I was calling this out because the European Commission were always worried about the way the popular Silicon-Valley-based online services, especially Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple were doing to European personal and business values like democracy, competitive markets, user privacy and transparency. Their typical answer was to either pass more regulations or litigating against them in the European court system. But they could easily encourage European companies to offer online services that underscore the European mindset through, for example, business-development assistance.
It is something that is slowly happening with the rise of Spotify, the leading world-wide jukebox, rising from Sweden. There is also a persistent effort within France to answer YouTube with a peer-to-peer video-streaming service.
Now BMW have stepped up to the plate by working on a voice-driven assistant which will initially be focused towards the automotive space. But they intend to take it beyond the vehicle and have it as a European competitor to Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant or Cortana.
But I would say that even if they don’t get it beyond the car dashboard, they could establish it as a white-label platform for other European tech firms to build upon. This could lead to the creation of smart-speaker products from the likes of Bang & Olufsen or TechniSat that don’t necessarily have to run a Silicon-Valley voice-driven assistant platform. Or Bosch or Electrolux could work on a “smart-home” control setup with a voice-driven assistant that is developed in Europe.
The news cycle that you hear in the USA has been primarily focused on bad news especially with what President Trump is up to or some natural disaster somewhere around the world. It is a very similar issue that is happening around the world. A common issue that is drawn out regarding this oversaturation of bad news is that it can bring about fear, uncertainty and doubt regarding our lives with some entities taking advantage of it to effectively manipulate us.
Some of us follow particular blogs or Facebook pages that contain curated examples of good news that can break this monotony and see solutions for the highlighted problems. But Google is extending this to a function they are building in to the Google Assistant platform with stories that are curated by people rather than machines and, in a lot of cases, derived from a variety of media sources. But this is facilitated by the Solutions Journalism Network non-profit which is more about solution-focused media coverage.
Of course, there will be the doubters and skeptics who will think that we aren’t facing reality and are dwelling in the “Hippie Days” and the “Jesus People” era of the 1960s and early 1970s. But being able to come across positive solutions for the various problems being put forward, including people working “outside the box” to solve that problem can inspire us.
This is a feature is offering on an experimental basis through the USA only and can be used on your Google Home or other Google-Assistant devices. But as this application is assessed further, it could be easily made available across more countries.
JBL have taken advance orders on this speaker since Wednesday 2 August 2018 (USA time) with them costing USD$250 a piece. They expect to have them fully available in the US market by September 3 2018 (USA time). The display on this unit serves the same purpose as the one on the Lenovo Smart Displays where it simply augments your conversation with Google Assistant using a visual experience.
These units look a bit like a boombox or stereo table radio and have an 8” high-definition touch screen along with two 2” (51mm) full-range speakers separately amplified and flanking the screen for stereo sound reproduction. Here, this traditional approach with the stereo speakers at each end of the device leads towards better perceived stereo separation. CNET saw this as offering more “punch” for music content compared to other “smart-display” devices that they experienced.
There is the camera to work with Google Duo but this device has also been designed to take care of user privacy needs thanks to a privacy shutter over the camera along with a microphone mute switch.
Like other Google Assistant (Home) devices, the JBL Link View can work as a wireless speaker for Chromecast Audio and Bluetooth links from mobile devices.
This is the start of something happening with the Google Assistant (Home) platform where the devices being offered by Lenovo and JBL are offering more than what Amazon are currently offering for their smart displays. It includes the stereo speakers for the JBL Link View along with larger displays for both the Lenovo and JBL products. LG and Sony are intending to launch their Google-powered smart displays soon but I don’t know when.
Personally, I would see Amazon and Google establishing a highly-competitive market for smart speakers and allied devices especially if both of them answer each other with devices of similar or better standards. As well, licensing the Alexa and Google Assistant (Home) standards to third-party consumer-electronics companies will also open up the path for innovation including incremental product-design improvements.
Now Lenovo have made these Smart Displays available to the US market. Here, they will be made available through most of the well-known online and bricks-and-mortar stores who sell household technology like Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon, Costco and Sams Club, as well as being available direct through Lenovo.com.
The baseline model has an 8” screen with a 1280×800 resolution and a single full-range 10-watt speaker and being sold for USD$199.99. The premium model has a 10” display with a 1920×1200 resolution, two full-range speakers and a bamboo finish on the back for USD$249.99. Here, even the baseline model offers a larger display than what the Amazon Echo Show is equipped with.
