This week on the web, Walmart challenged Amazon, Google took us one step closer to being able to commute and shave or do our nails at the same time, Woody Allen freaked out, it became insanely easy to order a pizza, Tim Cook did something that Steve Jobs had done better, and butlers became available to common folk.
The King of Big Box Stores Challenges the King of Online on Its Own Turf
Can Walmart steal Amazon's thunder? The giant retail chain will soon start testing out a pilot program that looks a lot like Amazon Prime -- at half of the price. For $50 per year -- compared to Amazon's $99 -- Walmart will ship items ordered on its website for free. Walmart promises delivery in three days or less, which is one day longer than Amazon Prime's two-day delivery policy. One limitation is that at least during the test phase, only 1 million out of the 7 million items Walmart sells on its website will be eligible for the free shipping program.
According to TechCrunch, Walmart usually tries to get a representative sample of its customers when it runs these kinds of tests. The company, however, has set up a page where anyone can put themselves on the waiting list to become a tester, so perhaps it will be first come, first served. Although Walmart may be best known for its brick-and-mortar stores, maybe it can beat the master of online marketing by undercutting it in price. Selling things at prices below the competition's is a strategy that has been working for Walmart for a long time. Amazon, though, keeps on adding new benefits to its Prime program, so the race is on. Either way, the competition will likely be good for consumers.
The Driverless Cars Are Coming! Be Very Afraid (Or Not!)
Starting this summer, Google will begin testing 25 new prototypes of its self-driving cars on public roads near the company's Mountain View, Ca., headquarters. These will be funny-looking two-seater cars that resemble golf carts or hard-boiled eggs that are squashed flat on one side.
Google has already been testing a fleet of self-driving Lexus SUVs, but those had controls where human drivers could take over. Google originally wanted to make the new prototypes totally self-driving, without any steering wheels or brake and accelerator pedals, but that turned out to violate California law, which requires manual controls during the testing phase. So Google added in driver controls, but it made the steering wheel and pedals removable. If all goes well with the tests, then the controls may come off. Will that make the world a better or a scarier place?
In bad timing for Google, news recently came out that Google's self-driving Lexus vehicles have been involved in 11 accidents. Google was quick to downplay the significance, saying that 11 is a trivial number compared to the 1.7 million miles the cars were on the road, and that the accidents weren't the fault of their software anyway. Instead, Google blamed humans -- both the humans taking over from the self-driving programs, and the humans in other cars who were inconsiderate enough to rear-end the innocent Google vehicles.
In the meantime, if you see one of the new prototypes on the road, be sure to pass it on the left. Because the prototypes don't have airbags or other required safety features, they are legally limited to inching along at a leisurely 25 mph. Also, don't laugh at their funny shape. You might hurt the software's feelings. What's that, you say -- software doesn't have feelings? It's only a matter of time. Today, software can drive our cars. Soon, it will flirt with other golf carts, laugh (or yawn) at your jokes, and give the software equivalent of the finger to its fellow self-driving cars that dare to cut it off.
Woody Allen Plays a Woody Allen Character in Real Life
Amazon made a deal with Woody Allen to create his own six-hour series. Now he says he regrets ever making the deal. In a recent interview with Deadline Hollywood, when asked if he really had regrets, Allen replied, "Oh, it's amazing how you can regret. I haven't had a pleasurable moment since I undertook it," sounding just like one of the flustered, neurotic, anxiety-ridden characters that he plays in his films.
Is he really this upset, or is he just saying these things to get publicity for the project? It's hard to say, but some things to take into account are that he is 79 years old, he doesn't own a computer, and he doesn't watch TV except for sports and the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose. So maybe he is really freaking out.
The anxiety could be good for the show. Amazon, intent on snagging such a big name for its growing video streaming offerings, is letting Allen do anything he wants -- whether that's shooting in black and white or setting the show in New York, California, or Paris. Amazon is even leaving it up to Allen to decide whether he wants to do comedy or tragedy. Let's hope he picks the former. Unless Allen panics so badly that he completely blanks out and is unable to come up with a show at all, this could be a great thing for Amazon, which has already won a Golden Globe for best series for "Transparent."
A Couch Potato's Dream Comes True
Because life is better when you don't have to use a lot of keystrokes to order a pizza, Domino's announced a new way for pizza lovers to place an order. Customers just have to register their Twitter handles once with Domino's, and then they are good to go. Tweeting #EasyOrder will then bring a pizza to their door, or if typing all those letters tires out the finger muscles too much, customers can just tweet a pizza emoji -- a cute little picture of a slice -- and that will do the trick too. Maybe the next step will be pizza delivery by telepathy, where you just think about a pizza and it magically arrives at your doorstep.
Butlers Are Back
If watching British TV period pieces makes you yearn to have a butler to look after you, your dreams can now come true in a couple of hotels in California's Silicon Valley. Guests, however, may find that these butlers lack the human warmth of their historical counterparts. That's because these butlers are robots. Their debut is part of a larger project by the Starwood chain to test out high-tech gadgetry in its hotels. The company promises these robot butlers will bring you toothpaste if you've forgotten to bring your own. Maybe someday robot butlers will get into arguments with robot cooks in their downstairs recharging stations.
It's the Time of Year When Graduation Speeches Bloom
Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a commencement speech this week at George Washington University. While it may never become a classic like the commencement speech given by the late Steve Jobs in 2005, Cook had inspiring words, encouraging graduates to go change the world. The takeaway line -- "You don't have to choose between doing good and doing well."
Did we miss any other exciting tech news? Let us know in the comments!