Category: Voice-driven home assistant platforms

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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TVs to work with Google Home and Amazon Alexa

Articles

LG’s 2018 TVs get faster and smarter with Google Assistant, Alexa | Engadget

LG 2018 TVs tap Google Assistant, Alexa for voice control | CNet

NVIDIA Shield to support Google Assistant | CNet (Video – Click or tap to play)

My Comments

A trend that is appearing for this year is to see Smart TVs equipped with the ability to work with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. In this case, there will be a microphone integrated in the remote control or the TV set and Google Assistant will reply through the TV’s speakers. The Amazon Alexa Skill that some manufacturers will offer will have access to some but not all of the TV’s functionality through your Amazon Echo or Alexa-compatible device.

Initially Sony had rolled out an Android TV software update to enable Google Assistant to work on their Android-based Smart TVs, while they have an Amazon Alexa Skill in beta-testing.

Now LG are building in Google Assistant in to their webOS Smart TVs which will have access to the EPG as well as functions essential to watching TV. It will also have the same control path as Google Home when it comes to controlling your smart-home devices and if you run a Google Home smart speaker, you could ask Google Assistant to do things like turn on the TV or change channels without needing the TV’s remote. They are also offering an Amazon Alexa Skill for those of you using Amazon Echo but this will provide a limited level of control over your LG TV.

NVIDIA has answered the TV-ownership reality that TV sets aren’t necessarily disposable by rolling out the Google Assistant to their Shield Android TV games console. Here, you can add Google Home control to your existing TV along with the ability to ask questions of Google Assistant. This is facilitated with integral microphones in its game controllers and remote control and Google Assistant replies through the connected TV’s speakers.

This highlights the market reality that TVs and video peripherals will be required to work with one or more of the voice-driven home assistants whether as an endpoint or as a function set added on to the home-assistant platform.

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Hey Cortana! You can work with GMail

Article

You can now connect Gmail to Cortana for calendar, mail, and contact support | Windows Central

My Comments

Windows 10 Cortana Notebook menu

Select “Connected Services” in Cortana’s notebook

Some of you may just use GMail simply as another Webmail account but you can have client-side access to it from certain email clients like Windows Mail, Outlook or your Android email client. Here, if you are using Windows Mail for example, you may find that you could have Cortana work your account from their simply by adding it to the list of accounts your Windows Mail installation works with.

But you may also just use the Web-based user interface for your GMail account and simply use it also as a contacts and calendar storage for your Android phone, especially if you do upgrade your phone frequently.

Add a Service menu in Windows 10 Cortana Notebook menu

Select GMail as the service to add to Cortana

Here, you can create a direct link between Cortana and your GMail account so you can summon her for information from that account. This can be of importance if you buy the Harman-Kardon Invoke smart speaker which is powered by Microsoft’s Cortana voice-driven personal assistant.

To do this, open Cortana on your Windows 10 computer and click on the Notebook icon. Then click on Connected Services in the menu that pops up. Select “Add a service”, then select “GMail”. Here, you will be asked for your Google username and password that you operate your GMail account with. Enter these credentials and Google will then ask you whether you want to allow Cortana access to your account. Once you assent to this, your GMail details are available to Cortana.

This will become more of a trend as an increasing number of social networks, Webmail services and the like provide the necessary “hooks” to allow the various voice-driven personal assistants to work with their services.

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BBC introduces interactive radio drama using Alexa

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon Echo and similar voice-driven assistants will end up being able to provide voice-driven interactive storytelling

BBC launches interactive voice drama for Amazon Alexa devices | CNet News

My Comments

Any of you who have lived in the UK or other British Commonwealth countries will be familiar with the BBC’s long-time expertise with radio plays. Examples of these include the unforgettable humour of the Goons or the long-evolving countryside drama that is the Archers. If you didn’t hear it on the BBC, you may have heard one of these dramas via a resource available through the Internet or a local public radio station syndicated one or more of the BBC radio plays, making it available to hear through your trusty radio. These are essentially comedy and drama that is delivered through an audio-only medium.

But the BBC are combining this old-time craft of theirs and the concept of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books to provide an interactive audio drama that you effectively participate in using, at the moment, the Amazon Alexa platform.  “The Inspection Chamber” is a science fiction comedy where you effectively are playing the “extra character” in the show to steer its plot.

It will also be very similar to those text-based adventure games made available through mainframe computers and early home-computer platforms but this effort will be about having a wider vocabulary and natural-language handling.

