Do you use your manners to your smart assistant?

Alexa might be our most thoughtful friend. As you may have noticed if you have an Amazon device running your smart home, Alexa is now testing out a ‘brief mode’, which allows us not to have to hear her say ‘ok’ every time we ask her to perform a task, instead emitting a short chime to signal that the job has been done. Seems small, but with the new follow up mode (allowing us to ask back to back questions with no need to reawaken her each time), it means we don’t have to hear ‘ok’ ‘ok’ ‘ok’ repeated 10 times. A lot less irritating, right?
Paying back the thoughtfulness to our A.I friend, in follow up mode, to end the conversation we just need a quick ‘thank you’ and Alexa will go back to sleep. All jokes aside, if Alexa is ‘thinking’ about our needs and wants, should be also doing the same? Should we be using our manners with Alexa? It would seem that the simple answer is no, as of course, Alexa isn’t a human and obviously doesn’t understand or appreciate manners. But, with follow up mode, it would seem that those who use Alexa are already at a point where they do use manners, and Alexa responds to the ‘thank you’ as a command to turn off. As much as it doesn’t matter whether we do or we don’t use our Ps and Qs in conversation with Alexa, Amazon is seemingly building this into the programming of their A.I. So even if using ‘thank you’ to us, is just another command, it does make us sound (and perhaps feel?) more polite. Thanks, Alexa.

Smart … JUICER?! is that necessary?

As a nation, we love to stay healthy. We love vegan, gluten free with a smashed avo on the top. And we also love juicing. As someone who owns a juicer, it already seems like a pretty simple process. We put the fruit (or whatever) in, it gets mushed (technical…!) and boom, healthiness in a bottle! So, what’s the deal with the NutriBullet Balance? Do we need to smarten up our juicers?
The answer to this lies in how committed you are to the whole juicing phenomenon in more than one way, really. The main draw with this product is the ability to connect your smart phone to the juicier and keep track of the calories entering your juices, because apparently just chucking in all the fruit you can find doesn’t always = good. It connects via Bluetooth and also has a handy built in scale. However, you have to weigh this against the price tag, which is pretty hefty at retailers in the US, at around $180, most probably exceeding $200AUD when it hits our stores later this year. This is very expensive in comparison to both other NutriBullets, and just normal juicers that you can pick up for much less than $100. The NutriBullet Balance could perhaps be a useful investment (if you can stomach the price tag!) for only the hard core juicers, who perhaps already use apps to track their calorie intake. However, for the rest of us, a smart juicer should probably doesn’t need to be on your smart home wish list!

google assistant for ios ?

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So you have an iPad, maybe an android phone, so how do you utilise home automation effectively without just committing to one brand? Of course Apple have the market lead on tablets, so good news is here in that Google Assistant is now available as an app on your iPad! It’s been available on the iPhone for a while now, but the new iPad version features a lot of new updates, not least being able to use landscape or portrait on your iPad. It’s also super inclusive with 7 different languages choices. Via your iPad, Google Assistant can now dim your lights or multi task using split screen, as well as all the basics like make calls or set reminders. It’s good news for those of us who use Google Assistant but also happen to have an iPad as our tablet of choice. Amazon, of course, have already cottoned onto this, and have made an Alexa app available on Android and iOS. These third-party assistants will only be able to function within their own apps, so if you’re a die hard Siri user it’s unlikely to turn you, but for those already using Google Assistant it’s a handy continuation and integration into the rest of your devices: and it’s free on the App Store!

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Will wearable tech revolutionise home automation?

