Category: Home / building automation and security

Why do I prefer a smart lock to be able to work with traditional keys?

Kwikset Kevo cylindrical deadbolt in use - Kwikset press image

The Kwikset Kevo is an example of a smart lock which also supports the traditional key

Some smart locks maintain the metal key as an outside-access option, while others don’t have this ability, often being marketed as “keyless or key-free”. The keyless smart-lock setups use external power as a fail-over means of allowing user access if the smart lock’s batteries fail. This is facilitated through 9V battery terminals or a USB power-only socket on the outside of the lock.

The limitation here is that you need to have or acquire the correct external-power means to operate the smart lock if it has dead batteries. This also doesn’t work around logic failures or configuration errors that can affect a smart lock or problems associated with balky smartphones that frustrate user access.

Why traditional keys

There are two obvious cases where the traditional key is valued for a smart lock. One is for rental or other managed-building setups where a landlord, estate agent or property manager need access to your premises at all times. This is typically part of your conditions of occupancy set out in documents like leases. Some of these situations require that the lock be part of a traditional master-key setup that encompasses the building, often with the keying system being a restricted-key setup.

The other is where there are people who reside at or visit your premises who are more comfortable handling traditional keys rather than cards, fobs, codes or smartphones as a means of access. This can be something associated with older generations who are still familiar with this access technique and don’t want to learn a new approach.

August Smart Lock press picture courtesy of August

Even retrofit kits for your existing lock like this August Smart Lock kit for “bore through” cylindrical deadbolts allow use of the traditional key

A smart lock equipped with a traditional-key cylinder is designed so that there is mechanical linking between the cylinder and the bolt independent of the electronic and electromechanical aspects that it has. This allows for sure-fire secure fail-over access with the traditional key that is something most users would be familiar with.

It works around both the dead-battery situation and other situations that can occur with computer-based devices like general hardware and software failure.  As well, if you use your smartphone as the access means for your smart lock and your phone’s battery dies or a software failure occurs within your phone, your keys can be used as a failover measure.

Some manufacturers even establish a “privacy” or “security” operation mode with these locks that disable electronic access and only allow access with the traditional key. The use case outlined with this operating mode is to give a copy of the metal key to those who really need access to your premises at all times such as a close relative or friend. Then you disable the smart-lock functionality with the codes or cards given to other people who don’t always need access to your premises when you want surefire privacy.

How is this being delivered?

The retrofit kits that convert existing bore-through deadbolts or Euro-profile mortice locks to smart locks are designed to maintain use of the traditional key that is associated with the lockset that is being converted.

The Le Poste solution available in France that adds smart lock functionality to a Euro-profile lock

But there are some new-install smart locks on the market that are designed to be able to work with a traditional key from the outside. This is in addition to the electronic access means that the typical smart lock will offer. Most of these come as a deadbolt or key-in-lever entrance set designed for “bore-through” installation. Let’s not forget the Gainsbourough FreeStyle TriLock smart lock that is intended to be able to replace an existing Gainsborough TriLock “bore-through” entrance set or be installed anew.

What this may entail

If you need to maintain the existing key that you were using or have to have the traditional-key-capable smart lock part of your building’s master-key or restricted-key environment, you would need to have a locksmith perform the necessary modifications. This job may be about “transferring” the keying setup from your existing lock to the mew smart lock.

But also be aware if your traditional-key-capable smart lock has a standard interchangeable cylinder part, something that is common with the Euro-profile retrofit kits. Here, you can supply the key or outside cylinder from your existing lockset as a reference for this transfer operation.

How could it be improved on

A major way that traditional-key support in a smart lock can be augmented is for activity relating to the metal-key cylinder being treated in the same way as use of codes, cards or smartphones. That is in the same context as having the internal thumbturn that you use to manually operate the smart lock from inside treated in the same way.

Here, using the traditional key to open the door or locking the door from the inside using the thumbturn could be logged as an access instance or seen as an event in the context of your smart home technology. This could be about letting you know if someone who normally uses the traditional key has arrived. Or it could be about enabling your home in to “occupied” mode thus having the lighting come on or the heating / air-conditioning come on to a comfortable temperature.

