How layoffs affect the development of technology

This article is part of TechXchange: Why Matter Matters

What you will learn

  • Who is fired?
  • Which technologies are affected?
  • Why this matters to Matter.

Major layoffs always make headlines and affect the well-being of many families. Often this is the focus of the coverage of these changes – and it is justified. However, such reporting often overlooks the short- and long-term impact of these changes on others. And in some recent cases, these companies’ change of course has had a major impact on the technologies used.

The three specific events covered here are Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter and the layoffs and exodus of tech talent, Meta’s downsizing and Amazon’s layoffs.

While some of these changes were intended to help companies reduce costs in general, they targeted specific areas within companies that performed research and product support. Areas of concern include social media mediation, IoT voice control, and virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR). I’ll focus on the last two as they are more applicable to the work being done by electronic design Reader.

Amazon

Amazon’s Alexa has been at the forefront of artificial intelligence (AI) powered voice analysis and control. There are others like Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s Bixby, but “Alexa,…” comes to mind when it comes to smart speakers.

Apparently, selling devices at cost has seen Amazon suffer losses in the region of $10 billion over the years. As with many IoT solutions, it wanted to take a razor-sharp approach to making money off of something other than the technology and devices like the Echo or Echo Show (Fig. 1). In theory, these devices could be used to generate more revenue or sell more services. At this point they are typically used to control lights and play music. While both are useful features, they don’t necessarily improve the bottom line for Amazon.

Meta

In the case of Meta, the focus is more long-term in the form of the Metaverse. His quest line (Fig. 2) of VR glasses has helped increase interest and usage of VR and AR. At this point, however, these devices essentially have two main uses – gaming and industrial applications – and neither of them have a robust following to justify the size of the investment right now. The ubiquitous desire for an interactive metaverse along the lines of sci-fi holodecks seems a long way off.

In a way, the focus on the metaverse is related to the interest in self-driving cars. The long-term benefits are obvious, but the workload to get there, not to mention the cost, can be a lot higher than expected.

The layoffs affect many of those working on projects related to the named technologies, although they do not mean a complete abandonment of the technologies or products. Still, the changes impact long-term direction, support, and growth. They also contrast with new announcements like Meta’s pricey Quest Pro headset. Overall, it highlights the technical challenges as low prices have encouraged adoption, but of course selling at a loss doesn’t bode well for the bottom line.

Alexa, the IoT and Matter

Consider Alexa’s importance in the IoT market to see how others will be affected. It was all the rage at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) before COVID hit, and it’ll likely be on all sorts of things at the next CES, which is coming up soon. Couple that with the release of Matter, the protocol connecting IoT, and the impact of a cut on Alexa becomes more important — especially given its reliance on the cloud and cloud computing.

These little dots are amazing gadgets, but the heavy lifting of natural language processing is accomplished in the cloud. The demand for this processing is based on the popularity of Alexa devices. Likewise, these devices won’t do much if Alexa goes away. That’s unlikely, but the Twitter crash and fire wasn’t on many people’s radar either.

The current dependency on these platforms is more important for Twitter and Alexa at this point, since AR/VR are still niche solutions. These are growing and there are alternatives to both, but the question remains whether these alternatives have the same growing pains or are economically viable.

However, the growth of IoT solutions due to support like Alexa is significant. Home automation has been around for many decades, but it was very expensive and cumbersome. Smart home devices don’t come cheap; However, they are much cheaper than before. They are also more functional and easier to integrate, although until now it has been more of a walled garden. Matter can change that tune; Amazon’s support for Alexa developers is another piece of the puzzle.

The challenge today is the dependency of developers on the tools, underlying software and services that make up a solution. Do those who have an Alexa-enabled device support other voice-activated environments or can they work on their own? How will their customers feel if the devices become unsupported in the years to come?

At this point, the frameworks, products, and services of these three companies and others remain. Going forward, the direction is less clear as to what companies and developers need to consider when considering and improving their products.

Read more articles in TechXchange: Why Matter Matters

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