Alexa v. Google Assistant makes consumers the big winners

Google was all over The Strip. Photo by Kevin Tofel.

After walking an average of 10 miles a day at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, I realized I couldn’t walk 25 feet without seeing the same thing over and over. No, not devices; there was wide range of those. I’m talking about products that had Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant integrations.

They. Were. Everywhere. Not just on the show floor either: Google spent a good sum to get its Assistant product mentioned on most hotel signage, the Las Vegas Monorail and billboards everywhere I turned.

That indicates two things to me. First, with such an array of IoT product choices that now have smart voice support, we’re essentially at a tipping point in the smart home market when it comes to mainstream adoption. Second, after years of waiting for de facto, standard smart home platforms that can simplify purchase decisions, we have one. It’s called voice, or what I dubbed the “invisible interface” a few years ago. At a high level voice is becoming both a UI and an IoT platform of sorts.

There are several reasons not everyone who wants a smart home has one yet. Costs have been high and it’s not clear to every homeowner why they even need a smart home, whether it’s one with just a single connected device or dozens. Costs are coming down though and with each new iteration of products, people are starting to see the benefits of having connected door locks, sensors, blinds, thermostats and more.

But the other reason — a main one, I’d argue — is that the smart home market has been confusing for many mainstream people. Ask a non-technical neighbor what Zigbee, Z-Wave, mesh networking or ARTIK is and they’ll probably give a you blank stare. For “normals” to buy into the smart home, all of the back-end technologies and radio protocols need to be abstracted away, never to be seen or talked about again. That’s where voice comes in.

Why? Because if you asked that same neighbor what an Amazon Alexa or Google Home is, they’d very likely know. We don’t know how many Alexa-enabled products Amazon sold in the past two years but consumers did purchase “tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices” this past holiday season. Likewise, Google sold an estimated six million Google Home Minis in the final three months of 2017. People are buying these because they provide instant benefits and are intuitively simple to use simply by asking questions. And they are buying them: NPR says that 16 percent of U.S. households now have a smart speaker, which is a 128 percent increase from NPR’s data a year ago.

Many of the newest products I saw don’t require hubs either because they’re working natively with a voice assistant. Going forward, you’ll see Samsung’s Bixby voice agent in televisions and refrigerators. Televisions from LG, Sony and others can be voice controlled directly through Alexa or Google Assistant without a hub. In fact, Google announced this week that its Assistant / Home platform works with more than 1,500 devices.

So it’s becoming less important to know which smart home products work with Wink, SmartThings and other branded-hubs because voice controls are essentially becoming the newest and primary interface for smart home products. Sure, for many things you’ll still need a hub. If you want Bixby on to show who’s at your front door from the fridge or TV, your video doorbell will have to work with SmartThings. The same goes for a notification that you left the garage door open or that your home security system indicates a family member just arrived home. That isn’t going away.

But that’s OK. By integrating now-standard voice platforms into a larger array of smart home products, consumers will have an easier time understanding the value and in installing or using connected gear. No longer do we have to worry about news like Honeywell’s announced integration with Whirlpool that lets your Honeywell thermostat tell your appliances when you are out of the home so the dishwasher can run. We can just hook each to the Amazon Echo and tell it to turn on the dishwasher as we leave. Automations may require a hub or a third-party service such as IFTTT, Yonomi or Stringify but getting smart devices working by voice in the home is an important and simple first step.

I definitely don’t want the “Works with Wink / SmartThings / Nest” designations on smart home products to disappear. However, the “Works with Amazon Alexa / Google Assistant” markings have become far more important for mainstream consumers. Let the two (or three, if you include Bixby) voice assistants continue to battle it out, I say. In the end, we all win.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Google Assistant learns to drive (properly) in expansion to more screens

Google Assistant’s expansion into the car and devices with dedicated screens will soon allow consumers to interact with the AI in more ways than ever.

While the Google Assistant was technically available in Android Auto prior to today’s announcement, it was limited to its older ‘Google Now’ form. The full rollout will feature more powerful features such as home control and deeper access to third-party services.

Google has been giving some thought about how Assistant in the car could help with daily tasks. While I wouldn’t recommend a daily visit for the sake of your bank account, Google will soon enable drink orders from Starbucks as just one example. The company has also announced parking space reservations through integration with SpotHero.

The update is beginning to rollout to support HMDs now. Users can tell if they’ve been upgraded by whether they see the new Assistant logo (the one with the circles!) when they perform a voice search.

All the new features will also be available via the Android Auto app, if you do not have a compatible HMD in your vehicle.

Alongside the new car functionality, Google is playing catchup to Amazon Alexa with their virtual assistant on dedicated screens. Unlike Amazon, who manufacture their own devices, Google is harnessing the experience of their third-party partners.

Google Assistant devices with displays have been confirmed from Lenovo, JBL, LG, and Sony.

Lenovo Smart Display

JBL Link View

What are your thoughts on Google’s latest Assistant announcements? Let us know in the comments.

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Zigbee-based Smart Voice Assistant System

Qorvo‘s GP712 System-on-Chip is in the new Zigbee-based HUMAX Chorus Voice Assistant. The pairing is advancing the Internet of Things (IoT) by creating a turnkey, smart home system for operators that integrates gateways, sensor devices, cloud platforms and mobile applications.

GP712 multi-stack, multi-protocol Voice assistants are fueling growth in the smart home market. According to Gartner’s report, end-user spending for the worldwide virtual personal assistant (VPA)-enabled wireless speaker market is forecast to reach $ 3.52 billion by 2021, up from $ 720 million in 2016.