Conclusion

The traditional metal key is still important when it comes to the newer smart locks. Here, it is more so as a secure surefire failover access solution or to maintain as a means of access for people who are comfortable with these keys.

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Z-Wave can work with the new Matter IoT ecosystem

Article

Z-Wave: Matter is an opportunity for true interoperability (the-ambient.com)

From the horse’s mouth

Z-Wave Alliance

Z-Wave: Matter is an opportunity for true interoperability (Press Release)

What’s the Matter with Z-Wave? (Blog Post)

My Comments

The new Matter Internet-of-Things ecosystem based on Zigbee and CHoIP technology is being established and promoted for the smart home. But the Z-Wave Alliance are not part of this ecosystem. But I see it as not just applying to the Z-Wave platform but to other platforms like the DECT-ULE home-automation platform preferred within Europe.

Here, some people may see this as the creation of a technology war but Z-Wave are seeing it as a complementary smart-home technology that can work with the Matter ecosystem. It is although Matter is providing higher-level and intermediate level bridging between Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee (Thread) network interfaces.

Z-Wave and Matter interoperability diagram courtesy of Z-Wave Alliance

How Z-Wave and Matter can coexist in a smart-home setup

How is this being achieved? Here, Z-Wave envisages the use of hardware devices with a Z-Wave interface and software that effectively bridges the protocols and device types between the Matter ecosystem and the Z-Wave ecosystem. In some cases, it can include “presenting” devices existing on one ecosystem to another ecosystem.

It is an idea that key IoT and smart-home industry giants like Amazon, Google, Apple and Samsung are pushing. This is because they want to see this form of interoperability through “central” gateway or hub devices that effectively co-ordinate how the smart home works. Samsung has achieved this goal in some form with their SmartThings smart-home platform by running Zigbee and Z-Wave devices on the same system.

Some devices like this Yale smart lock could be set up either for a Matter ecosystem or a Z-Wave Alliance ecosystem through the use of a retrofittable module

Most likely, the smart home will be reliant on a central “hub” of some sort to facilitate time-driven or event-driven operation of multiple smart-home devices. These may have their own direct control surfaces or can be controlled by a local Web interface, a mobile platform app or even a “skill” or “action” for a voice-driven home assistant.

There is also an industry “want” to see border / edge devices or endpoint devices being able to support the Matter ecosystem or the Z-Wave ecosystem. This may include approaches like what Assa Abloy are doing with some of their smart-lock products by providing different retrofittable modules for different smart-home systems.

It is in addition to keeping Z-Wave relevant to devices like smart locks or sensors that exist on the edge of the network and are likely to run primarily on batteries. It is due to Z-Wave having inherent peer-to-peer mesh support and optimisation for long-term battery operation.

At least the smart-home and Internet-of-Things industry are doing what they can to allow multiple interface technologies to work together.

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Alexa comes to the Internet fridge

Article

Samsung Family Hub with Amazon Alexa concept image courtesy of Samsung USA

Now it’s about integrating Amazon Alexa in the internet fridge

Samsung’s Family Hub fridge now comes with Alexa built-in – CNET

From the horse’s mouth

Samsung

Samsung’s Next-Generation Family Hub Offers Families Even More Convenience and Control (Press Release)

My Comments

Samsung is still pushing the Internet fridge idea further by integrating Amazon’s Alexa as an alternative voice-driven home assistant for that product class.

The Internet fridge, a very mythical product class associated with the dot-com era, is a household fridge-freezer that has Internet connectivity and a large built-in display. It also is expected to provide inventory-management for the food supplies in your pantry and fridge as well as being a digital communal noticeboard for the household and a user interface for the smart home.

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

… obviating the need for an Amazon Echo smart speaker in the kitchen

But Samsung has refreshed the Family Hub internet-fridge platform to the sixth generation and has built in software support to work with either the Alexa or their own Bixby voice-driven home assistant platform.  It is also part of integrating the Family Hub with the Mattter Connected Home Alliance that embeds Connected Home over IP along with Zigbee Alliance.

Alexa users have access to the Amazon online services along with an ever-growing pool of Alexa Skills developed by various third parties, as if you are using an Echo smart speaker. Let’s not forget that the idea of running Bixby and Alexa on the one device is part of a direction Amazon is heading with their Voice Interoperability Initiative and other projects where they want Alexa to work alongside other voice assistants or allow a device manufacturer who has their own voice assistant to run Alexa alongside it.

