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

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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

Google Device Bug Chokes Home WiFi Networks

2018.01.29 01

A bug in the software used by Google Cast devices such as Chromecast and Home can slow down or crash WiFi networks.

The problem — initially believed to be isolated to a particular router model made by TP-Link — appears to affect models made by other manufacturers, including Asus, Linksys, Netgear and Synology.

The Cast feature on Google’s home devices is the culprit behind the WiFi problems, according to a post on the TP-Link website. Cast sends MDNS multicast discovery packets in order to discover and keep a live connection with Google products such as Home. These packets normally are sent in 20-second intervals.

However, after a device wakes up from sleep mode, it sometimes broadcasts a large amount of the packets — more than 100,000 on some occasions — at a very high speed in a short amount of time. The longer the device is asleep, the larger the packet burst will be.

Google Device Bug Chokes Home WiFi Networks

Apple’s HomePod Set to Barge Into Hot Speaker Market

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HomePod, Apple’s long-awaited entry into the torrid smart speaker market, will be available Feb. 9, the company announced Tuesday.

The HomePod, which is not quite 7 inches tall, will be offered in white and space gray. It can be pre-ordered at Apple’s website for US$349 starting Friday.

Unlike other smart speakers, which support a variety of music services out of the gate, HomePod will support the Apple Music subscription service exclusively.

Although Apple Music has a catalog of 45 million songs, that limitation could curb initial sales of the product, noted Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.

Apple’s HomePod Set to Barge Into Hot Speaker Market

Google Plasters Its Name on a New Hardware Collection

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Google on Tuesday unveiled a new smartphone and home hub that squarely aim at products from market leaders Apple and Amazon.

The company’s new branded smartphone, called “Pixel,” marks a departure from past efforts. Up to now, Google’s Nexus phones were made by a variety of manufacturers that sold them under their brands.

The Pixel has a 2,770 mAh battery, while the Pixel XL’s is 3,450 mAh. Both batteries have a quick-charge feature that gives the phone seven hours of runtime on a 15-minute charge.

Pixel users who want to dabble in virtual reality will be able to do so with another new product introduced at the Google event. Daydream is a fabric headset that allows Pixel to be used as a VR screen. It will sell for $79 starting in November.

Google also rolled out a competitor to Amazon’s Echo home hub. Called “Google Home,” the unit is voice-controlled and can play music, communicate with other devices in the home, provide anticipated information, and assist in everyday tasks like creating shopping lists, making dinner reservations and buying concert tickets.

“The search on Echo is no way near as effective as plugging into Google search,” he told TechNewsWorld. “When it comes to search, there is really no one better than Google at it.”

Google Plasters Its Name on a New Hardware Collection

Google: There’s No Hub Like Home

No longer willing to let Amazon have the space to itself, Google on Tuesday officially launched Google Home, its long-awaited wireless hub. Google Home is an interactive personal assistant and entertainment center that takes full advantage of the company’s deep advantages in Web search, AI and machine learning.

The Google Assistant technology will allow the Google Home device to bring a much more personalized experience to the user than Amazon’s devices can provide, and Google’s technology has greater capabilities in terms of recognizing and deciphering nuances in language, handling unstructured queries, and being available to users across different platforms.

“It’s shortfalls are that it currently lacks the Echo’s ever-more-robust ecosystem for home automation, it doesn’t support multiple users, and not as many people use Google Music as use Prime Music,” he told TechNewsWorld.

In addition, Google Home is only one device, Enderle noted, while Amazon’s Echo is part of a growing family of devices, including the Amazon Tap and the Echo Dot, which is a relative bargain at $49.95.

Google: There’s No Hub Like Home

Google Plots Home Invasion

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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