The GP712 was the first Zigbee 3.0-compliant platform, and the first multi-channel IoT transceiver in the industry to be certified for the Thread protocol. With the ability to support Zigbee and Thread on different RF channels, the GP712 enables designers to use a single transceiver for gateway products to simultaneously serve both protocols.

Qorvo becomes the only company to simultaneously support Zigbee 3.0, Thread, Zigbee RF4CE and Zigbee Green Power in a single radio. Qorvo products that solve the IoT’s toughest RF challenges will be showcased during CES 2018 (#CES2018) in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 9-12, in booth #42531, Halls A-D of Sands Expo.

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AI Assistant Which Glues Your Smart Home!

AI Assistant Which Glues Your Smart Home!

Want to be aware of all the cool and tempting IoT news? The following list will bring you up to date:

Your AI Assistant For A Personalised Smart Home!

As AI becomes more and more integrated into our daily lives, IoT firm Neura is bringing AI to a new level by unveiling its first smart home solution, which gives IoT devices and apps the ability to understand and learn about each person in the home and adapt to their lifestyle by growing smater over time, anticipating what they will prefer their products to do in a specific moment. Read more.

 

 


Bringing Machine Learning To Devices, Cars & Machines: Qualcomm

With a vision to bring artificial intelligence technology to devices, cars and machines, chipmaker Qualcomm bought machine learning startup Scyfer. Scyfer has been working on AI for companies in industries such as manufacturing, health care and finance. Qualcomm’s current products support many AI use cases from computer vision and natural language processing to malware detection on a variety of devices like smartphones and cars. The firm emphasised that it now wants to reasearch on topics like AI for wireless connectivity, power management and photography. Read more.


Comprehensive Solution For Future Smart Buildings

Engineering technology and software developer Altair has partnered with Candi Controls to offer a smart building software system with actionable gateway analytics. The new solution integrates Carriots’ data analytics solutions for all types of smart building data with Candi’s PowerTools, which handle the complex protocol and networking problems required to integrate communications among heating and cooling systems, power meters, light sensors, and more. The new solution is hoped to allow users to aggregate live and historical data from HVAC, energy, lighting, temperature, air quality and other devices, allowing them to combine it with data from other sources (such as financial, maintenance, customer relationship data, warranty data) for better insights. Read more.


 

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IBM Watson Personal Assistant – answering your ‘how to’s

‘How do I control the lights?’ is my first, rage-infused question when staying in almost any hotel room. Closely followed by ‘how do I shut off the air conditioning?’ As yet, both questions have gone unanswered. Walls, alas, cannot talk, so I am left to fiddle with the plastic key thing that for some reason also operates the room’s electricity, put on an extra layer or six, and grope around in the dark.

My ineptitude in the realm of all things practical isn’t confined to hotel rooms. I’d also like to be able to schedule car maintenance as and when the bleeping thing on the dashboard lets me know something’s up. Or find out what the weather’s going to do later. Or get directions to the nearest pharmacy. I also can’t work my Dad’s TV, because there are six remote controls that do all manner of fancy things and no labels identifying the button functions.

Maybe I need a PA.

The brave new world of digital PAs

Recognizing that most people need a helping hand now and again and aren’t necessarily equipped to understand complex bits of digital kit, the connected world has brought us voice-activated personal assistants. Siri, Alexa, Cortana – all are equipped with the ability to understand speech, answer questions and respond to simple commands.

Marvellous. However. Voice-driven assistants such as these aren’t truly personal, in that they don’t proactively adapt their service to suit one specific user. As a user of things, I’m much like Miranda Priestly of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ fame. Demanding. Inconsistent. Impatient. I want a digital PA in the league of Andrea Sachs – one that gets to know me, anticipates my whims, and solves problems before I even know they exist.

A truly personal assistant

This level of truly personalized assistance is what IBM’s Watson Personal Assistant (WPA for short) aims to provide. The WPA, which was unveiled in June, learns about its users through interacting with them and creates a cognitive profile that it updates as it discovers more.

It also understands context, meaning that it can offer sensible answers to potentially vague questions. For example, if I’m a guest in a hotel and ask: ‘When’s breakfast?’ it can delve into its knowledge of the hotel’s working systems and tell me it’s available between 7 and 10. Anticipating the reasoning behind the question based on its contextual understanding, it won’t tell me that breakfast is the morning meal one consumes prior to lunch.

The Watson Personal Assistant in context

Of course, it’s not only customers that have needs. Businesses have them too. If you’re a hotel manager (for instance) you’ll have your own ‘how to’ list: ‘How do I offer my customers personalized concierge services?’ ‘How can I learn more about my customers?’ ‘What do my customers really want?’

Here too, the WPA’s got your back. Uniquely, this is the only solution that allows enterprise clients to keep and control the data collected by the WPA in the course of its daily functioning. It also integrates with existing back-end systems (so that it adapts to your way of doing things) and can be embedded into multiple products, devices or services.

Here comes the WPA 0.6

Since its unveiling in June, WPA has been going through a series of updates to refine its performance. Version 0.6 landed last week, and is currently flexing its muscles in the hotel and automotive spheres, so you might come across one when you stay at a major hotel chain, or even in your next car.

Discover more

To learn more about how the Watson Personal Assistant can help answer your ‘how to’s, head on over to our website for an overview, use case examples and demonstrations.

 

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