Category: Voice-driven home assistant platforms

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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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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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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Amazon’s next generation of Echo devices to use edge computing

ArticlesAmazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

New Amazon Echo devices

Everything Amazon announced at its September event | Mashable

Amazon hardware event 2020: Everything the company announced today | Android Authority

Use of edge computing in new Echo devices

Amazon’s Alexa gets a new brain on Echo, becomes smarter via AI and aims for ambience | ZDNet

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Introducing the All-New Echo Family—Reimagined, Inside and Out (Press Release)

New Echo (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

New Echo Dot (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

New Echo Show 10 (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

My Comments

Amazon are premiering a new lineup of Echo smart-speaker and smart-display devices that work on the Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform.

These devices convey a lot of the aesthetics one would have seen in science-fiction material or “future living” material written from the 1950s to the 1970s. It is augmented by an indoor camera drone device that Amazon released around the same time.

As well, all of these devices have the spherical look that conveys that retro-futuristic industrial-design style that was put forward from the 1950s to the early 1970s like with the Hoover Constellation vacuum cleaner of the era or the Grundig Audiorama speakers that were initially designed in the 1970s thanks to the Space Race. You might as well even ask Alexa to pull up and play space-age bachelor-pad music from Spotify or Amazon Music through these speakers.

It is even augmented further with the base of the Echo and Echo Dot lighting up as a pin-stripe to indicate the device’s current status. This industrial design also permits the implementation of a 360-degree sound approach that can impress you a lot. It also is a smart-home hub that works with Zigbee, Bluetooth Low Energy and Amazon Sidewalk devices so you don’t need to use a separate hub for them.

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition (Tiger and Panda) press image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition that is available either as a panda or tiger – for the young or young at heart

The small Echo Dot comes in two different variants where one of these has a clock on the front while the other doesn’t. It also comes also as a “Kids’ Edition” with an option of a panda face or a cat face. It is offered as part of Amazon’s Alexa Kids program which provides a child-optimised package of features for this voice assistant. But I also wonder whether this can be ran as a regular Echo Dot device, which may appeal to those adults who are young at heart and want that mischievous look these devices have.

The Echo Show 10 smart display uses a microphone array and automatic panning to face the user. This is driven by machine vision driven by the camera and microphone array. But the camera has a shutter for your privacy. Of course you can use this device as a videophone thanks to the Alexa platform’s support for Amazon’s calling platforms, Zoom and Skype.

Amazon Echo Show 10 press image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Show 10 that can swivel towards you

What makes this generation of Echo devices more interesting is that they implement an edge-computing approach to improve sound quality and intelligibility when it comes to interacting with Alexa. This is even opening up ideas like natural-flow conversations with Alexa or allowing Alexa to participate as an extra person in a multiple-person conversation. It is furthering Amazon’s direction towards implementing ambient computing on their Alexa voice-driven assistant platform.

But Google was the first to implement this concept in a smart-speaker / voice-driven assistant use case. Here, they used it in the Nest Mini smart speaker to improve on the Google Assistant’s intelligibility of your commands.

Amazon Echo Show 10 in videocall - press image courtesy of Amazon

Oh yeah, you can make and take Zoom or Skype videocalls on an Amazon Echo Show 10

I do see this as a major direction for smart-speaker and voice-driven-assistant technology due to improving responsiveness and user interaction with these devices. It may even be about keeping premises-local configurations and customisations on the device’s memory rather than on the cloud, which may improve a lot of use factors. For example, it may be about user privacy due to minimal user data held on remote servers. Or it could be about an optimised highly-responsive setup for the home-automation setups we build around these devices.

What needs to be looked at is a way to implement localised peer-to-peer sharing of data between smart speaker devices that are on the same platform and are installed within the same home network. This can allow users to have the same quality of experience no matter which device they use within the home.

There also has to be support for localised processing of data by devices with the edge-computing smarts for those devices that don’t have that kind of operation. This would be important if you bring in a newer device with this functionality and effectively “push down” the existing device to a secondary usage scenario. In this use case, having another device with the edge computing smarts on your home network and bound to your voice-driven-assistant platform account could assure the same kind of smooth user experience as using the new device directly.

