Week in Geek: Why Amazon is suing a former AWS exec, former Swype CEO’s new venture, and more

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Inside Amazon’s headquarters in South Lake Union. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

It was a busy week for Amazon: on Friday, the company announced plans to buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, it’s the biggest acquisition yet.

But before that news broke, the company was also embroiled in several other stories, including a lawsuit against a former AWS executive and a new Alexa-powered kitchen aid.

We cover those stories and more news on this episode of the Week In Geek, recorded before the big acquisition news broke. Also check out our separate podcast on Amazon’s Whole Foods deal.

Listen to the full podcast above or download it as an MP3. Be sure to subscribe to the GeekWire podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen. 

Amazon’s suit against former AWS executive Gene Farrell is the latest dispute over the non-compete clauses that are part of the company’s employment contracts. When Farrell accepted a job at work collaboration tech company Smartsheet, Amazon claimed he was violating the agreement and sued to stop him.

Amazon called his move “unthinkable” in court documents because Farrell has intimate knowledge of AWS’s business plan and projects. Smartsheet, for its part, calls the suit “unfortunate” and a form of intimidation.

The suit hints at a bigger move by Amazon into workplace collaboration technology. GeekWire cloud and enterprise editor Tom Krazit explains why Amazon Web Services enforces the non-compete agreements against some executives and employees but not others.

Amazon also made headlines with the release of an updated Amazon Dash Wand, now with Alexa built in. The kitchen gadget is Amazon’s smallest and least-expensive Alexa-powered device yet at just $20.

The device can perform most features of the Echo smart speakers, although it can’t play music, and has the added benefit of being able to scan barcodes on items and add them to your Amazon cart. We test it hands-on in this episode, and although the tech is cool, we’re not convinced it lives up to the hype.

In other news this week, two Seattle startup vets announced the launch of a new venture: Xealth, a digital health company that’s building a platform to connect doctors and patients to digital services. It’s led by former Swype CEO and COO Mike McSherry and Aaron Sheedy and is the first spin-out from Providence Health and Services, a Seattle-based hospital network.

The concept may be pretty far into the health weeds, but it Sheedy and McSherry say it can save hospitals and doctors a lot of time and money. It also has the stamp of approval from Sheedy’s wife Meredeth, a dermatologist who gave the duo constant feedback during their two years building the startup.

On the Random Channel this week: We share our guesses on the new name of Seattle’s Safeco Field, which will be up for a new name sponsor after the 2018 season. Will it be Fred Hutch Field? Amazon Prime Park? Or something else?

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