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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What happened to Cortana?

Cortana…thinking of the Microsoft A.I system makes something stir in your brain, doesn’t it?
When you think of home automation, your mind naturally jumps first to Amazon Alexa, then Google Assistant as the market leaders, but whatever happened to the Microsoft alternative? Of course, if you’re a windows user, you’ll undoubtedly have Cortana on hand on your PC, but she’s hardly a leading contender in the home automation market, especially in Australia as we still can’t buy the Harmon Kardon speaker (with Cortana) over here. This narrow market is one of Microsoft’s main problems, as they’re heavily reliant on PC users for their Cortana audience in markets other than the US. But for PC users, it also speaks volumes that one of the top relevant searches on google is: how can I turn Cortana off?

Yet, Microsoft is a household name, which means potential audiences have trust in them. They’re also making gains with software updates, adding IFTTT (if this then that) capability only slightly later than Google and Amazon, and a recent update allows Cortana to integrate with outlook, meaning we can listen to and respond to our emails by speaking. A lot of people were also excited about Microsoft working with Amazon to integrate their respective devices, yet this has been pushed back way past the original date of the end of 2017. It seems like Cortana still has some major gains to make, especially as it’s not even an option for us in Australia yet, before it can be anything more than an underdog against Amazon and Google. Although, perhaps with new boss Javier Soltero and the opening of the Cortana Intelligence Institute, Microsoft are ready to make up for lost time?

Home Automation Set To Add Value To Real Estate

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When choosing to buy and install smart, automated systems into our houses we usually have a reason: it’s going to make our lives easier or our home more secure. Our lives more liveable. But, can they also be treated as an investment into our homes? More importantly, is it a GOOD investment?

Apparently, yes. Having smart home devices in your house when it’s on the market can count for a whole lot more than having the magic colour ‘magnolia’ on your walls (thank god, one of those is definitely more interesting!) A lot of buyers are now, according to the smart home survey, seeking homes with security-based home automation built in, such as a smart doorbell or smart door sensors. A high percentage of people also rate energy efficiency high on the must-have list when looking to buy a home, so installing a smart thermostat, with the ability to have more control over your bills and the amount of energy you use, would be a win for many potential buyers.

It doesn’t come as too much of a surprise though, that the most sought-after automation aren’t widely expensive or high-tech. Instead, buyers are wanting the ‘modern basics’, the things we’ve been looking at when buying a home for decades. We primarily want security, energy efficiency, safety (such as Nest’s smoke and CO detector) and investing in these, of course (as we’ve always known), should be a good investment in your home.

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Voice Assist Is Not ONLY For The Tech Savy

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Smartphone and smart homes: is it inevitable that the older generation gets left behind in the new age of technology? Actually, no. New A.I initiatives are marketing themselves towards the needs of elderly people and increasing numbers are installing home help and home automated systems to help them live a more independent life. At its simplest, you can use A.I such as Lifepod as a ‘virtual caregiver’. It’ll remind your loved one to take their medicine, remember appointments, as well as acting as an emergency response system (more sophisticated than the old emergency button-necklace device). We all know the worries of living away from a potentially vulnerable relative, and so apparently do the makers of A.I, as you can now use Alarm.com’s Wellness system to check on movement patterns, eating habits and even check if they’ve locked the door! Perhaps the most important use of these home automation for elderly people is something we often forget: a cure for loneliness. A vast portion of Australia’s elderly population suffers from loneliness, especially those living alone. Amazon Alexa can connect you by phone to a loved one in an instant, or even serve as someone to talk to herself. As a viable, cheaper, alternative to a hired nurse or nursing home, this might just be a technological advancement to excite and help those outside the ‘tech generation’.

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Alice Towndrow
Article Author

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Apple Hompod & Homekit products

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Apple’s Home Kit has always appeared to be a less viable contender in the smart home market and it’s been noted that the experience with Siri is less sophisticated than with Amazon’s Alexa, for example. While all you need to begin your own smart home is an iPad/iPhone, the Home Kit app and whatever compatible products that you choose, the traditional rigidity of Apple has put off a lot of those that aren’t hardcore Apple followers. Trying to divert attention from the bad press of the delayed Home Pod (many users found that it left marks on wooden tables!), an extensive list of Home Kit compatible products have been released. This includes Safe and Sound, which provides us with a new 2-in-1, operating primarily as a fire alarm and CO sensor. While that doesn’t sound all too exciting (we can see a variant of this on every smart home platform), it also includes a speaker, making for an easy, space-saving integration. Usefully, this can also be used on Amazon Alexa, for those of us not committed to Apple. Most interestingly (especially for visiting guests!), is the Nanoleaf dodecahedron remote with, you guessed it, 12 sides. As you turn the remote, it sets a different scene, and you can even use certain nanoleaf remotes to adjust the brightness in your room. It’s also the most visually pleasing and entrancing remote you may ever see! While it’s fair to say that this is a stride in the right direction for Apple and their Home Kit, it’s worth remembering that these products are also compatible with many other smart homes ‘hubs’, which may be a more flexible choice if you don’t want to be committed to Apple’s rigid software rules.