These Amazon Echo devices are showing a new direction for voice-driven home assistant devices to allow for improved intelligibility and smoother operation.

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Amazon Alexa to support voice-activated printing

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon has improved on the way you can order documents to be printed via the Echo or Alexa-compatible device

Amazon launches Alexa Print, a way to print lists, recipes, games and educational content using your voice | TechCrunch

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon Alexa

Introducing: Alexa Print (Product Page)

What Can I Print (Product Page with Key phrases)

My Comments

Initially, Amazon partnered with HP to offer voice-activated document printing. That is where you could ask Alexa to print out colouring pages, sudoku puzzles, ruled paper and the like. But this tied HP’s ePrint documents-on-demand ecosystem to the Amazon Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform and limited this feature to HP ePrint-capable network printers. Some other manufacturers then bound their online printing functionality to Amazon Alexa so as to provide some form of voice-driven printing functionality.

Brother DCP-J562DW multifunction printer positioning image

.. even through printers like this Brother DCP-J562DW multi-function printer

Now Amazon evolved this feature to work with any network printer that supports IPP-based driver-free printing. That is usually a machine that supports Apple AirPrint or the Mopria driver-free printing protocols, which encompasses most of the printers made over the last five years. Here, the documents would be held on or constructed by Amazon’s servers rather than on HP’s servers.

To get going, you have to say “Alexa, discover my printer” to get started. This would have your Amazon Echo or similar Alexa-capable device discover any network printer on the same logical network as itself. On the other hand, you could use the Alexa app to discover the printer. This would require you to tap the “+” icon then select “Add Device”, then choose “Printer” as the device class to add. It will list any compatible printers on your home network so you can add them.

The Alexa app gives you fine-grained control so you can rename printers like the “Upstairs printer” or “Kitchen printer”; or allow you to delete or disable discovery of specific machines.

Amazon has, at the moment, partnered with particular publishers to offer printable items and has set up some basic printable items like ruled paper, arithmetic worksheets and the like to get you going. There is the ability to turn out crosswords including their answers along with recipes, which may be a rough-shot.

HP OfficeJet 6700 Premium business inkjet multifunction printer

.. or this HP OfficeJet 6700 desktop multifunction printer

It also ties in with the ability for you to use Alexa to buy first-party (genuine) ink or toner for your printer through their online storefront. Here, it will know which cartridges fit your machine, but the question is whether there will be the ability for you to specify standard-yield or high-yield consumables. That is because some manufacturers like HP and Brother offer their consumables in differing yield levels which may suit your needs or budget better.

At the moment, the number of printable resources will be limited until Amazon encourages Alexa Skills developers to build out Skills for this platform that support printing. Here, it could he things like asking for a rail timetable to be printed out or Amazon could even exploit Alexa Print to facilitate transactional printing like turning out tickets and boarding passes.

It will be interesting to see whether Google or Apple will bind the driver-free printing platforms that they own or partner with and their voice-driven assistant platforms to allow this kind of printing using them.

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Amazon to get property managers on the Alexa bus

Article

Alexa for Residential lets landlords create smart apartments | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

A new, easy way for properties to add Alexa to residential buildings (Blog Post)

Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

My Comments

Amazon is wooing owners corporations, property managers, whole-building landlords and the like towards a customised Alexa experience for residential buildings.

This is expected to be about catering towards people who want the “smart home” within their rented apartment or condominium / strata-plan apartment. It will also be about courting the retirement living, supported accommodation and serviced apartment segments where there are people who support or provide services to residents who live in their own apartments.

This will involve the ability for a property manager or similar entity to purchase and deploy a fleet of pre-programmed Echo smart speakers that work with the pre-provisioned Wi-Fi network and smart-home devices. There will be the ability for these entities to have the Echo devices loaded with off-the-peg or custom Alexa Skills to suit the building’s and residents’ needs. Examples of these could include booking of communal facilities, paying rent or other dues, knowing when building-specific events are scheduled or providing feedback to the property manager or similar entity. It may also be about interlinking entryphone systems to the Alexa device so you can use it to communicate with your visitors and let them in if desired.

