Voice-driven home assistant platforms Archive

You can find out what Cortana has recorded

Article

Harman Invoke Cortana-driven smart speaker press picture courtesy of Harman International

You can also manage your interactions with the Harman-Kardon Invoke speaker here

How to delete your voice data collected by Microsoft when using Cortana on Windows 10 | Windows Central

My Comments

Previously, I posted an article about managing what Amazon Alexa has recorded when you use an Amazon Echo or similar Alexa-compatible device.

Now Microsoft has a similar option for Cortana when you use it with Windows 10. This is also important if you use the Harman-Kardon Invoke smart speaker, the Johnson Controls GLAS smart thermostat as long as they are bound to your Microsoft account.

Windows 10 Settings - Accounts - Manage My Microsoft Account

Manage your Microsoft Account (and Cortana) from Windows 10 Settings

In most instances such as your computer, Cortana may be activated by you clicking on an icon on the Taskbar or pressing a button on a suitably-equipped laptop, keyboard or other peripheral to have her ready to listen. But you may set her up to hear the “Hey Cortana” wake word to listen to you. This may be something that a Cortana-based smart device may require of you for expected functionality when you set it up.

This may be a chance where Cortana may cause problems with picking up unwanted interactions. But you can edit what Cortana has recorded through your interactions with her.

Here, you go in to Settings, then click on Accounts to open the Accounts screen. Click on Your Info to which will show some basic information about the Microsoft Account associated with your computer.

Privacy dashboard on your Microsoft Account management Website

Privacy dashboard on your Microsoft Account management Website

Click on “Manage My Microsoft Account” which will open a Web session in your default browser to manage your Microsoft Account. Or you could go directly to https://account.microsoft.com without needing to go via the Settings menu on your computer. The direct-access method can be important if you have to use another computer like a Mac or Linux box or don’t want to go via the Settings option on your Windows 10 computer.

Microsoft Account Privacy Dashboard - Cortana Interactions highlighted

Click here for your Cortana Voice interaction history

You will be prompted to sign in to your Microsoft Account using your Microsoft Account credentials. Click on the “Privacy” option to manage your privacy settings. Then click on the “Activity History” option and select “Voice” to view your voice interactions with Cortana. Here, you can replay each voice interaction to assess whether they should be deleted. You can delete each interaction one by one by clicking the “Delete” option for that interaction or clear them all by clicking the “Clear activity” option.

Details of your voice interactions with Cortana

Details of your voice interactions with Cortana

Your management of what Cortana has recorded takes place at the Microsoft servers in the same vein to what happens with Alexa. But there will be the disadvantage of Cortana not having access to the false starts in order to use her machine learning to understand your voice better.

These instructions would be useful if you are dealing with a Cortana-powered device that doesn’t use a “push-to-talk” or “microphone-mute” button where you can control when she listens to you.

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Sonos launches the first soundbar that works with multiple voice-driven home assistants

Articles

Sonos Beam soundbar connected to TV - press picture courtesy of Sonos

Sonos Beam under the TV

Sonos says its new Beam speaker will be able to talk to Siri, Alexa, and Assistant | FastCompany

A closer look at Sonos Beam: Smaller, smarter and more connected | Engadget

Sonos introduce cheaper, smarter Sonos Beam soundbar | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Sonos

Sonos Beam (product page – direct purchase opportunity, press release)

My Comments

Sonos Beam soundbar (black finish) press picture courtesy of Sonos

Sonos Beam soundbar

Sonos has offered a smart speaker that not just is part of their own multi-room ecosystem but can work with multiple different voice assistants. Now they have taken this concept further by offering the Sonos Beam compact sound bar which can do this same trick.

They have taken this approach due to a reality with people operating two or more different voice-driven assistants. The classic reality would be someone who has an Amazon Echo at home but uses Siri in their iPhone or Google Assistant in their Android smartphone. But these assistants don’t complement each other effectively or even work with each other at all.

But this has been taken further with the Sonos Beam soundbar which is seen as a competitor to JBL’s Link Bar soundbar that has integrated Android TV set-top box functionality and can work with the Google Assistant. Initially it will come with Amazon Alexa but Siri and Google Assistant will be delivered as firmware updates through the year. A firmware upgrade will fully enable the Sonos Beam for Apple’s AirPlay 2 ecosystem which is Apple’s take on a full-blown multiroom setup centred around their products.