It is also very similar to Samsung allowing users to choose between their Bixby voice assistant and the Google voice assistant on their Android phones. That is although Samsung hasn’t bitten the bullet and joined the Voice Interoperability Initiative themselves.

This can work with any Samsung Family Hub Internet fridge built since 2017 i.e. the second-generation and newer Family Hub products. Here, you are meant to be able to add this functionality as if you are doing a software update for these products.  It underscores the reality with fridges that they are expected to last a long time.

It certainly shows that Samsung has its mind invested towards the Internet fridge idea and will keep working on it in the form of a platform that works across a range of their fridge types.

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How can you run multiple accounts on one Amazon Echo device?

Articles

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

It can be feasible to run multiple accounts on one Amazon Echo device but there are limitations here

How to Add Multiple Accounts to Your Amazon Echo (lifehacker.com.au)

How to use your Echo with two Amazon accounts – The Verge

My Comments

Amazon offers a limited way to run multiple accounts on Echo devices within your home.

Here it requires you to create a logical “household” as far as Amazon’s services are concerned. You have to click this Amazon Household help page for further instructions: (Amazon.com Help: Create Your Amazon Household). Here, this is something you have to do on the Amazon Website rather than using the Amazon Alexa mobile-platform app.

When you add accounts to your logical household, each adult member will receive an email with a link that requires them to consent to being added to your household. In the case of Child or Teen accounts, their parents are sent this email so they can consent to the child being part of that logical household.

This is limited to 2 adults and four adolescents (Teens) or kids. It is focused towards the ability to purchase goods and services through Amazon Prime memberships within the household or to have a pooled content library.

The Alexa platform exploits this feature in the form of: notifications for each household member, photos one each member’s display-capable device, or the ability to make and take calls from Alexa devices in the household.

There is the ability to remove a member from a logical household but this member cannot join another household until after 180 days. But they can contact Amazon Support to override this limitation, which would be something that would have to be done of one moves out.

What could be done

The Amazon logical household functionality does not cater to the many-adult households in an effective manner. This is currently a strong reality as kids are living with their parents in to their adulthood due to issues like housing-affordability crises that affect most urban areas. Or adult children are becoming caregivers for their elderly parents as a way to allow their parents to maintain the family house or avoid questionable aged care.

Here, Amazon could support an increased number of adults on one logical household perhaps five adults. This could include allowing Teen accounts to be promoted to Adult accounts at certain times. This is similar to the issue I have raised regarding Netflix and similar services where multiple accounts could be supported on common endpoint devices.

As well, there could be the ability not to require a 180-day waiting period that is placed upon members who move between households. This would be of value for people like long-term houseguests or caregivers who are moving between their home and yours.

In the case of Amazon Alexa platform devices, there could be the ability to maintain some devices as “communal to all users” or “exclusive to particular users” so as to assure user privacy in some way. This can come in to its own with devices kept in bedrooms or lounge areas used exclusively by particular adults. Such a setup could expose some “communal” functionality to the “private” devices while keeping other functionality exclusive to those devices.

Conclusion

The use of a logical household is a step Amazon is taking to cater towards the reality of busy households, especially when it comes to operating the Alexa voice-assistant platform.

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The Internet fridge–still considered very mythical

Samsung Family Hub Internet fridge lifestyle image courtesy of Samsung USASince the “dot-com” era of the late 1990s, there has been a very mythical home appliance often cited by Internet visionaries. This is the Internet fridge or “smart fridge” which is a regular household refrigerator equipped with Internet connectivity and a large built-in display.

It is expected to provide access to a wide range of online services like online shopping, online photo albums, email and messaging, and online music services. It is also expected to keep track of the food and drink that is held therein using a simple inventory-management program.

In the context of the smart home, the Internet fridge is expected to be a “dashboard” or “control surface” for lighting. heating and other equipment associated with the home. Often the vision for the smart home is to have as many control surfaces around the home to manage what happens therein like setting up HVAC operating temperatures or turning lighting on and off according to particular usage scenarios.