At the turnkey level, these Alexa devices will support what the property manager has pre-defined within them and support access to online information and audio services. But users can add their Amazon account to these devices to carry over all Alexa-platform customisations they have established to these speakers. That includes all of the Alexa Skills that the user is currently using with their Alexa platform devices.

As far as I know, these devices will keep users’ data away from the landlords or property managers, assuring some form of user privacy. For turnkey setups, the voice data is purged daily from the speakers, while a “brick wall” exists between the user’s Amazon account data and all pre-configuration data associated with the property. But there are still doubts about any IT service that the likes of Amazon, Google or Facebook offer due to their disdain for end-user privacy.

There will also be the ability for the property manager to remotely reset a device they are responsible for, something that would be important for whenever the residents move out. As well, there will be the ability to run custom skills while an apartment is vacant thus catering for things like guided tours or question-and-answer sessions for prospective tenants / purchasers.

A question that I would have regarding the Alexa for Residential platform is how this kind of setup would work with the “BYO Internet service” arrangement common in countries like Australasia, UK or Europe. It is where residents who are living in their apartments for the long term will choose and set up their own Internet service and home network rather than having their landlord, property manager or similar entity provide and set up this service. Here, it may be about having these devices able to work with the building’s services using the resident’s network and Internet service.

Similarly, how would it cope with residents installing additional Alexa-platform audio devices and wanting to “bind” them to both their own Amazon account and the Alexa For Residential deployment’s configurations. It may be about use of an additional Echo device in another room or to use something like the Echo Show in lieu of the standard Echo speaker that is part of the original setup. There may also be a requirement to support the concurrent use of two Amazon accounts for Alexa platform devices.

To the same extent, there would be the issue of residents bringing in smart appliances like lamps, A/V equipment, robotic vacuum cleaners and the like that suit their needs. In a lot of cases, it is about the users wanting to have their home how they want it and there may be expectations to have the resident-supplied equipment work as though it is part of the whole system.

At the moment, the Amazon Alexa for Residential platform needs to be worked out to answer different residential setup needs, especially to suit the needs of long-term residents.

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Zoom now extends to popular smart-display platforms

Articles

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Zoom video conferences will soon be able to take place on smart displays

Zoom Meetings Coming Soon to Smart Displays | Droid Life

Zoom video calls come to smart displays from Google, Amazon, and Facebook | Android Authority

Zoom expands to every major smart display as coronavirus keeps us home | CNet

From the borse’s mouth

Zoom

Zoom Expands to Smart Displays at Home (Blog Post)

My Comments

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

.. like the Amazon Echo Show

The COVID-19 coronavirus plague is increasing our use of Zoom as a multiparty videoconferencing platform especially for social and community purposes. This is thanks to measures in place to encourage social distancing and reduce travel to curb the spread of this virus. Zoom’s trademark for this service even ended up as a generic trademark word for a any multiparty videoconference just like one often referred to a common ballpoint pen as a biro.

But Zoom is primarily offered on most regular-computer and mobile-device platforms like Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android. This is because these devices have integrated or accessory Webcams supported by their operating system and can take on software from third-party developers.

JBL Link VIew Press image courtesy of Harman International

… or Google-Assistant devices like this JBL Link View smart display

Recently Zoom tried out the idea of a dedicated videoconferencing appliance in the form of a 27” group videophone that can also be a display screen for a computer, TV set-top box or similar video peripheral. It is similar to previous efforts by smart-TV and video-peripheral vendors to provide Skype support if the device is equipped with an expensive accessory Webcam offered by the manufacturer.

But Zoom took a better step to partner with Google, Amazon and Facebook to integrate their platform in to the Amazon Echo Show smart displays, Facebook Portal smart display and smart displays running the Google Assistant (Home) platform. Here, these devices have the hardware that is needed to make or take videocalls i.e. a camera, microphone, screen and speakers. As well, the three vendors are more supportive of programming these devices to take on additional functionality.