Sonos multiroom system press picture courtesy of Sonos

Works equally well with the rest of the Sonos multiroom system

For the sound, the Sonos Beam soundbar uses a digital-enhancement approach to draw out the bass from its compact cabinet. But you could team it with Sonos’s “Sub” subwoofer if you find that this may offer a better job at providing that extra bass. As well, thanks to the Sonos setup, you could team two of their standard speakers if you want to set up the full surround-sound experience.

The Sonos Beam “hears” you through an integrated far-field microphone array. But you can control whether it hears you or not by pressing a microphone-mute button on the speaker – this will have a “mic” icon located on it. The ability to control the microphone on this device reduces the risk of nuisance triggering which can easily happen when TV content is being played. Thanks to the HDMI-CEC standard facilitated by the HDMI-ARC connection, there is the ability to voice-control your TV in relation to sound volume (including muting the advertisements) or power status.

A limitation most of us will find with this soundbar is that it only has one HDMI connection for HDMI-ARC connectivity to the TV for its sound. This can be very constraining for those of us who use a TV that has very few HDMI connections and you use all these connections for various video peripherals.

But it is another effort by Sonos to prove that a smart-speaker device could support multiple voice-driven assistant platforms on the same device. Could this also be a reality with other equipment manufacturers soon? On the other hand, could this device become a virtual friend for that lonely person by providing better sound for daytime TV or being someone to talk to?

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You can find out what Alexa has recorded

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

You can find out what Amazon Alexa has recorded through your Echo device

How To Find Out What Your Alexa Is Recording | Lifehacker

My Comments

Recently, the computer press went in to overdrive about an Amazon Echo setup that unintentionally recorded and forwarded a family’s private conversation and forwarded it to someone in Seattle. Here, the big question that was asked was what was your Amazon Echo or similar smart speaker device recording without you knowing.

Amazon Echo, Google Home and similar voice-driven home-assistant platforms require a smart speaker that is part of the platform to hear for a “wake word” which is a keyword that wakes up these devices and has them listening. Then these devices capture and interpret what you say after that “wake word” in order to perform their function. One of the functions that these devices may perform is audio messaging where they could record a user’s message and pass that message on to another user on the same platform.

I had previously covered the issue of these voice-driven assistants being at risk of nuisance triggering including mentioning about the XBox game console supporting a voice assistant that triggered when an adman on a TV commercial called out a spot-special for the games console by saying “XBox On Sale” or “XBox On Special”.

Here, I recommended the use of a manual “call button” to make these devices ready to listen when you are ready or a “microphone mute” toggle to prevent your device being falsely triggered. As well, I recommended a visual indicator on the device that signals when it is listening. This is a practice mainly done with voice-assistant functionality that is part of a video peripheral’s feature set or software that runs on a platform computing device. Google’s Home smart speaker instead uses the microphone-mute button to allow you to control its microphone.

But you can check what Alexa has been recording from your Amazon Echo or other Alexa-compatible speaker device and delete private material that she shouldn’t have captured. This is also useful if you are troubleshooting one of these devices, identifying misunderstood instructions or are developing an Alexa Skill for the Alexa ecosystem.

  1. Here you launch the Amazon Alexa mobile-platform app on your smartphone. If you are using the Amazon Alexa Website (http://alexa.amazon.com) as previously mentioned on this site, there is a similar procedure to go about identifying your Amazon Echo sessions.
  2. Then you tap on the hamburger-shaped “advanced operation” icon on the top left of your screen.
  3. Tap on Settings to bring up a Settings menu for your setup. Go to the History option in the Alexa Account section of that menu.
  4. Here, you will see a list of interactions with any Alexa-ecosystem hardware or software front-end related to your Amazon account. These will be categorised by what has been understood and what hasn’t been understood. There is an option to filter the interaction list by date, which is handy if you have made heavy use of your Amazon Echo device through the months and years.