The Internet-fridge idea is based on the concept of the typical household refrigerator’s door ending up as the noticeboard for that household thanks to its role as the main food-storage location for the people and pets therein. There is the thriving trade in “fridge magnets” that people use to decorate their fridge’s door. Let’s not forget that some households have even put a radio or TV on top of the fridge that they can flick on for information or entertainment in the kitchen.

Who is making these appliances?

At the moment, Samsung and LG are making Internet-fridges in production quantities available to the market. These are typically positioned as American-style wide-format fridges that also have the integrated ice makers. Samsung offers theirs in a few different compartment configurations with the cheapest being a two-door fridge-freezer arrangement.

But most of the other white-goods manufacturers exhibit examples of these Internet fridges at trade fairs primarily as proof-of-concept or prototype designs. These are typically based on common fridge-freezer designs already on the market but are modified with Internet functionality.

But the Internet-fridge idea has not become popular with most people. Why is that so?

One issue is to do with the computer hardware associated with the Internet-fridge concept. These setups typically have a separate computer from the microcontroller circuitry associated with keeping the appliance’s compartments to the appropriate temperature or managing ice-maker or chilled-water functionality. But this computer hardware is effectively integrated in the appliance in a manner that makes it hard for users to upgrade to newer expectations.

This means that if this computer fails or gets to a point where it is “end-of-life”, the user loses the full functionality associated with the Internet fridge. The same thing can happen if, for example, the touchscreen that the user uses to interact with the Internet fridge’s online abilities fails to work.

It is underscored by the fact that a household refrigerator is in that class of appliance that is expected to serve a household for many years. As I have seen, many households will buy a new fridge when an old fridge fails to operate properly or when they are making a new house and want to upgrade their fridge. This is even though a lot of consumer IT equipment isn’t expected to provide that length of service thanks to rapidly-advancing technology.

Another factor is the software and online services associated with the Internet fridge. Typically this is engineered by the appliance manufacturer to provide the “branded experience” that the manufacturer wants to convey to the consumer.

The questions associated with the software focus around the appliance manufacturer’s continual attention to software security and quality over the lifetime of the Internet fridge. It includes protecting the end-users’ privacy as they use this appliance along with allowing the appliance to do its job properly and in a food-safe manner.

I would also add to this the competitive-trade issues associated with online services. Here, appliance manufacturers could easily create exclusive agreements with various online-service providers and not allow competing service providers access to the Internet-fridge platform. It can extend to online-shopping platforms that tie in with the inventory-management software associated with the Internet fridge platform.

Such exclusive partnerships with online service providers or online-shopping platforms will make it difficult for customers to use their preferred online-service or online-shopping platform with an Internet fridge. In the case of online-shopping platforms, it will become difficult for smaller, specialist or independent food suppliers to participate in these platforms especially if the platform has “tied up” a significant customer base. That can be achieved with excessive fees and charges or onerous terms and conditions for the merchants.

Let’s not forget that the Internet fridge ended up, like the Aeron-style office chair, being seen as a status symbol associated with the dot-com bubble.

For that matter, householders are using alternative approaches to the same goal touted by the Internet-fridge suppliers. Here, they are using smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home or, if they are after a display-driven solution, they will use a smart display like Amazon Echo Show or a Google-Assistant-based smart display. Let’s not forget that the iPad or Android-based tablets are offering the idea of a ubiquitous control / display surface for the smart home.

What can be done to legitimise the Internet fridge as far as consumers are concerned?

As for the hardware, I would recommend a long-tailed approach which is focused on modularity. Here, newer computer, connection or display modules can be installed in the same fridge by the user or a professional as part of an upgrade approach. It could allow the appliance manufacturer to offer a cheaper range of standard-height household fridges that can be converted to Internet fridges at a later time when the user purchases and installs an “Internet display kit” on their appliance.

Furthermore, if the hardware or connectivity is of a standard form, it could allow a third-party vendor to offer this functionality on a white-label basis to appliance manufacturers who don’t necessarily want to reinvent the wheel. It can also apply to those appliance manufacturers who offer products in a “white-label” form under a distributor’s or retailer’s brand.

One approach I would recommend for software is access to ubiquitous third-party software platforms with a lively developer ecosystem like Android. The platforms should have an app store that maintains software quality. This means that users can install the software associated with what they need for their Internet fridge.