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Alice Towndrow
Article Author

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Alexa will now allow follow up commands

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In the ever-growing tech ‘arms race’, Amazon are committed to making our lives easier, as well as our jaws less sore. Instead of constantly saying ‘Alexa…Alexa…Alexa…’ (or whatever your start up command is), Amazon have released a new update allowing follow up questions to be asked, meaning Alexa will stay awake for an extra five seconds listening out for another question, without the need for you to say her name (don’t wear it out?) again and again.

For the moment, the questions need to be separate, you can’t combine them, but it will make for a more natural conversation with Alexa, as she will also try and pick out whether you’re talking to her or to someone else, or even if it’s the TV that she can hear. If for some reason you don’t have any more questions or need anything else, a simple ‘thank you’ will send her back off to sleep, which is pretty natural and something probably 90% of us say to our devices anyway (got to be polite)! Of course, it’s definitely in the new stage at the moment, only available in English and can only be used when music is off, but it’s good to know that Amazon understands the little annoyances with these devices and that they’re working towards a more natural interaction with our smart gadgets.

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Alice Towndrow
Article Author

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Google and Amazon going head to head AGAIN

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Alice Towndrow
Article Author

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I guess, in the arena of war, you can’t afford to help the other side. That’s exactly what Amazon decided when they announced that they were to stop listing the new Nest products on their site. The Google-owned smart home system retaliated with a move to pull all of it’s products from the amazon site, leaving ‘commander’ (Amazon CEO), Jeff Bezos, to bet big on Amazon’s own smart devices. It’s not entirely unsurprising that in the battle to lead the smart home market, Amazon would want to use their vast scope, and all their website’s immense popularity, to sell and promote their own product and by Nest’s own admission, its been on the cards for a while.

The Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant have been going head to head for a long time, already, so it’s only natural that Amazon would want to up the stakes and have a ‘sink or swim’ moment with their own website and product. Of course, this kind of competitive spirit has been demonstrated by Apple for years, both with Google (over their maps, remember the dire beginnings of ‘Apple maps’?!) and of course with Amazon itself, who stopped selling Apple TV on their site for a time.As a wise person (nearly) said: all’s fair in the technology war, and with google retaliating by blocking their YouTube app on some Fire TVs, it will remain to be seen who has the upper hand in this battle.

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Google Assistant Updates and Improvments

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“Ok, Google… ”

Imagine a world where, with one phrase, your Google Assistant could turn on your lights and your air-con, all while turning your TV on to that unmissable prime-time drama. It’s pretty soon going to be a reality, with the addition of multi-command routines to Google Assistant. The newest feature updates mean more functions can now be added to Google ”routines” letting the user personalise them more. Because who doesn’t want to get through their to-do-list (well, some of it anyway) by just uttering one phrase? Setting up ”Routines” and ”Commands” to respond to one sentence is much like the already existing Amazon Alexa feature. For Example, you can say Ok Google, Goodnight. ” and know that your doors will get locked, lights and TVs are off, and security cameras are turned on.

This week it was also announced, with much excitement, that even more improvements are coming to Google Assistant While we can already use the handy assistant from Google Home hardware, Chromebooks and Pixelbooks, as well as some Android TVs with the built-in native software, It is using it from Android smartphones that will become a whole lot easier! Working assistants on android run phones are about to launch device-specific command software, for use with your very own Google Assistant. Essentially, the whole thing is going to work more smoothly, even listening for specific commands when the screen is off (let’s face it- everyone hates having to turn the screen on when using voice command!)

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Ring is the latest company to be bought by Amazon

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Amazon has made an estimated BILLION DOLLAR acquisition to purchase home security and digital doorbell company RING; the successful smart home security company confirmed the deal this week tell USA CNBC news that “We’ll be able to achieve even more by partnering with an inventive, customer-centric company like Amazon. We look forward to being a part of the Amazon team as we work toward our vision for safer neighbourhoods.”

It is expected that Amazon will keep RING as an independent company as it has done so previously with Game streaming company witch and shoe company Zappos. Amazon has previously worked closely with RING and has now purchased the company with part of its Alexa fund. The market has reacted quickly to this news with stocks for company alarm.com dropping immediately and Amazon stocks up by a further 2%.

It is not the first nor as we predict the last smart home company acquisition by Amazon. With smart security company blink being bought out by Amazon last year, and reports of Amazon making offers for startup smart lock company August Homes. acquisitions like this show amazons dedication to being a smart home central company,

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Amazon Alexa is coming to Windows 10 PCs

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Amazons Digital Assistant seems to be compatible with almost anything these days, except your Windows PC. Both Amazon and Microsoft announcing a new assistant partnership which was due to invoked in late 2017. However, both companies seemed to have failed to meet the integration deadline and now Amazon Alexa is arriving on Windows 10 PCs to challenge Microsoft’s built-in Cortana assistant.

HP, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer are all PC companies that plan to integrate Alexa into a range of Windows 10 laptops and desktops being released this year, which was announced at each respective companies CES display. However, integration will require a particular Alexa app for Windows that should be available in the second quarter of 2018.

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