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The Week in Mobile: November 27 – December 3, 2016

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Pixel gains momentum, Facebook launches Instant Games, Amazon opens AI tools to developers 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.

Pixel Sales Start Strong

Google’s first foray into smartphone hardware development is on track to be a major success. According to research from Morgan Stanley, Pixel could bring in nearly $4 billion in revenue in 2017 with unit sales between 5-6 million. Although this may not seem like much when compared to Apple’s $137 billion iPhone revenue last year, it’s a strong start and could ultimately help Google establish its hardware ecosystem. The company has already gained 10 percent share of the high-end smartphone market in India thanks to Pixel’s instant popularity (and the Galaxy Note 7 woes).

Amazon Opens Select AI Tools to Developers

During Amazon’s re:Invent developer event last week, the company unveiled a new Amazon AI platform, which opens up three key Amazon AI services to all developers. The new platform grants open access to Rekognition, an image recognition tool; Amazon polly, a machine learning powered text-to-speech tool; and Lex, a tool for building conversational apps and bots.

Meanwhile, Amazon is reported to have a new voice-controlled device on the horizon. The company is thought to be developing an enhanced home assistant, similar to the Echo, that will feature a higher-grade speaker and a touchscreen.

Facebook Messenger Introduces Instant Games

Following Facebook’s release of Instant Articles in 2015, the company is taking the concept to new heights with the introduction of Instant Games for its Facebook Messenger app. The new feature will allow Messenger app users to play HTML5 games with friends. The best part? These games load in 5-10 seconds and can be played without leaving whatever chat screen you happen to be on. Instant Games is launching with 17 games, including Pac-Man, Galaga, Space Invaders, Words with Friends and Zookeeper. For now, Instant Games is in closed beta, but developers interested in the feature can apply to have their game added.

Airbnb Extends Business Model with Travel “Experiences”

Airbnb announced a number of new features for its mobile app, including “Experiences” that allow users to book activities while they’re on a trip and “Places” that provides city guidebooks. What’s more, Airbnb has made it easy for users to sign up for activities and confirm their identity with new in-app verification that scans your ID and confirms it with a selfie. These app updates are part of a larger initiative in which the company aims to grow its business reach. In the coming months, Airbnb says it will introduce additional functionality allowing users to book a car or order groceries directly from the app.

Fitbit to Acquire Pebble

Recent reports suggest Fitbit is set to acquire fellow fitness tracking company, Pebble for between $34-40 million. The announcement comes just a few months after news of Pebble’s financial struggles and a report from IDC that suggests a decline in the smartwatch market. Specific deal terms and what’s next for Fitbit and Pebble remain unclear.

Google’s AI Technology Learns to Read Lips

DeepMind, Google’s AI team based in the UK, introduced new software called “Watch, Listen, Attend, and Spell”, which can read lips with 46.8 percent accuracy. That’s significantly more accurate than a trained human, who can typically guess words correctly with 12.4 percent accuracy. DeepMind partnered with the University of Oxford to train its neural network by having it watch 5,000 hours of footage from TV shows such as Newsnight and The World Today. By exposing the network to more than 110,000 sentences and about 17,500 different words, the team has created the world’s most advanced lip reading technology.

Black Friday Sees Major Mobile Traffic

Mobile played a big role in this year’s Black Friday shopping extravaganza. According to data from PayPal, a third of all Black Friday purchases this year were made from a mobile device. What’s more, online shopping saw record-breaking sales totaling $3 billion—over a billion of that coming from mobile.

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