a tap or a “glance” (?). The company also revealed that Ambient OS, the smart home platform powering Essential Home, will be open source in a nod to Android, and in an attempt to become the standard for orchestrating home IoT devices.

Siri Speaker Expected to Arrive Later This Year

Manufacturing for Apple’s Siri Speaker is well under way. Reports suggest that the device will be available for purchase later this year and could make an appearance at WWDC this week. While a Siri speaker will enter a crowded market—competing with the Amazon Echo, Google Home and the soon-to-arrive Essential Home—it is thought Apple hopes to win over users with better sound quality. The device is expected to feature “virtual surround sound technology” that will produce a more crisp sound than competitors. The other differentiator a Siri speaker could have is the ability to deeply integrate with Apple’s apps and device ecosystem.

Google Introduces Tensorflow Lite

Google is building upon its open source Tensorflow project with the introduction of a new library. Tensorflow Lite, which is set to release later this year, will allow developers to run high-quality artifical intelligence apps on a user’s device. By offloading processes from serves, devs will be able to save processing power and data. In addition, end-users will no longer need an internet connection to access certain AI features.

In other Google news, the company is holding a competition to encourage developers to build new Actions for Google Assistant. There are more than 20 prizes up for grabs, including a whooping $10,000 for the winner. Submissions will be scored based on creativity, relevance, quality and usage. Developers have until August 31 to submit for the contest.

Microsoft Revamps Skype

Microsoft has redesigned Skype (yet again) with three new sections: find, chat and capture. While Skype has been quite successful as a video calling service, Microsoft hopes the new design will help the platform better compete with popular messaging apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, Messenger and Snapchat. “The next generation of skype” allows you to insert images, restaurant information, YouTube videos and other content into messages. In addition, Skype’s new capture section replicates Snapchat by allowing users to capture images and videos and share that content with friends. New features go beyond traditional video calling to encourage users to turn to the app for all types of conversations.

Oculus Announces Support for Chromecast Enabled Devices

Last week, Oculus announced a new update for the Samsung Gear VR that allows users to stream their experiences through Chromecast. That means users can now share what they’re doing with friends without having to purchase multiple headsets or pass the device around the room. Of course, those viewing Gear VR experiences from a Chromecast enabled device won’t get the full 3D experience, but they will have a better understanding of what the player is doing. The move is part of a larger initiative to increase the sociability of VR experiences to help it gain more traction.

Walmart Implements VR Experiences for Training Program

Walmart is turning to virtual reality to better prepare new employees for on-the-job scenarios. The company announced that “Walmart Academy,” the retailer’s training program, will now feature VR experiences to help newly hired team members get up to speed. Each training location will have an Oculus Rift headset to power 360-degree videos and interactive sessions in which new employees will encounter a number of scenarios — from customer service interactions to seasonal rushes. These VR experiences will supplement traditional training practices in order to give new team members a better idea of what the job will entail.