The problem that manufacturers may see with this approach is providing a user interface for controlling how the fridge operates such as setting the fridge, freezer or other compartment temperatures. Here, this could be facilitated by an app that runs as part of the Internet fridge’s display ecosystem. It may also be preferred to provide basic and essential control for the Internet fridge’s refrigeration and allied functionality independent of the Internet display functionality and create a secure firewall between those functions to assure food safety and energy efficiency.

Using open-frame approaches for building Internet-display functionality in to fridges may help with reducing the cost of this kind of functionality in these products. It could also encourage ubiquity in a low-risk form as well as encouraging innovation in this product class.

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ARD takes interactive audio content to Germany

Articles (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

ARD is now on to interactive audio drama for Amazon Echo and similar smart speakers — this time based on Tatort

INFODIGITAL – Der Tatort wird interaktiv: ‘Höllenfeuer’ (infosat.de)

Tatort Interaktiv (ARD Gruppe)

Previous coverage on interactive audio content

BBC introduces interactive radio drama using Alexa

My Comments

The BBC have used their world-famous radio-play craft to create an interactive audio drama that works hand-in-glove with the Amazon Alexa platform. The listeners interact with their Amazon Echo or Alexa-based smart speaker to direct how the story goes.  Here it intermingled the radio-play expertise with those “Choose Your Own Adventure” storybooks or the text-based adventure computer games.

Now the German ARD group of public-service broadcasters have taken on a similar effort but have carried their effort on the back of the “Tatort” crime-drama series that is a mainstay of German-language TV content. The effort would be very similar to the early Police Quest series of crime-themed graphic adventure games that Sierra launched through the late 1980s and early 1990s; or the LA Noire video adventure game released in 2011 and set in late-1940s post-WWII Los Angeles.

They have taken this further by making it work on both the Alexa and Google Assistant platforms including their mobile-platform assistant apps as well as the smart speakers. In addition to this, ARD even provides a Web-based interactive audio adventure so you don’t have to use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for this kind of game.

What is peculiar about Tatort is that this German-language crime series has different investigation teams that are each based in different cities or districts within Germany, Austria or Switzerland who solve the cases within that area. Each episode that comes on in the German-speaking countries through their public-service broadcaster on Sunday night 8:15pm local time will appear with a case from a different city.

This interactive audio play, called Höllenfeuer in German or Hellfire in English, has been prepared primarily by Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) with the help of WestDeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) and uses the Munich-based Tatort crime-investigation team. The player controls the character of Kommissarin Mavi Fuchs who works alongside Kriminalkommissar Kalli Hammermann to solve the case. You have to use voice commands to direct these protagonists in the interactive audio play which can be replayed if you are trying to “get the grip of it” further.

But what is happening is that some broadcasters are discovering the idea of mixing radio plays with interactive elements to provide the audio equivalent of classic adventure computer games. Then they are linking these products with voice-driven assistant platforms. The approach ARD have taken with Tatort is to use this new form of delivering audio content effectively to take their existing intellectual property, especially a tentpole TV show, further.

It can be seen as a way to take am existing content franchise further and implement it in a new form, especially an interactive audio play. This is more so as the smart speakers and other voice-driven-assistant devices become more popular.

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How can you use Amazon Alexa to measure room temparature

Article

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

These new Echo speakers can work as temperature sensors for a room

How to Get an Amazon Echo to Tell You a Room’s Temperature (lifehacker.com)

My Comments

Newer Amazon Echo smart speakers are being equipped with room-temperature sensors that contribute this data to the Alexa smart-home subsystem.

Here, the devices you need to use in the rooms you want to measure the temperature of are:

  • Amazon Echo 4th Generation (spherical) or newer generation
  • Amazon Echo Plus 2nd Generation (cylindrical) or newer generation

To confirm your Amazon Echo device’s room-temperature measuring ability, you need to open the Alexa app or http://alexa.amazon.com and log in to your Amazon account. Then you go to “Devices”, then “Echo & Alexa” and select the name of your Echo smart speaker that you want to verify. Here, you need to look for the “Temperature Sensor” field which will come up with the current room temperature if your Echo speaker is suitably equipped.