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Wearable tech seems like it’s stagnated over the last few years. The Apple Watch was exciting when it arrived, you can check your texts without the need to look at your phone, it can even count the lengths you swim in the pool while remaining waterproof. And we all know the FitBit lovers who like to keep track of their steps and exercise regime. But away from the novelty and fitness aspect, what is wearable tech actually good for? Surprisingly, with the leap forward in home automation, we’re about to experience the comeback of wearable tech. This is where the Apple Watch really comes into it’s own: pretty much anything you can do with your home speaker or phone, you can do with your wearable too. Want to turn your air con down? Do it as you walk. Smart TV too loud but you’re using your phone? Simply speak into your wearable. A lot of home automation apps can also be used via your Smart Watch, making it actually ideal for being on the go. But it’s not just watches that are revolutionising our world. Other wearables, such as rings, animal trackers for our pets, or emergency key rings are making our lives just that bit smoother. Using a payring, such as the one launched by BankWest, seems a bit like something you may see in a spy movie but even though it seems a bit weird (and it’s not THAT attractive)the low price point makes it seem worth a try. When we eventually can use PayWave on public transport (looking at you, Sydney), being able to pay without rummaging for your card will make you a popular commuter. Wearables are making home automation just that bit more hands free, no rummaging for your phone on the go and actually saving you time and stress when you’re in a rush.

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Voice automation in cars

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We’ve had a bumpy ride recently, with the automobile/automation combo. Of course, it’s been impossible to ignore the tragic news of a Tesla driverless car taking a human life, not to mention the accidents and deaths that texting/social media-ing and driving causes every year. But a complete ban on technology and cars mixing is unenforceable, and perhaps shortsighted. Even using a sat nav requires an amount of distraction from the road, even if you have a trusty ‘Co-driver’ with you. It’s the pressing buttons that seems to cause the most distraction, as well as looking at a screen. Of course, using voice automation when driving would be the safer option, as was certainly the case with taking phone calls in the car a few years back, as legally you could talk on the phone hands free via Bluetooth, rather than with a phone to your ear. Android Auto offers the modern version of this, home automation in your car, hands free. You can tell it ‘I’m hot’, pre programming it to turn on the air con or turn down the heat. Usefully, (for those of us with direction based issues!) you’ll be able to talk to your map, without moving your eyes from the road or messing around pressing buttons. Loads of cars launching in Australia (yes!) over the next few years will have Android Auto, including the new electric Hyundai Kona planned for later this year. It’s a lot like using your home (or phone) assistant, just it now includes your car. And anything that helps us keep our attention on the sometimes dangerous Aussie roads has got to be a good thing!

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Google now compatible with 3rd party speakers

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If you love your google home mini, but are frustrated with the sound through fabric covered speakers, you’re in luck as Google have decided to make all their home devices compatible with Bluetooth speakers. Even though the sound isn’t the most important thing about Google’s smart home devices (of course it’s the not the main reason you buy a smart speaker), it’s pretty frustrating to invest in tech and have things not work as well as they COULD, especially if you’re using it to play a lot of music around your home! Google said they wanted to ‘amp up the sound’ and were responding to customer feedback (aw, thanks guys!) and you can pair any compatible Bluetooth speaker, even using multiple in different rooms, and of course using the smart assistant to sort them into groups or make one a default. It’s a massive change for Google, who previously only allowed connectivity between Google enabled speakers, meaning there are no limitations for us. Of course, you can’t speak directly into those 3rd party you’ll still have to talk directly to the Google Home device, with the speakers acting as merely vessels for the technology within the smart assistant. It’s nice to see Google listening to it’s customers (after a short delay in allowing 3rd party speakers) and it’s freeing to be able to use a multitude of speakers for with your home devices from now on.

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Potential Google smart display

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From the end of last year, there were rumblings of Google launching their own smart display and it seems like this launch is still on track. In a recent interview, Vice President Rishi Chandra hinted coyly that we may be hearing more about a smart display system soon, though gave no specifics. While Google Assistant will be available on Lenovo and Sony smart display devices, it still seems like Google is considering making a solo effort themselves. By partnering with these hardware makers, they’re dipping their toe into the waters of smart display, which would essentially be an updated version of the Google Assistant with a screen to allow for visuals. Of course, Amazon beat them to the punch with this, with the Amazon Echo Show, so it’s no surprise that Google want to continue to compete with their rival and develop their own version. When the smart display, supposedly code named ‘Manhattan’, will appear is year to be seen, with Google remaining tight-lipped for the time being.