There is the access to Google’s online services including YouTube, Duo and Maps. Users can even sign up to YouTube TV to receive most of the USA’s over-the-air and cable TV networks on this device via the Internet for USD$40 per month. As well, users also have access to Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio along with most of the other popular content services available to the US market. They can also engage in videocalls using the Google Duo “over-the-top” IP-telephony platform thanks to an integrated video camera. Google Photos also allows these Smart Displays to become electronic picture frames as well.
Like other devices based on the Google Assistant (Home) platform, these Lenovo Smart Displays support the Google Assistant Routines which are effectively like “macros” or “scripts” that run a user-determined series of actions under one command. There is also the ability for these smart displays to interlink with “smart home” devices that work with the Google Assistant (Home) platform and can run video from compatible devices like the Nest Cam.
Individual privacy has been taken care of properly with a mechanical shutter that is slid over the camera along with a switch to mute the microphone. That feature is also important to prevent Google Assistant acting on “wake words” or other commands that may be said in normal conversation or uttered by a device.
From what I have seen of the photos posted online of this device, there is a clear concise graphically-rich user experience offered on the screen. It is rather than having a second-rate text-based display offered on the Amazon Echo Show devices. This is because the visual component of Google Assistant (Home) is based on the Android variant of the Google Assistant and it makes it easier to achieve a visual user interface across both Android devices and these Smart Displays.
But there is limited portrait-mode support amongst the app based offered for this platform. It is a sign that the visual-aid functionality for Google Assistant (Home) is still a “rough diamond” and Google and third parties will be needing to refine this functionality further.
I would see some of the other makes like JBL launch at least one Smart Display product for the Google Assistant (Home) ecosystem over the next few months, if not by year’s end.
Now Microsoft has a similar option for Cortana when you use it with Windows 10. This is also important if you use the Harman-Kardon Invoke smart speaker, the Johnson Controls GLAS smart thermostat as long as they are bound to your Microsoft account.
Manage your Microsoft Account (and Cortana) from Windows 10 Settings
In most instances such as your computer, Cortana may be activated by you clicking on an icon on the Taskbar or pressing a button on a suitably-equipped laptop, keyboard or other peripheral to have her ready to listen. But you may set her up to hear the “Hey Cortana” wake word to listen to you. This may be something that a Cortana-based smart device may require of you for expected functionality when you set it up.
This may be a chance where Cortana may cause problems with picking up unwanted interactions. But you can edit what Cortana has recorded through your interactions with her.
Here, you go in to Settings, then click on Accounts to open the Accounts screen. Click on Your Info to which will show some basic information about the Microsoft Account associated with your computer.
Privacy dashboard on your Microsoft Account management Website
Click on “Manage My Microsoft Account” which will open a Web session in your default browser to manage your Microsoft Account. Or you could go directly to https://account.microsoft.com without needing to go via the Settings menu on your computer. The direct-access method can be important if you have to use another computer like a Mac or Linux box or don’t want to go via the Settings option on your Windows 10 computer.
Click here for your Cortana Voice interaction history
You will be prompted to sign in to your Microsoft Account using your Microsoft Account credentials. Click on the “Privacy” option to manage your privacy settings. Then click on the “Activity History” option and select “Voice” to view your voice interactions with Cortana. Here, you can replay each voice interaction to assess whether they should be deleted. You can delete each interaction one by one by clicking the “Delete” option for that interaction or clear them all by clicking the “Clear activity” option.
Details of your voice interactions with Cortana
Your management of what Cortana has recorded takes place at the Microsoft servers in the same vein to what happens with Alexa. But there will be the disadvantage of Cortana not having access to the false starts in order to use her machine learning to understand your voice better.
These instructions would be useful if you are dealing with a Cortana-powered device that doesn’t use a “push-to-talk” or “microphone-mute” button where you can control when she listens to you.
Sonos has offered a smart speaker that not just is part of their own multi-room ecosystem but can work with multiple different voice assistants. Now they have taken this concept further by offering the Sonos Beam compact sound bar which can do this same trick.
They have taken this approach due to a reality with people operating two or more different voice-driven assistants. The classic reality would be someone who has an Amazon Echo at home but uses Siri in their iPhone or Google Assistant in their Android smartphone. But these assistants don’t complement each other effectively or even work with each other at all.
But this has been taken further with the Sonos Beam soundbar which is seen as a competitor to JBL’s Link Bar soundbar that has integrated Android TV set-top box functionality and can work with the Google Assistant. Initially it will come with Amazon Alexa but Siri and Google Assistant will be delivered as firmware updates through the year. A firmware upgrade will fully enable the Sonos Beam for Apple’s AirPlay 2 ecosystem which is Apple’s take on a full-blown multiroom setup centred around their products.
