Amazon exec responsible for money-losers like Alexa and Fire Phone is departing

Enlarge / Amazon’s Astro, one of the hardware projects overseen by departing SVP David Limp.

Amazon

Amazon senior vice president of devices and services David Limp will be leaving the company “before the end of the year,” according to an Amazon spokesperson speaking to The Wall Street Journal. Limp has been with the company since 2010 and has overseen the development of major Amazon projects like the Echo smart speakers, the Alexa voice assistant, the Fire tablets and Fire TV devices, and the Amazon Appstore.

Amazon’s first Kindle e-readers pre-date Limp’s tenure, but the company’s products since then have all followed the same basic formula: to drive more sales on Amazon. Hardware like the Fire tablets, Fire TV sticks, and Echo smart speakers are essentially sold at cost, with the hopes that they’ll generate revenue once they’re in users’ homes.

The problem with that strategy is that even phenomenally successful products can fail if people use them in ways that don’t make money for Amazon. That’s the story of the Echo smart speaker and Alexa voice assistant, which as of late 2022 had reportedly lost Amazon some $10 billion because people mainly use Alexa to play music and check the weather and not to spend money.

Limp has also overseen a few outright failures like the Halo fitness devices and, most notably, 2014’s Fire Phone. Despite a huge advertising push (for a time, even the tape on Amazon’s boxes was pushing Fire Phone sales), mediocre software, a poor app ecosystem, and a lack of unique features meant that the phone never caught on. Amazon had to dump its remaining Fire Phone stock at a fraction of its original price, and the company never attempted a follow-up.

In addition to Amazon’s homegrown hardware, Limp has also overseen the acquisition of multiple consumer hardware companies, including Eero (routers and networking), Ring and Blink (indoor and outdoor security cameras), and iRobot (Roombas and other cleaning robots). Collectively, these hardware projects can give Amazon a wide-open window to all kinds of data about you and your home, power that the company and its employees have occasionally abused.

Limp’s departure caps a rough year for Amazon’s devices and services division, which has been hit particularly hard by recent layoffs. The Wall Street Journal says the company has cut roughly 27,000 jobs in the last year as post-Bezos CEO Andy Jassy has cut costs in money-losing divisions (according to The New York Times, this means almost every division other than Amazon Web Services and the company’s advertising business).

Amazon’s hardware business doesn’t seem to be in any danger of disappearing just yet; the company announced four new Echo devices and the large-screened Fire Max 11 tablet in May, and new Kindle e-readers like the Kindle Scribe are released at a steady clip. But it seems we’ll be seeing fewer weird long-shots like the Amazon Astro robot, which was initially announced in late 2021 but is still only available to the public as a $1,600 invite-only preview.

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