But I see this as a way to take voice-driven assistants further in the direction of providing entertainment in the form of “Choose Your Own Adventure” interactive storytelling. This could lead to other radio-drama houses and, to some extent, education / training environments taking this concept further to provide voice-driven interactive stories, such as to provide scenario-driven training or language learning.

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Smartphones and voice-activated home-assistant platforms help with managing your prescribed medications

Article

‘Alexa, order my meds’ — start-up NowRx pioneers prescription refills through Alexa and Google Home | CNBC

My Comments

There are steps that are taking place to interlink today’s technology with the chore of ordering your prescription medicines from the local pharmacist.

A system that has existed for a few years in Australia and is continuing to run is eRx Express which works with a mobile-platform app and QR codes that are printed on prescriptions. In this setup, a user could send a prescription order to their local pharmacy by scanning that QR code. But they would have to go to that pharmacy to collect and pay for their medicines, unless the pharmacy has established a home-delivery arrangement for the patient.

The main benefit is to allow a person to start things happening for a prescription to be filled from home, work or a shopping-centre’s food court and not have to wait around at the chemist’s while it is being filled. This system is part of an IT solution that is being offered to Australian doctors and pharmacists to improve the prescription-management workflow.

NowRx, a Silicon-Valley startup, have taken this further by providing a Skill for the Amazon Alexa and Google Home so you can use these voice-driven home-assistant platforms to order your prescription medicines. They want to make it feasible for you to request, refill or renew your medications with the last four digits of your prescription number.

Like the rest of Silicon Valley with their approach to traditional business models, they see it as a way to take on the traditional local chemist’s shop by running a robot-driven warehouse and home-delivery service, and at the moment, they have 400 Bay Area doctors as part of their network. NowRx uses Amazon and Google as a facilitation path so that their patients’ medical data isn’t held by the home-assistant platforms; something that is set up to avoid storing that data on systems that aren’t compliant with the US’s standards concerning medical-data privacy.

There are some people who could see these systems as trampling on what the pharmacy is about, including the management of a patient’s medication and the face-to-face interaction with the pharmacy’s customer base. But if these systems are set up as something that augments a local pharmacist’s workflow such as providing an express path for the supply of medication integral to a patient’s continual-therapy requirement, they can be seen as legitimate by most communities. This is more so where pharmacists are able to and encouraged to provide supplementary health-care services like vaccinations or first-aid as well as dispensing medication, a practiced performed in some European countries.

One of the analogies that can be related to with these services is when the financial industry started implementing automatic teller machines. There was the initial fear of these machines were about replacing bank teller staff but they ended up being primarily as an express option or an all-hours option for a customer to withdraw cash. In this case, the eRx and NowRx platforms would serve more as an express path for a patient to get to the medicines they need as part of their long-term therapy requirements.

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Google to answer Amazon with their own express shopfront

Article

Walmart voice shopping on Google Home is now live | CNet

Anti-Amazon Alliance Ad Unites Google, Walmart, Target, Costco And More | AdAge

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Google Express shopfront

Google Express TV ad (North America) – Tap or click to play

My Comments

The voice-driven home-assistant war between Google and Amazon has heated up further. This time, it is taking place in the form of express online shopping services where you can ask the assistant to order common household items and have them delivered to you. Here, it is more focused on you knowing what you are after and wanting to purchase a particular item of a kind.

Amazon has established this service through the Prime marketplace which requires a paid membership with them. This works with the Amazon Dash “push-to-order” infrastructure which is based around network-connected buttons and appliances with similar functionality available from their control surfaces; along with their Alexa voice-driven home assistant.

But Google answered them by offering the Google Express online storefront which works with third-party retailers that have partnered with Google. There is no paid subscription or membership fee and the goods can be delivered for free subject to the retailer’s free-delivery requirements like minimum order value.

At the moment, Google Express is partnering with Walmart, Toys R Us, Costco, Whole Foods and Target; all who are household names in the USA. But Google has pushed out their Google Home voice-driven home assistant to other countries like most of Western Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand with some of these countries not yet supporting Amazon Alexa.

If Google wanted to establish local presence for Google Express with markets that have Google Home established, they would have to work with local household names in the retail scene. This may be about dealing with one or more local full-line supermarket / hypermarket chains who have a strong presence in these other countries as in Tesco or Sainsburys in the UK; Auchan or Carrefour in most of Continental Europe; or Coles or Woolworths in Australia.