Works equally well with the rest of the Sonos multiroom system
For the sound, the Sonos Beam soundbar uses a digital-enhancement approach to draw out the bass from its compact cabinet. But you could team it with Sonos’s “Sub” subwoofer if you find that this may offer a better job at providing that extra bass. As well, thanks to the Sonos setup, you could team two of their standard speakers if you want to set up the full surround-sound experience.
The Sonos Beam “hears” you through an integrated far-field microphone array. But you can control whether it hears you or not by pressing a microphone-mute button on the speaker – this will have a “mic” icon located on it. The ability to control the microphone on this device reduces the risk of nuisance triggering which can easily happen when TV content is being played. Thanks to the HDMI-CEC standard facilitated by the HDMI-ARC connection, there is the ability to voice-control your TV in relation to sound volume (including muting the advertisements) or power status.
A limitation most of us will find with this soundbar is that it only has one HDMI connection for HDMI-ARC connectivity to the TV for its sound. This can be very constraining for those of us who use a TV that has very few HDMI connections and you use all these connections for various video peripherals.
But it is another effort by Sonos to prove that a smart-speaker device could support multiple voice-driven assistant platforms on the same device. Could this also be a reality with other equipment manufacturers soon? On the other hand, could this device become a virtual friend for that lonely person by providing better sound for daytime TV or being someone to talk to?
Recently, the computer press went in to overdrive about an Amazon Echo setup that unintentionally recorded and forwarded a family’s private conversation and forwarded it to someone in Seattle. Here, the big question that was asked was what was your Amazon Echo or similar smart speaker device recording without you knowing.
Amazon Echo, Google Home and similar voice-driven home-assistant platforms require a smart speaker that is part of the platform to hear for a “wake word” which is a keyword that wakes up these devices and has them listening. Then these devices capture and interpret what you say after that “wake word” in order to perform their function. One of the functions that these devices may perform is audio messaging where they could record a user’s message and pass that message on to another user on the same platform.
Here, I recommended the use of a manual “call button” to make these devices ready to listen when you are ready or a “microphone mute” toggle to prevent your device being falsely triggered. As well, I recommended a visual indicator on the device that signals when it is listening. This is a practice mainly done with voice-assistant functionality that is part of a video peripheral’s feature set or software that runs on a platform computing device. Google’s Home smart speaker instead uses the microphone-mute button to allow you to control its microphone.
But you can check what Alexa has been recording from your Amazon Echo or other Alexa-compatible speaker device and delete private material that she shouldn’t have captured. This is also useful if you are troubleshooting one of these devices, identifying misunderstood instructions or are developing an Alexa Skill for the Alexa ecosystem.
Then you tap on the hamburger-shaped “advanced operation” icon on the top left of your screen.
Tap on Settings to bring up a Settings menu for your setup. Go to the History option in the Alexa Account section of that menu.
Here, you will see a list of interactions with any Alexa-ecosystem hardware or software front-end related to your Amazon account. These will be categorised by what has been understood and what hasn’t been understood. There is an option to filter the interaction list by date, which is handy if you have made heavy use of your Amazon Echo device through the months and years.
You can play each interaction to be sure of what your Alexa device or software has recorded. With these interactions, the current version of the interface only allows you to delete each unwanted interaction on by one. The effect of the deletion is that the interaction, including the voice recording, disappears from your account and the Amazon servers. But this could degrade your Amazon Alexa experience due to it not having much data to work on for its machine-learning abilities.
Here, at least with the Amazon Alexa ecosystem, you have some control over what has been recorded so you can remove potentially-private conversations from that ecosystem.
An issue that has been raised recently is the risk of a voice-driven assistant like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant or Microsoft’s Cortana being triggered inadvertently and becoming of nuisance value.
This was discovered with Amazon’s Echo devices where you could say “Alexa, laugh” and Alexa would laugh in response. But if this was said in conversation or through audio or video content you had playing in the background, this could come across very creepy. A similar situation was discovered in 2014 with Microsoft’s XBox when there was a voice-search functionality built in to in and you would wake it by saying “XBox on!”, This was aggravated if, for example, a TV commercial from a consumer electronics outlet was playing and the adman announced a special deal on one of these consoles by saying something like “XBox On Special” or “XBox On Saie” which contain this key phrase.
Similarly, we are starting to see “voice-driven search” become a part of consumer electronics and this could become of an annoyance whenever dialogue in a movie or TV show or an adman’s talking in a TV commercial could instigate a search routine during your TV viewing.