These devices have some sort of videophone functionality built in to them through support for some other videoconference platforms: Skype and Amazon’s IP-telephony platform in the case of Amazon’s Echo Show devices; Google’s Duo and Meet in the case of Google-powered devices; and Facebook Messenger with its Rooms function as well as GoToMeeting, BlueJeans and WebEx in the case of the Facebook Portal. The addition of Zoom doesn’t displace the platform vendor’s own products or products the vendor has already licensed from other partners. As well, it recognises that different people and organisations tend to prefer working with particular videoconference platforms over others.

The Zoom software is engineered to take advantage of what the platforms offer including tying in with the platform’s native calendar function if you have linked your calendar to it, or joining a videoconference at your voice command. In the case of the Facebook device, you can tap the screen to join a meeting. All classes of Zoom account can be bound to these devices so you can use the account paid for by your work or school or a personal one you set up for free for social use.

This function will start to appear on most Facebook Portal devices in September then roll out across all the other smart-display platforms over October and November.

But why allow Zoom and similar videoconferences on a smart display or similar appliance? One reason is to have one device dedicated to the videoconference while you use another device to take notes or read supporting material for business, education or religion use cases. It may also be about the desire for an “appliance-simple” approach for making and taking videocalls, something that may be desired for older users who may find the process of creating or joining a multiparty videoconference daunting. As well, there is the encouragement to use an endpoint device that fits in with where it will be used such as the small smart displays that are typically installed in a kitchen or similar room.

What need to eventually happen is for Zoom and similar multiparty videoconferencing platforms to be part of connected-TV / set-top box platforms typically used for viewing Netflix or similar video-on-demand services on the big-screen TV. This is as long as the TV or set-top box can work with an accessory Webcam. As well, the device has to support multiple videoconferencing platforms, especially the common ones; while each platform has to offer a user interface suitable for 10-foot “lean-back” operation.

Here, such implementations, when done right, can be about the use of a big-screen TV as a group videophone for situations where the whole household participates in a videoconference like the many Zoom-based family or community video “catch-ups”.

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You can prevent mistaken voice-assistant behaviour from your smart speakers

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The mute button on your Echo or other smart speaker is important if you want greater control over the voice assistant

You Should Mute Your Smart Speaker’s Mic More Often | Lifehacker Australia

My Comments

An issue that will plague people who own smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home is the device interjecting with responses when you or someone else unintentionally say certain words.

This is because these devices are typically set up to listen all the time for a particular “wake word” that actually invokes the voice assistant. It is part of the machine-learning that drives these voice-assistant platforms to understand what you say.

But you can have some control over these smart speakers to avoid this behaviour. Each smart speaker or similar device will have a hardware mic-mute switch on them, highlighted with a microphone icon on that switch. This effectively turns the device’s microphones on or off as you need and the article recommended that if the device is too “hair-trigger”, you should enable this function unless you are actually intending to interact with the voice assistant. This procedure would be similar to how you would work a voice-driven personal assistant that is part of your smartphone’s operating system where you deliberately press a button on the device or a Bluetooth headset to invoke that assistant before you say the wake word.

Beware of the situation where the button will light up when you enable microphone muting on your smart speaker. Here this may be a point of confusion because some users may think that the device is “ready” to speak to when it is infact not able to take commands. You may have to be familiar with how your smart speaker looks when it is ready to accept commands, including any lights that are on.

If your voice-assistant platform has the function to “edit” what has been captured like what Amazon Alexa can do, this function can be used to fine-tune what the voice-assistant is meant to respond to. The same control app or Website can be used to manage your smart speaker’s microphone sensitivity or change the “wake command” that you say when you start interacting with the assistant.

They even recommend that you disconnect the smart-speaker device from the power if you don’t intend to use them. Privacy advocates even suggest doing that in areas where you value your privacy like your bedroom or bathroom.

But personally I would at least recommend that you are familiar with the hardware controls that exist on your smart speaker or similar device so you are able to have greater control over that platform.

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