You can play each interaction to be sure of what your Alexa device or software has recorded. With these interactions, the current version of the interface only allows you to delete each unwanted interaction on by one. The effect of the deletion is that the interaction, including the voice recording, disappears from your account and the Amazon servers. But this could degrade your Amazon Alexa experience due to it not having much data to work on for its machine-learning abilities.

Here, at least with the Amazon Alexa ecosystem, you have some control over what has been recorded so you can remove potentially-private conversations from that ecosystem.

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Voice-driven assistants at risk of nuisance triggering

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

A problem that showed up with the Amazon Echo’s always-listen behaviour was nuisance triggering for the laughter command

Voice control is no laughing matter | Videonet

My Comments

An issue that has been raised recently is the risk of a voice-driven assistant like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant or Microsoft’s Cortana being triggered inadvertently and becoming of nuisance value.

This was discovered with Amazon’s Echo devices where you could say “Alexa, laugh” and Alexa would laugh in response. But if this was said in conversation or through audio or video content you had playing in the background, this could come across very creepy. A similar situation was discovered in 2014 with Microsoft’s XBox when there was a voice-search functionality built in to in and you would wake it by saying “XBox on!”, This was aggravated if, for example, a TV commercial from a consumer electronics outlet was playing and the adman announced a special deal on one of these consoles by saying something like “XBox On Special” or “XBox On Saie” which contain this key phrase.

Similarly, we are starting to see “voice-driven search” become a part of consumer electronics and this could become of an annoyance whenever dialogue in a movie or TV show or an adman’s talking in a TV commercial could instigate a search routine during your TV viewing.

But there are some implementations of these voice assistants that don’t start automatically when they hear your “wake phrase” associated with them like “Alexa” or “Hi Siri”. In these cases, you would press a “call” button to make the device ready to listen to you. This typically happens with smartphones, tablets, computers or smart-TV remote controls.

On the other hand, some of the smart speakers like Google Home use a microphone-mute button which you would activate if there is a risk of nuisance triggering. In this mode, the device’s microphone isn’t active until you manually disable it.

Google Home uses a microphone-mute button to control the mic

Personally, I would still like to see some form of manual control offered as the norm for these devices, preferably in the form of a “call” button with a distinct tactile feel when pressed. Then you would see a different light glow or other visual cue when the device is ready to talk to. Here, the user has some form of control over when the device can listen to them thus assuring their privacy.

Here, the article underscored the role of speech as part of a user interface that integrated one of many different interaction types like touch or vision. This then provides different comfort zones that the user can benefit from when using the device and they then rely on what’s comfortable to them.

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British users can benefit from Google Home Voice Calling

Article

Google Home voice calling now works in the UK

Google brings voice calling to Home speakers in the UK | Engadget

My Comments

Last August, Google launched in to the USA and Canada a VoIP-based voice calling feature for their Home smart-speaker platform. This service allowed you to use your voice to call landline and mobile telephones in the USA and Canada and speak to these callers through your Home smart speaker. A limitation that it had was that it was only for outgoing calls and your caller couldn’t identify you through the Caller-ID framework.

It was an attempt by Google to answer Amazon’s “in-network” calling and messaging service that they were delivering to the Alexa platform. Subsequently Amazon answered Google by providing a similar service with an analogue telephony adaptor that connects to your phone line to provide the full gamut of phone functionality through your Echo speakers.

UK FlagNow Google have taken this feature and launched it in the UK so that people who live there have the ability to call landline and mobile numbers based in that territory. How I see this is Google being the first off the mark to offer a VoIP telephony service based around their voice-driven home assistant within the UK.

There, the idea of a household landline telephone is still being kept alive thanks to most of the popular telcos and ISPs running desirable multiple-play TV/telephony/Internet packages at very attractive prices, a similar practice being offered in some European countries especially France. As w

They are also launching this feature in time for Mother’s Day (Mothering Sunday) which is celebrated in March in the UK. Here, they are running a spot special on their coral-coloured Google Home Mini speaker by dropping the price by GBP£10 to GBP£39 until March 12. This is with it being available through most of the UK’s main electrical-store chains like Currys PC World or John Lewis.

