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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Beyond Tomorrow, The Future of Housing

Forget about flying cars, self tying shoelaces and hover boards, we know what the real future will look like and it’s ….. kind of already here?
Experts are predicting that in the next five years most of our homes will be completely run by smart technology, building on the success that products like the Amazon Echo have already had. Home automation systems will start doing more of the work for us, predicting what we need before we need it, essentially. So, at the moment we can build a routine by integrating a few tasks together, using one phase, such as ‘good morning’, to turn on the lights and play music. This is going to become even smoother in a few years, apparently, with our home devices getting used to our routine and being able to do things without us asking, like figuring out who’s home based on facial recognition and automatically beginning a routine for that particular person, like turning on the coffee machine and adjusting the heating. All without us saying a word. A.I will also be able to act as a personal assistant, adding information from emails or texts straight into our calendar and predicting, based on our habits, whether we’d like to hear about the traffic or the news before we leave the house. The interesting thing is, a lot of these actions we can do already with our home automation systems, like building a routine or asking about weather. The difference is in the prediction that our home automation systems will make it so easy for us by doing many of our daily requests automatically, fitting seamlessly into our lives. Experts have spoken of ‘Lifestyle benefits’ from these improvements, and it certainly seems like the future of home automation is going to take a lot of stress from our lives. I don’t know about you, but this seems more realistic (and helpful!) than a flying car.

Google Assistant integrates with GPAY

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So you’re at lunch, your friend pays and you hop onto your online banking, as usual, to transfer them the money. But instead of tapping away for a few minutes, you can now just say ‘Hey Google, pay Jenny $20 for lunch today…’ and Google Assistant will do the rest for you. Google has merged Google Wallet/Android Pay to create their competitor to Apple Pay, so users in the US are now able to use Google Pay to pay others directly, without the need to log in and out of online banking apps constantly. Got that one friend who never remembers to pay? You’re in luck because Google is taking the awkwardness out of asking them for the repayment, as you can also use voice-activated technology to request money. While this feature is on your phones, you’ll still be asked for a fingerprint or password confirmation when you pay someone, so it’s pretty secure, and Google won’t be paying out anything without you knowing about it. On top of this, Google has announced plans to add Google Pay to speakers such as Google Home, although as yet any extra security beyond voice recognition hasn’t been announced for this future update. 

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Amazon is in it for the long haul

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Amazon are on a hiring spree for Alexa, taking on not only more than Google are for their home automation department but more than google is hiring for….well, everything. Amazon are really going hard at the moment and are on the lookout for developers, engineers and analysts amongst others and they currently have job listings for more than 1000 potential workers. So what does this mean? For Amazon, it obviously shows that they’re committed to the growth and success of Alexa, which isn’t surprising given the popularity of the Amazon Echo. It also perhaps demonstrates that they’re continuing to be aggressive in competing with Google Assistant. As most of the positions open are technical ones, Amazon is clearly pushing forward to make Alexa even more advanced in the near future. Of course, this doesn’t discount Google, as Amazon’s workforce as a whole is still comparatively smaller than Google’s, by about 200,000 people. It’s also important to remember that Google has always been a technology company, and many of the resources of the overall company are used towards Google Assistant, whereas Amazon had to create a whole technology department essentially from scratch. So that doesn’t mean that Google are scrimping on their Assistant by not hiring as many people: they already have the numbers.

Of course, with this well publicised move, Amazon are making their position clear: they’re betting big on Alexa.

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Alice Towndrow
Article Author

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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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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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Alexa lost her voice FOR REAL

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Alice Towndrow
Article Author

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Users of Amazon’s Alexa were left confused, due to the smart device seemingly succumbing to the AWS outage. Poor Alexa has been noted to give replies stating ‘Sorry, something went wrong’, or losing her voice completely, giving no reply. The outage occurred on Friday, affecting homes and businesses across the U.S, particularly the East Coast and California. Amazon Web Services, for their part, were investigating this ‘increased packet loss’ and within a few hours, noted on their dashboard that they had resolved the issue, stating within 4 hours of the first update that the connection loss had been solved.

Other servers that rely on AWS, such as Slack, were also not working during the connection loss, leaving many businesses who rely on Slack or Alexa, at a loss. Although Alexa could be accessed using the app with limited success, Amazon’s leading lady losing her voice is eerily reminiscent of the company’s Super Bowl ad just last month, where Alexa’s lost voice is replaced by various celebrities. Sadly, this time there was no Gordon Ramsey, Rebel Wilson or Cardi B to take her place! Although, with reports coming in of Alexa emitting a creepy laugh, the silence could be preferable? Hopefully, these two issues are the last we hear of for a while from Amazon and Alexa. 

I wonder what jeff bezos has to say about thier semi predictive superbowl ad now ? lucky for consumers we diddnt have rebel wilson on a call with our speaker while in the bath….

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Home HQ- An Aussie Smart Home Kit

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Alice Towndrow
Article Author

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A Watered down smart home from Origin Energy.

Origin have just announced plans for a ‘budget’ smart home kit, but is it really all that? At just $199 and including a smart bulb, plugs and motion sensors, it does seem like the perfect, economical, way to get into the smart home game. Yet, despite novel ways to save energy and keep your home secure, like checking the lights are off or receiving an alert if the door is opened, it comes across as a slightly underwhelming version of a smart kit.

When you take into consideration the ‘smarter’ older siblings in this scenario, Google Home, Amazon Echo or Nest, the market leaders are more versatile and simply better value for money, in that the family home will be ever evolving with the technology. Choosing one of the brand leaders for your smart home will also ensure compatibility with more partners, giving you more choice over what you buy and how much you pay. The Origin kit, on the other hand, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing in terms of smart technology. A smart home should be customisable to the family’s needs and wants and offer a wealth of choice when it comes to expanding on the household’s smart products. Origin Energy’s starter kit, as yet, doesn’t offer this.

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