Each Echo device that you want to use as a temperature sensor has to be given a unique room name. Then to ask Alexa for the current room temperature of a particular room, you say “Alexa, what is the temperature for <desired room name>?”

There are limitations with this setup at the moment. You can’t ask for a house-wide indoor temperature or the indoor temperature of a room cluster like upstairs. This is because Amazon hasn’t worked out what way whether to assess the room temperature of an area covered by multiple devices as an average or what other way. Nor have they added the necessary logic to do so.

But you can create a temperature-based routine that works with this temperature for the Alexa smart home. For example, you may have a fan or heater come on if the room reaches or falls below a minimum temperature. This may be a situation where you don’t have an occasionally-used room that isn’t part of your central HVAC setup and you use portable heating or cooling equipment for this purpose.

Or you want to be alerted if a room of yours falls below a critical temperature level so you can undertake procedures to mitigate frost or pipes freezing up.

What Amazon will need to do for Alexa in relation to this is to make this more useful is to allow averaging of multiple temperature sensors so you can measure areas larger than a room. As well, it could cater to environments where you have multiple suitably-equipped Echo speakers in one room like in a large kitchen / dining area for example.

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Gainsborough TriLock appears now as a smart lock

Articles –From the horse’s mouth

Gainsborough Hardware

FreeStyle TriLock smart lock

Product Page

Product Microsite

Press Release from Allegion (parent company of Gainsborough Hardware)

Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

My Comments

During the 1990s, a type of residential door lock had come on the market which conveys the look of a mortice lock but has the simple quick installation approach associated with the “bore-through” cylindrical or tubular form factors.

One of these entrance locksets that came about was the Gainsborough TriLock entrance set. This offered double-cylinder “deadlock” security demanded in the Australian market but had the ability for users to just lock the outside handle from the inside by pressing a button.

But Gainsborough Hardware have revised this lockset to become a smart lock. This entrance set, known as the FreeStyle TriLock, has a concealable keypad for users to enter their access codes when they want to enter, no matter whether it is locked from both sides or just the outside. There is an intent behind this lock’s design to allow a householder to replace a TriLock lockset that was on their front door without needing to drill new holes or refinish the door.

As well, it used Bluetooth connectivity with manufacturer-supplied smartphone apps so you can control the lock from your smartphone, including being notified of someone arriving at your home and letting themselves in. Of course, the FreeStyle TriLock allows you to use the traditional metal key to unlock the door, with this existing as a failsafe measure as well as for those of us still comfortable with the traditional key.

This unit can support up to 20 users and has the ability to schedule individual users’ access to your premises. The optional Gainsborough Bluetooth-Wi-Fi network bridge paves the way for remote management of this lockset, something that would pleas holiday-home or short-let premises owners.

There will be the issue of whether this smart lock will “tie in” with other smart-home systems like Amazon Alexa / Google Assistant (Home), Samsung SmartThings and similar platforms. This will be more so as we expect more out of these smart locks beyond letting ourselves and others in to our premises.

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A Sharp Alexa-enabled microwave could be about task-driven cooking

Article

Sharp Smart Countertop Microwave Oven press picture courtesy of Sharp USA

Sharp’s first smart countertop microwave oven features Wi-Fi connectivity and certified Works with Alexa compatibility for hands-free operation using voice commands.

Sharp’s New Alexa-Powered Microwave Is Even More Confusing Than Amazon’s | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Sharp USA

Sharp Launches its First Smart Countertop Microwave Ovens (Press Release)

My Comments

Most of us who use a microwave oven tend to specify cooking times and power intensities for each cooking job. This is even though most of today’s microwave ovens use job-specific cooking functions that are available to us. But some of us may decide to use a “popcorn” cooking function to cook most microwave popcorn.

These functions can confuse most of us due to different approaches to invoking them that exist between different makes and models of microwave oven.  As well, other differences that will crop up include how long these tasks are expected to take. It is also analagous to working from any recipes that are part of your microwave oven’s documentation, because these may not work out correctly if you end up using a different appliance.

Here, this issue will be considered important as more of us place value on the microwave as a cooking option for something like, perhaps, those green vegetables. It can also bamboozle anyone who uses traditional cooking techniques like the conventional oven but finds themselves in a situation where they have to primarily rely on the microwave oven for cooking needs like when they stay in a serviced apartment or AirBnB.

