Nov 29, 2019 newsletter

Software eats hardware with Alexa’s latest expansion

Amazon bites when software eats hardware

AWS is expanding its Alexa Voice Service to let manufacturers add Alexa capabilities to low-powered devices with as low as 1MB of RAM. Up until now, devices needed 100x times that amount of memory to run Alexa.

With the latest update, everything from lightbulbs to thermostats can integrate Amazon’s smart voice assistant.

Amazon is able to bring Alexa to less powerful devices by pushing more computations toward the cloud, away from local devices. Efficient devices only need to recognize wake words, as most data can be piped directly to the cloud. Applications can then run analyses and send back responses.

Alexa’s IoT expansion affects developers in two major ways.

First, Alexa becomes a universal platform that can attract more users with more devices. When developers know that more users can access their products, Amazon draws more developers into its Alexa ecosystem.

Amazon unleashes what is known as cyclonic effects. With more developers building on its platform, Alexa attracts more users. More users encourage more Alexa-enabled devices, and so on.

Amazon Alexa cyclonic effects

Microsoft used a similar playbook to drive the growth of Windows. Microsoft supplied the operating system that created positive feedback loops between developers, computer manufacturers, and users.

Second, Amazon’s move suggests that software is eating hardware.

Manufacturers of Alexa devices could find it more cost effective and developer-friendly to focus more on building powerful cloud-based software and worrying less about designing hardware. Moreover, companies can take advantage of the cloud's limitless computing power, allowing them to develop new product versions without needing to upgrade any hardware.

In Amazon's world, IoT companies spend less time and fewer resources on hardware and more on IoT app development. In short, less hardware and more developers.

Alexa is still a young, growing platform with an uncertain future. Pulling it closer to the successful AWS cloud could give Amazon an edge as the IoT market matures.


How to rethink packages in today's open source world

Package delivery

Package registries are a notorious sore spot in software development. While they make it easy to share code, they are difficult to maintain. Recent alternatives, like Pika, offer new approaches that could pressure developers to rethink how we operate our package ecosystems.

Packages—like npm and Rust modules—have many clear benefits. Developers build apps faster with open source software and can tap into community resources, making them more productive.

Packages have many drawbacks, too. Web apps that rely heavily on imported JavaScript packages can be sluggish. Browsers must redownload packages when they are updated or any time a user visits a new app—even if multiple sites use the same packages. Moreover, universal packages are often bloated with extra code to handle legacy browsers.

Pika takes a different approach by bundling three connected developer tools.

First, Pika Code is a code editor that helps developers build and manage packages. It automatically takes care of package tooling and configuration.

Second, Pika CDN optimizes package delivery to the end user. With Pika CDN, newer apps and browsers import only the latest modules with ESM syntax, bypassing legacy code. Pika also caches and reuses packages across sites, meaning faster load times for visitors—a serious opportunity in a world where 90% of website code comes from open source packages and other third parties.

Lastly, Pika Registry, a recent addition to Pika’s toolset, hosts only modern ESM-style modules. Pika automatically formats, configures, builds, and publishes these packages to run natively on every platform.

The npm registry has been under increasing scrutiny to clean up the open source ecosystem. Projects like Pika add pressure to the existing package powerhouses to innovate more quickly or risk losing control.

To its credit, the npm community has made serious moves to combat growing concerns. New publishing rules, automated security checks, and better tooling are pushing the open source world in the right direction.

Entrenched registries like npm will be around for many, many years to come. A fresh perspective from some new competition could make for a brighter future by forcing developers to rethink package management.


Small bytes

  • AWS introduced Lambda Destinations to help developers manage asynchronous functions. Developers can now send asynchronous function execution results to a destination resource without writing code [AWS]
  • Microsoft deployed better natural language processing using BERT models across Bing. The new search capabilities highlight Azure’s growing AI and GPU capabilities [AZURE]
  • Could Amazon sell AWS? Some analysts believe that regulatory pressure could mount against AWS, which serves as a cash cow for the rest of Amazon’s businesses [BUSINESS INSIDER]

Tools

  • Chatwoot is an open source live chat alternative to Intercom and Zendesk [GITHUB]
  • Siri Wave is a JavaScript library that adds the Siri wave to your app [GITHUB]
  • Flan Scan is a lightweight network vulnerability scanner from Cloudflare [CLOUDFLARE]
  • Port Manager can find, open and kill ports in a couple of clicks—so you can go back to writing code [PORT MANAGER]
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