Of course, a question that can be easily raised is whether the express online shopping platforms that Amazon and Google are pushing are being seen as an intent to “rub out” the convenience stores, mid-size supermarkets and the like that exist close to people’s homes. A similar question was raised regarding the arrival of automatic teller machines and their impact on smaller bank branches. Here, these machines were seen more as an “express” path or “always-available” path for the common bank transactions while the branches were able to serve people whose banking needs were met better through in a “face-to-face” manner. But in the case of the convenience stores and mid-size supermarkets, these places may suit people who prefer to visit a place and buy many goods or services or do their shopping “face-to-face”.

But operating Google Express as simply an “interface” storefront between their platforms and third-party retailers may allow them to deal with more of these retailers rather than run their own online store. As well, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung need to watch what is going on in this space especially as the idea of express online shopping is something that will be part of the competitive platform that is the voice-driven home assistant.

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Amazon now provides Alexa improved access to landline and mobile telephone services

Article

Using the common household phone

Amazon now is the first voice-driven home assistant to provide a fully-functional equivalent to the traditional household telephone

You Can Now Place Outbound Phone Calls to Most Numbers With Your Amazon Echo Devices | Droid Life

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Echo Connect product page

My Comments

Recently Google stepped ahead by providing North American Google Home users the ability to make landline and mobile phone calls across the USA and Canada from their Google Home device. Amazon couldn’t take this lying down so they added the ability to call any landline or mobile phone in the USA, Canada and Mexico to their Alexa Calling and Messaging functionality. Here, you can say a phone number that you want Alexa to call and she will call that. This also applies to any contact in your mobile phone’s contact list that is bound with your Alexa setup.

Amazon Echo Connect adaptor press picture courtesy of Amazon

The Amazon Echo Connect box enables your Amazon Echo speakers to be your traditional household telephone

You still had the same limitations that were associated with Google Home’s calling functionality where your caller wouldn’t see your phone number on their Caller ID display. Nor could you take calls through Alexa or use the 911 national-emergency-number service to call for help.

But Amazon took this further by offering the Echo Connect which is a telephony interface device that connects between your home network and your standard telephone line or VoIP adaptor’s “FXS” socket. What this box really does is create a connection to your regular telephone service so you can use any Alexa-based device to make or take calls as if you are using your ordinary old telephone.

But they could improve on this by offering the Echo Connect functionality as software to be integrated in VoIP-capable Internet gateway devices so you don’t have to add extra boxes to your home network in order to provide this functionality. Similarly, they could look towards providing exchange-side software for telephone exchange / central-office equipment to facilitate a full-function landline telephone bridge for existing telephone-service customers.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Then this device now becomes your home telephone

When you make calls using the Echo Connect, your phone number will show up in your caller’s phone’s caller-ID display. In most cases, this would show up as a reference to whoever is calling you. Similarly, if someone rings you, Alexa will announce who it is that is calling you including the name of the contact in the previously-mentioned mobile contact list. Then you just ask Alexa to answer the call if you want to and your Echo device works like a speakerphone. Add to this the ability to call 911 from your Amazon Echo if you had to.

Again, this would be seen as retrograde with millennials who see the maintenance of a home phone line as being too quaint and outdated, whereupon you should “get with the program” and use a smartphone, preferably an iPhone, as you only telephony device. But these phones are still being seen as a common “catch-all” contact number for a household or for older people who have lived with the traditional telephone. The latest Amazon and Google efforts are carrying this concept of the traditional landline number over to the current online era. Infact, through the use of the Echo Connect device, Amazon have been the first company to enable their voice-driven home assistant platform serve the role of the traditional landline telephone in the context of both making and taking calls.

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Visual support–now a key trend for voice-activated home assistants

Article

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

The Amazon Echo Show – the first to prove the idea of an augment visual interface for the voice-driven home assistant

Amazon’s Echo Spot is a cuter version of the Echo Show | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Amazon Introduces a New Member of the Echo Family: Echo Spot (Press Release)

My Comments

A trend that is surfacing for the voice-activated home assistant device is for these devices to provide a display which works alongside the voice-activated assistant by providing some sort of visual feedback. The display can be physically integrated in the smart speaker or similar device or appear on another device that ties in with the home-assistant device such as a TV equipped with a Chromecast or similar dongle.

Amazon Echo Spot press picture courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Spot – the smaller brother of the Echo Show

Amazon kicked this off with the Echo Show that has an integrated colour touchscreen and augments Alexa replies with visual information as well as being an IP-based videophone. Then Sony integrated a clock display in to their Google Assistant speaker that was being premiered at IFA this year.