But there are some implementations of these voice assistants that don’t start automatically when they hear your “wake phrase” associated with them like “Alexa” or “Hi Siri”. In these cases, you would press a “call” button to make the device ready to listen to you. This typically happens with smartphones, tablets, computers or smart-TV remote controls.
On the other hand, some of the smart speakers like Google Home use a microphone-mute button which you would activate if there is a risk of nuisance triggering. In this mode, the device’s microphone isn’t active until you manually disable it.
Google Home uses a microphone-mute button to control the mic
Personally, I would still like to see some form of manual control offered as the norm for these devices, preferably in the form of a “call” button with a distinct tactile feel when pressed. Then you would see a different light glow or other visual cue when the device is ready to talk to. Here, the user has some form of control over when the device can listen to them thus assuring their privacy.
Here, the article underscored the role of speech as part of a user interface that integrated one of many different interaction types like touch or vision. This then provides different comfort zones that the user can benefit from when using the device and they then rely on what’s comfortable to them.
Last August, Google launched in to the USA and Canada a VoIP-based voice calling feature for their Home smart-speaker platform. This service allowed you to use your voice to call landline and mobile telephones in the USA and Canada and speak to these callers through your Home smart speaker. A limitation that it had was that it was only for outgoing calls and your caller couldn’t identify you through the Caller-ID framework.
Now Google have taken this feature and launched it in the UK so that people who live there have the ability to call landline and mobile numbers based in that territory. How I see this is Google being the first off the mark to offer a VoIP telephony service based around their voice-driven home assistant within the UK.
There, the idea of a household landline telephone is still being kept alive thanks to most of the popular telcos and ISPs running desirable multiple-play TV/telephony/Internet packages at very attractive prices, a similar practice being offered in some European countries especially France. As w
They are also launching this feature in time for Mother’s Day (Mothering Sunday) which is celebrated in March in the UK. Here, they are running a spot special on their coral-coloured Google Home Mini speaker by dropping the price by GBP£10 to GBP£39 until March 12. This is with it being available through most of the UK’s main electrical-store chains like Currys PC World or John Lewis.
The UK as being the first country beyond the USA and Canada to head towards a VoIP platform based around a voice-driven home assistant could be the first “stage” in a race between Google and Amazon to push this feature across the world.
Google’s Nest smart thermostat is facing competition with a unit that is driven by Microsoft technologies. Here, the Johnson Controls GLAS smart thermostat, which works with most central heating and air-conditioning setups that implement standard 24-volt wiring setups, connects to your home network via Wi-Fi and is built on a Windows 10 IoT Core operating system and the Universal Windows Platform.
Here, this means that it works tightly with Bing as its external data source for air-quality and current-local-weather metrics. As well, it works as a Cortana terminal so you can control the heating using your voice, but have access to other information resources you would be able to have access to if you used Cortana from your Windows 10 computer. At the moment, judging from the various YouTube videos I have seen of this device in action, this user experience will be audio-only but future firmware updates could provide visual support for Cortana’s replies.
The GLAS room thermostat implements the usual scheduling abilities that the typical programmable room thermostat offers but allows for preemptive operating for when you arrive or wake up so your home is nice and comfortable for you. There is the ability to know what the indoor and outdoor air quality is to be like as well as letting the current weather forecast be used to affect the system’s setpoint (comfort level). It could provide the answer about whether it is important to take that Ventolin inhaler with you if you are suffering from asthma that is aggravated by pollen or similar allergens.
The user interface is based on a colour OLED touchscreen which is actually a piece of translucent glass so you can effectively see the wall behind the thermostat. This means you are engaging with a user experience similar to that of a smartphone or tablet. As well, it would please those of us who place emphasis on devices that complement our room aesthetics. Let’s not forget that you could manage it from a Web page or your iOS / Android smartphone through a native app.
At the time of publication, the expected retail price for the GLAS Smart Room Thermostat will be US$319 with it expected to be released to the US market in March. Here, it will be available through the Microsoft Store or through Johnson Controls Website and dealers.
But what do I see of this thermostat? I see the possibility of it being one of many “smart devices” that will become a control surface for your smart home. In an increasing number of cases, it could also be a point of interaction for a voice-driven home-assistant platform like Alexa, Cortana or Google Assistant with the integrated display earning its keep for visual-support functionality. This is where you could use this thermostat’s touchscreen or Cortana interaction to manage something like lighting or music, or “call up” information at a glance with the information appearing on that display.