Amazon had released to the US market the AmazonBasics microwave that works with their Alexa voice-assistant ecosystem. But this is seen as an elementary appliance, answering most common cooking tasks. Sharp has now come to the fore with two of their microwaves that are released to the US market.

Here, the difference is to use Alexa as a gateway to the advanced cooking tasks that these microwaves offer. The press release talked of us saying to an Amazon Echo device “Alexa, defrost 2 pounds of meat” and the microwave will be set up to thaw out two pounds of frozen meat. The larger model of the two will have the ability for you to ask Alexa to set the microwave up for something like cooking broccoli or other veggies.

I see this as being about using voice assistant platforms to open up a common user interface for the advanced microwave-cooking tasks that your microwave would offer. But for this to work effectively, the user needs to know what the expected cooking time would be for the task and when they need to intervene during the cooking cycle.

As well, more of the voice assistant platforms need to come on board for this approach to advanced microwave cookery. Let’s not forget that the display-based voice assistants can even come in to their own in this use case such as to list ingredients and preparation steps for what you intend to cook.

Here, the voice assistants will become a way to lead users to use the microwave beyond reheating food, melting butter and chocolate or cooking microwave popcorn/

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Apple, Google and Amazon create home theatre setups around their platforms




Apple Amazon Google (coming soon)
Set-top device Apple TV (tvOS 11 or newer) Fire TV Stick
Fire TV Cube (2nd Generation or newer)
Chromecast with Google TV
Audio Devices HomePod or
AirPlay-compliant audio devices
Echo (2nd Generation), Echo Dot (3rd Generation) or newer Echo smart speaker devices Nest Audio smart speakers
Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – part of a HomePod / AirPlay enhanced audio setup for online video content

Apple, Amazon and Google have or are establishing audio-video platforms based around their smart speaker and set-top devices. This is in order to allow you to stream the audio content from video you are watching through their companion audio devices.

The idea with these setups is to “gang” the platform-based set-top box and the speakers together to provide improved TV sound for online services like Netflix. Some like Amazon describe this approach as home theatre but what happens is that if you have a pair of like speakers ganged with the set-top device, you have stereo sound with increased separation at least. It is based around these companies building it to their platforms the ability for users to have two like speakers in one room set up as a stereo pair for that same goal. Amazon’s setup also allows you to use their Echo Sub subwoofer module to improve the bass response of their setup.

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

These new Amazon Echo speakers can work as part of an enhanced-audio setup for the Amazon Fire TV set-top platform

It is in addition to being able to stream the sound from an online video source you are watching using these set-top devices to a smart speaker of the same platform for remote listening.

The current limitation with these setups is that they only work with online sources provided by the set-top device that is the hub of the setup. This is because neither of these devices support HDMI-ARC functionality in any way, which allows sound from the TV’s own tuner or video peripherals connected to the TV to be played via a compliant audio device.

These companies who are part of the Silicon Valley establishment see the fashionable way to watch TV content is to use online video-on-demand services facilitated by their own set-top devices. But some user classes would benefit from HDMI-ARC support in many ways.

For example, the TV’s own tuner is still relevant in UK, Europe, Oceania and some other countries due to these areas still placing value on free-to-air broadcast TV. This is centred around the ingrained experience of switching between channels using the TV’s own remote control with the attendant quick response when you change channels. It is also becoming relevant to North America as cord-cutting picks up steam amongst young people and they look towards the TV’s own tuner alongside an indoor antenna to pick up local TV services for current news or local sport.

Google to have Chromecast with Google TV work with their Nest Audio speakers at least

As well, some users maintain the use of other video-peripheral devices with their TVs. This will apply to people who play games on their TV using a computer or games console, watch content on packaged media like DVDs, use PVR devices to record TV content or subscribe to traditional pay TV that uses a set-top box.

It will be interesting to see whether this operating concept regarding set-top devices and smart speakers that is driven by Apple, Google and Amazon will be developed further. Here this could exist in the form of set-top devices and platforms that are engineered further for things like HDMI-ARC or surround sound.

There will also be the question about whether these setups will ever displace soundbars or fully-fledged home-theatre setups for improved TV sound. On the other hand, they could be placed as a platform-driven entry-level approach for this same goal.

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