The UK as being the first country beyond the USA and Canada to head towards a VoIP platform based around a voice-driven home assistant could be the first “stage” in a race between Google and Amazon to push this feature across the world.

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The first Cortana-driven smart appliance is a room thermostat

Articles

GLAS thermostat powered by Windows 10 IoT Core operating system launched | WinCentral

Microsoft’s Glas thermostat knocks Nest with Cortana and air quality monitoring | Digital Trends

From the horse’s mouth

Johnson Controls

GLAS room thermostat

Product Page

Spec Sheet (PDF)

Video – Click or tap to play

Microsoft

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Google’s Nest smart thermostat is facing competition with a unit that is driven by Microsoft technologies. Here, the Johnson Controls GLAS smart thermostat, which works with most central heating and air-conditioning setups that implement standard 24-volt wiring setups, connects to your home network via Wi-Fi and is built on a Windows 10 IoT Core operating system and the Universal Windows Platform.

Here, this means that it works tightly with Bing as its external data source for air-quality and current-local-weather metrics. As well, it works as a Cortana terminal so you can control the heating using your voice, but have access to other information resources you would be able to have access to if you used Cortana from your Windows 10 computer. At the moment, judging from the various YouTube videos I have seen of this device in action, this user experience will be audio-only but future firmware updates could provide visual support for Cortana’s replies.

The GLAS room thermostat implements the usual scheduling abilities that the typical programmable room thermostat offers but allows for preemptive operating for when you arrive or wake up so your home is nice and comfortable for you. There is the ability to know what the indoor and outdoor air quality is to be like as well as letting the current weather forecast be used to affect the system’s setpoint (comfort level). It could provide the answer about whether it is important to take that Ventolin inhaler with you if you are suffering from asthma that is aggravated by pollen or similar allergens.

The user interface is based on a colour OLED touchscreen which is actually a piece of translucent glass so you can effectively see the wall behind the thermostat. This means you are engaging with a user experience similar to that of a smartphone or tablet. As well, it would please those of us who place emphasis on devices that complement our room aesthetics. Let’s not forget that you could manage it from a Web page or your iOS / Android smartphone through a native app.

At the time of publication, the expected retail price for the GLAS Smart Room Thermostat will be US$319 with it expected to be released to the US market in March. Here, it will be available through the Microsoft Store or through Johnson Controls Website and dealers.

But what do I see of this thermostat? I see the possibility of it being one of many “smart devices” that will become a control surface for your smart home. In an increasing number of cases, it could also be a point of interaction for a voice-driven home-assistant platform like Alexa, Cortana or Google Assistant with the integrated display earning its keep for visual-support functionality. This is where you could use this thermostat’s touchscreen or Cortana interaction to manage something like lighting or music, or “call up” information at a glance with the information appearing on that display.

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You can have Alexa print documents on your HP printer

Articles

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

You can ask Amazon Alexa to print documents through your HP printer

HP Voice Printing Now Supports Alexa, Google Assistant & Cortana | Android Headlines

Alexa can now control your HP printer | Engadget

No, you don’t need a voice-controlled printer in your life | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

HP Printing And PCs

Support Page (Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Microsoft Cortana)

Press Release

My Comments

You can now ask Amazon Alexa to print “download-to-print” resources or other material through your ePrint-capable HP network printer. This was a feature initially and quietly offered for Google Home and Microsoft Cortana but HP have given it a lot of space on Amazon’s voice-assistant platform due to it becoming the most popular of these platforms.

… as you could with Google Home

With all of these platforms, the printing function has to be added on as a Skill through the respective platform’s app store. As well, the printer must be able to support HP ePrint or Web Services printing, which enables printing of various printable resources from various content providers as well as supporting “email-to-print” where you can send a document to a machine-specific email address for it to be printed at that machine.

Infact I have given some space to the HP ePrint ecosystem through reviewing a number of HP printers that have this functionality as well as writing some articles on this subsystem such as implementing it in a public-printing concept.

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer

… and your HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one inkjet printer could turn them out at your call

For this functionality to work with your printer, you have to supply its ePrint email address to the Skill as part of configuring it. Another limitation is that you can only bind one printer to that Skill which can be a limitation with multiple-printer households, especially where you may choose to run an HP Envy 100, Envy 120 or similar machine as a secondary machine kept in the kitchen.

