Privacy-Minded Smart Speaker May Struggle to Get to Know You

2018.02.01 01

Mycroft AI earlier this week announced that its Mark II smart speaker achieved full funding on Kickstarter in just 6.5 hours. As of Wednesday, pledges reached more than three times its US$50K goal — with 23 days remaining in the campaign.

The Mark II is positioned as an open source alternative to the dominant Amazon Echo line of smart speakers and its main challenger, the Google Home device.

One of the main draws of the Mark II is its emphasis on maintaining user privacy, an increasing concern as the market for smart home devices has exploded.

The Mark II offers sophisticated voice control technology with a built-in screen, an optional camera, and a state-of-the-art microphone array, the company said. It protects user privacy by automatically deleting user queries and utilizing open data sets.

The Mark II is the first commercial device that uses Deep Speech to understand commands in English, according to Mozilla. Its Persona technology recognizes contextual speech, which enables the virtual assistant to discern whether a user’s speech is sarcastic or serious, for example.

Privacy-Minded Smart Speaker May Struggle to Get to Know You

Amazon’s ‘Echo Show’ Gives Alexa the Touchscreen It Needed

2017.05.13 02

THE AMAZON ECHO is a stupendously powerful device. It can control your lights, play Ed Sheeran jams, keep a to-do list, check the weather, order pizza, tell guests your Wi-Fi password, and so much more. But as you embrace this chatty-computer future, you begin to see its limitations. Sure, you can book a flight with your voice, but it’s so much easier when you can see the price chart. You can set six timers, but can you remember which one just went off? Voice-only games are fun, but not as fun as a game you can see and touch.

Hype aside, voice control is not a replacement for screens, but a complement to them. As Apple’s Phil Schiller recently said, “There’s many moments where a voice assistant is really beneficial, but that doesn’t mean you’d never want a screen. So the idea of not having a screen, I don’t think suits many situations.”

That’s what makes Amazon’s newest Echo, the $229 Echo Show, a smart move. It’s an Echo … with a screen. The Chumby lookalike exists mostly to talk and listen, but glance at the screen and you’ll notice that as it reads your calendar events, it displays them, too. When it announces that the Warriors won, it shows you the box score. It lets you interact with almost everything by touch or by voice, using whichever one you find most convenient. The speaker gets loud enough to rattle the kitchen counter, you can see the 7-inch screen from anywhere, and the far-field microphone array works just as well as the Echo. Plus, the setup couldn’t be simpler. Plug it in, connect it, done.

Amazon’s ‘Echo Show’ Gives Alexa the Touchscreen It Needed

10 of the best things you can do with the Amazon Echo

2017.05.12 04

If you’re considering buying an Alexa device (including the new Echo Show or Echo Look) or got Amazon Echo as a gift, there’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot Alexa can do, but here are the 10 best tips and tricks to get you started.

1. Make phone calls (basically, landline calls)
2. Control your smart home
3. Get cooking ideas and tips
4. Get the news
5. Entertain your kids for hours on end
6. Learn about more features
7. Get fit (or try to)
8. Control your TV
9. Use Spotify to play music
10. Train Alexa to do practically anything else

10 of the best things you can do with the Amazon Echo

Echo Owners May Get Their Own Kind of Music

2016.09.01 02

Amazon is planning two music subscription services, according to rumors that began circulating last week. One is a US$10 a month offering that is similar to Spotify and Apple Music, and the other is a $4-$5 a month cut-rate service available only on Amazon’s Echo device.

Amazon reportedly wants to launch both in September, but it has yet to finalize deals with major music labels and publishers, or to settle on pricing for the Echo-only service, which will be ad-free and offer unlimited music on demand.

Eighty-seven percent of smartphone owners aged 18 to 29 who participated in a recent Pew survey said they had listened to an online radio or music service on their phone, while 41 percent of those aged 50 and above had done so.

“The upside to streaming services is you’re not tied to a device — your music is anywhere that you are,” noted Mike Goodman, a research director at Strategy Analytics.

“If the service works only on an Amazon Echo, the user’s now tied down to a single location, and while it may cost less, it will also be less functional,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Amazon “wants to sell things retail, and Echo is its way to integrate retail into people’s daily activities,” he pointed out. “If I were Pandora, I wouldn’t worry about this, but, if I were Target, I would.”

Echo Owners May Get Their Own Kind of Music

Google Plots Home Invasion

2016.05.23 03

Google CEO Sundar Pichai kicked off the company’s annual I/O developers conference on Wednesday with a keynote address that included previews of a batch of new products. Among those showcased were Google Assistant, a tool that can understand and respond to complex questions in real time; and Home, Google’s highly anticipated response to Amazon’s Echo speaker.

Google VP of Product Management Mario Queiroz, pictured above, took the stage to demonstrate some of Home’s capabilities.

“What makes Google Home really shine is that it has Search built in,” he said.

Google officials took a big step toward answering one of the chief complaints of the company’s critics — that for all of the years it has dominated the Web with search technology, it has fallen behind in translating that success into tangible hardware and services. Rivals including Amazon and Facebook already have launched several products integrating new machine learning and conversational speech technologies into the connected home ecosystem, threatening to leave Google in the dust.

“Progress in all of these areas is accelerating, thanks to profound advances in machine learning and AI, and I believe we are at a seminal moment,” Pichai told I/O attendees.

Google has “evolved significantly over the past 10 years, and I believe we are poised to take a big leap forward over the next 10 years,” he added.

Household Help

Google Assistant can do everything from buying movie tickets, to making a reservation for a family dinner and navigating to any given destination, according to Pichai.

Google considers its language translation technology the most advanced in the world. A user can simply point a mobile phone at a menu and receive a translation in real time, for example.

Google Home will be able to use some of the same technologies that power Assistant to turn on lights, play music, set an oven timer, or check a flight reservation.

Google Home Speaker – Google I/O 2016 Mario Queiroz

Google Plots Home Invasion