Now Amazon premiered their Echo Spot which is about the size of a traditional alarm clock and uses a circular touchscreen as its display. This device was being offered as the smaller bedroom-friendly version of the Echo Show.

But what is this functionality about?

This functionality is about providing visual support to a user’s interaction with a device that is based on a voice-driven home assistant platform. This can range from constantly-displayed information like the current time or the weather to written information that augments an answer offered by Alexa or the Google Assistant. It can also be information that is dependent on current or upcoming events like reminders, information about the music that is playing through the device or the status of an appliance or other device connected to your smart-home setup.

Setups that implement a colour graphical display, whether integrated or as an outboard screen, could take this concept further with photos, album cover art and other material that are part of the visual interface. Examples of this could be Alexa showing pictures of restaurants in response to a query about the best-value eats in town or the device being an electronic picture frame, referring to a collection of photos hosted on the network or the cloud. Let’s not forget that devices with a colour graphical display would implement the screen as a display for a compatible network video-surveillance camera or video intercom.

Of course, whoever programs the skills for Alexa, Google Assistant or other similar platforms will be wanting to write in the visual support and have to provide text as a baseline visual display. Personally I would see this feature as part of how Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Cortana and Siri will evolve in the voice-activated home assistant context.

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Companies now to support multiple voice-driven home assistants

Articles

Harman now has smart speakers for Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant | Engadget

The Sonos smart speaker with microphone hits the FCC | The Verge

Sonos to announce new smart speaker on October 4th | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Harman

WHEN VOICE MEETS SOUND (Press Release)

Introducing JBL® LINK Series: Immersive JBL Sound Now Available with the Google Assistant (Press Release)

HARMAN introduces Harman Kardon Allure with Amazon Alexa to the Voice Activated Speaker Family (Press Release)

My Comments

Harman Allure smart speaker press image courtesy of Harman

Harman Allure smart speaker powered by Amazon Alexa

The Internationaler Funkaustellung trade show has been and gone but this time more manufacturers were premiering smart-speaker products based on either the Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant platforms.

One of these is the Sony LF-S50G speaker that looks like Apple’s Siri-based HomePod smart speaker but has an integrated display while Panasonic were also launching the GA10 which is a box-like smart speaker. Both of these speakers work with Google Assistant.

But a few companies have put their feet in multiple ponds by supporting two or more platforms. One way is to offer different models or product ranges that are based on different platforms. The other is to attempt to have the one smart speaker able to be set up to work on one of many platforms that the user chooses.

JBL Link smart speaker range press picture courtesy of Harman

JBL Link smart speaker range powered by Google Assistant

The former approach has been taken by Harman who have multiple names of respect in the hi-fi, sound-recording, PA and allied industries under their wings. Initially, they offered the Invoke smart speaker that is based on the Microsoft Cortana platform. Now the premiered the JBL Link range of smart speakers that work on the Google Assistant platform as well as offering the Harman-Kardon Allure smart speaker that is based on the Amazon Alexa platform.

Pioneer and Onkyo recently underwent a “Renault-Nissan” merger of their home audio and AV businesses and offered a few smart speaker models based on the different platforms. Here, Pioneer premiered the Smart Speaker F4 which is based on the Amazon Alexa platform while Onkyo launched the Smart Speaker G3 based on the Google Assistant platform while maintaining the Alexa-based VC-FLX1 smart speaker that was launched at CES 2017.

The latter approach has been taken by Sonos with their S13 prototype smart speaker that is intended to be released on October 4. Here, they put forward the idea of having the user to have this speaker work with Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant rather than being stuck with one platform. It is seen as a premium-level attack at the Apple HomePod which will be based on Siri.

The approach of a manufacturer supporting different voice-driven-assistant platforms like Alexa or Google Assistant in different product ranges may appeal to companies who see one of the platforms offer a particular premium-level cachet which can tie in with their premium product ranges. This is while a popular platform like Alexa or Google Assistant could end up being focused on to popularly-targeted products.

Compare this with the idea of having multiple platforms supported by the same smart-speaker or similar device. Here, it can appeal to TVs, hi-fi / home-theatre components and allied devices that are expected by customers to run for the long haul or with premium network speaker products.

Either trend could be support by many different manufacturers while the devices that you interact with for these platforms could end up being more than just the cylindrical benchtop speakers.

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