Once this is set up, you could ask Alexa to print out something like an art-therapy colouring page or some ruled paper and your network-capable HP printer will turn these out.

What is still happening is that HP is still showing strong committment to the idea of the home or small-office printer being a highly-capable appliance rather than just a peripheral for a regular computer running a full-blown operating system. This means that the host device shouldn’t need to be dependent on a print driver to suit that particular machine. This committment was demonstrated through HP’s network-capable home printers and MFCs having UPnP Printing, then establishing the ePrint ecosystem with its email-to-print and print-from-the-control-panel functions, and now using your smart speaker to order documents to be printed.

What needs to happen is that other printer manufacturers show a strong committment towards home and small-business printers being able to work as a “printing appliance” rather than just as a computer peripheral.

This includes:

  • printing “download-to-print” resource collections hosted by content providers and other organisations or in storage locations on local, network or online storage locations using the printer’s control panel;
  • supporting voice-driven home assistant platforms and other control surfaces;
  • and running a polished “scan-to-email” and “enail-to-print” ecosystem.

Similarly, having other dedicated-purpose devices like Smart TVs, games consoles and the new crop of smart appliances being able to print to these devices without the need for particular software drivers.

Then it could see these devices become highly capable and as part of the smart-home ecosystem.

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Amazon Echo to land in Australia on February 1

Articles

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon Echo – to be available in Australia and New Zealand on February 1 2018

Amazon Echo Australian Launch: Pricing, Models And Availability | Lifehacker Australia

Aussie brands and publishers get on board with Amazon Echo | Adnews

Aussie enterprises jump on Alexa as bot lands down under | IT News

Everything You Need To Know About The Aussie Amazon Echo | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon Australia

Amazon Music Unlimited Coming to Australia and New Zealand on February 1 (Press release including refernce to Echo devices)

Product Page

My Comments

I have written some previous articles about Amazon’s Echo devices and Alexa platform but at the time of publication, these devices weren’t officially available in Australia. But Amazon have just announced that they are to launch these devices in the Australian and New Zealand market on February 1 2018.

This is although Google had launched their Home smart speaker and Assistant platform to the Australian market in July 2017.  Then, close to Christmas, they launched the Home Mini smart speaker and were gaining some momentum on the Australian market.

The devices to be initially available are the Echo smart speaker (AUD$119), the Echo Dot adaptor (AUD$49) which connects to an existing audio device with a line input; and the Echo Plus smart speaker (AUD$199) which is equipped with an integrated Zigbee home-automation hub. Amazon also has run an introductory offer for a pair of Echo Dot adaptors for AUD$79.  As well, Amazon are taking advance orders on these Echo devices with the goal to ship them out on February 1.

Amazon has localised Alexa to satisfy the needs of the Australian and New Zealand userbase including giving her that distinctive Aussie accent and having her providing relevant answers. But the moment this news was launched, a significant number of Australian brands got cracking with developing Alexa Skills which provide a link between their services and these Echo devices. For example, the Australian media names like ABC, SBS and News Corporation have worked with Amazon to have their content available through Alexa. Similarly, Westpac and NAB have provided Alexa Skills so you can find out the state of your accounts you have with them.

I see the arrival of Amazon Echo on the Australian marketplace as the start of a major showdown when it comes to voice-driven home-assistant platforms in this country. As well, it will be a wake-up call for Australian service providers to work on “skills” for these platforms.

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Steps are taking place to make Amazon Echo Show become a kitchen TV

Articles (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

A German software developer is taking steps to make the Amazon Echo Show become that small kitchen TV

Amazon: Neuer Alexa-Skill verwandelt Echo Show in einen Fernseher | Netzwelt.de (Germany / Deutschland)

Amazon Skill link

Fernseher für Alexa | Live-Streams hören und sehen

My Comments

There has been a practice amongst a significant number of households to keep a small television in the kitchen. This started off with the arrival of the small portable TVs but is now facilitated through the availability of small flatscreen TVs including computer monitors equipped with an integrated TV tuner. Here, it has been seen as a way to watch those news and lifestyle shows that are run during breakfast time by the TV stations while you are eating breakfast, or to watch daytime TV shows like “Days Of Our Lives” while ironing in the kitchen.