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Would a Smart Speaker from Facebook be welcome ?

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Do you trust Facebook anymore? Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are in damage control mode, due to the data sharing in the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook, due to low privacy controls, allowed the app to access the personal data of potentially up to 80 million people, even data that Facebook users didn’t know they were publicly sharing. The social media site are in a privacy crisis at the moment, with allegations that certain election groups also used people’s data to potentially influence elections. While everyone frantically updates their privacy on the site, and potentially millions receiving notification this week that their data was, in fact, compromised, the bad press cycle continues. It’s doubtful that our appetite for the social media giant will suffer too much, but it definitely means a lack of trust for Facebook. But, we don’t want them inside our homes. It seems that Facebook have quietly admitted the same to themselves, as the launch of their smart speaker, to rival Amazon or Google, has been shelved. This makes sense, as we share so much with our smart devices, like our bank details or appointments or even more personal data about ourselves. Sadly, Facebook have realised that we just can’t trust them at the moment with this kind of personal access, especially while we still await answers and action plans from the company about protecting our data. It remains to be seen whether this indefinite delay will scupper their plans for a smart speaker altogether, as we see Amazon and Google get further ahead every day, and the longer Facebook wait the less chance they have of clawing smart home consumers back from the giants. It’s out of their hands at the moment though, as there’s definitely no appetite for Facebook spying in our homes.

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Amazon’s Alexa add music to their routines

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Using routines on smart home devices is pretty awesome as it is. Saying just one phrase and having loads of cool stuff happen at the same time? Makes you feel kind of like a wizard, or at least, pretty epic. So any updates of capabilities of routines on our Alexa devices is always going to be pretty exciting, and get this! These new updates can help you LEARN…! Or….just listen to more of those true crime podcasts you love. Amazon has finally added music to Alexa’s routine function, so you can now add any music from Spotify, Amazon music, Pandora (NOT Apple Music!) to your morning routine, including playlists which can also be set to shuffle. As well as this, you can of course add any of the podcasts from these streaming services (learn Italian in the am, or something funny to get you up on the right side of bed!) Usefully, you can also pre-set the volume for each routine, so you’re not blasting out the tunes at 6am, even if you had it on loud the night before. Google Assistant, of course, already has music as part of it’s routines function but these are only available in the U.S at the moment.

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Alice Towndrow
Article Author

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will 5G mobile make NBN obselete

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Even though there are no 5G enabled devices for us to use yet, Telstra are busy rolling out the world’s first 5G capable wi-if hotspots. And although we can’t use these speeds yet, and those using the hotspots will only get 4G, it’s kind of a breath of fresh air to be first on the list for once! We all know the disappointments we get in Australia where technology is concerned, so to be the first in the world to have 5G hotspots, if unusable to their full potential, is actually exciting! Surely it’s preferable to have the technology there for when we need it in the future, rather than be acres behind and clambering to catch up? With possibilities of gigabits per second speeds, up to 20x the fastest current speed anywhere in Australia at the moment (much higher than any current NBN speeds), 5G does sound promising! When you weigh it up against the struggling NBN network, which has been nothing short of a disappointment with delay after delay and underwhelming speeds, it’s no wonder people are looking for an alternative. So will 5G make NBN obsolete? The problem lies in the fact that, obviously, many companies put caps on our usage of data, in comparison to the USA and UK, who have long had ‘unlimited’ data phone plans. A second problem with this is that 5G is not available on the go yet, only in the hotspot areas, with rollout due to start next year and be completed by 2020. Due to rollout costs and the time it’s going to take, 5G may not end up defeating NBN internet, but we may see them co-exist as both projects complete around the new decade. Either way, it’s finally an exciting time for the internet in Australia, with some more competition looming for the NBN from the 5G network, speeds are going to get faster and we’ll have more choice, even if we have to wait a few years for it.

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