Similarly using a tablet that runs the appropriate client apps could yield the same goal, whether you are dealing with a “broadcast-LAN” tuner, a free-to-air TV platform that has member stations stream their content, a TV-Everywhere platform ran by a pay-TV service or something similar.

Now, with Amazon Echo Show and Spot on the scene along with the imminent arrival of smart displays based on the Google Assistant platform thanks to Lenovo and JBL, a software need has been identified. This need is to bring regular TV stations to these devices so they can become like that small TV.

One effort has taken place in Germany to bring the Internet streams provided by the German public TV stations and most of the cable channels to the Echo Show at your voice command. Hear, you can ask this “Stream Player” to show a station by name or by “channel number” and it will show up on the Echo Show.

What I see of this Alexa Skill that is being premiered in Germany is something that can appeal to a “free-to-air TV” consortium of the Freeview kind, a voice-driven interface for a broadcast-LAN tuner including the SAT-IP platform or a cable-TV provider’s “TV Everywhere” platform. Here, these Alexa Skills or platform-equivalent apps could then enable smart displays to work as the traditional TV. But it may be considered “heretical” by the Millennial generation who are used to watching content on their own terms.

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At CES 2018, Google is answering Amazon’s Echo Show with smart displays

Articles

JBL Link View smart display press picture courtesy of Harman International

JBL Link View – one of the smart displays that is Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo Show (Press picture courtesy of Harman International)

Google takes on Echo Show with four new smart displays | CNet

Google’s routines look ready for prime time at CES | CNet

Google unleashes ‘smart displays’ loaded with Google Assistant | PC World

Lenovo Smart Display makes Google Assistant a smart home sidekick | PC World

Lenovo announces Google Assistant-powered Smart Display | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Google

New devices and more: what’s in store for the Google Assistant this year (Blog Post)

Lenovo

Seeing is Believing on the New Lenovo™ Smart Display – with the Google Assistant™ Built In (Blog Post)

JBL

JBL® Announces LINK View, A Smart Display Speaker with The Google Assistant (Press Release)

My Comments

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Google is now giving the Amazon Echo Show something to worry about

Amazon has become the first company to integrate visual support in their voice-driven home assistant platform. This is in the form of the Echn Show and Echo Spot being “smart displays” with the ability to show text or other visual information to augment Alexa’s replies.

Now Google is answering Amazon by having a few other companies launch smart-display devices that work on their Google Home (Assistant) platform. The Consumer Electronics Show 2018 has effectively become the time for a showdown between both voice-driven home-assistant platforms.

These devices have the ability to work as a videophone thanks to integrated cameras and will have improved powerful speakers and microphone arrays. But they will miss out on the ability to show up Web pages. Rather they will provide visual feedback for Google Assistant replies or show videos at your command.

Lenovo has announced two of these smart displays – one with an 8” screen and grey back panel and one with a 10” screen and a bamboo back panel. Both of these units, equipped with the mono speaker and a touch screen can be positioned in a horizontal or vertical manner. They also have a switch to turn off the microphones along with a privacy shutter for their cameras.

JBL also premiered the Link View which has an 8” display but has stereo speakers and a rear-mounted passive radiator for that extra bass kick in the sound. LG and Sony are to release similar smart displays through the coming year thus building up Google Assistant’s position in this space.

But Google is integrating their Assistant (Home) platform in more smart speakers and TVs with some extant Android TVs from TCL, AirTV, Xiaomi and Skyworth having this function provided through a software update. Funai, Haier, Hisense, Westinghouse, Changhong and Element will roll this functionality in newer Android TVs that will be released this year. Of course, LG is integrating this functionality in their 4K UHD TVs.

You can’t escape Google Assistant when you get in to your car because it will be part of the Android Auto platform which a significant number of vehicle builders and aftermarket infotainment manufacturers are implementing.

What I see of this is that it will lead to a showdown between Google and Amazon regarding the voice-driven home assistant platforms that they offer. Who knows what else they could be lining up to answer each other with?

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