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.

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?

Google Assist expanded routines

‘Google, I’m home.’ Only, our home’s in the wrong place.
Google have rolled out 6 routines, which users of Google Home to modify to their needs. The catch is it’s not actually available in Australia yet. It’s not just us that have update envy for once, in fact the new routines are only available in the U.S at the moment, leaving anyone who’s home is in a different place out of the updates. Since the announcement from Google at the end of last year that they’d be rolling out routines, we’ve been pretty excited. A set of pre-programmed actions that are activated by just a phrase? Sign us up! The six routines available include, Good Morning, I’m Home, or Bedtime, in which you can program your lights to turn off, turn your phone on silent and manage your thermostat if you so choose to. Google’s official line is that other countries can use ‘My Day’ in the time being, hearing our calendar, news briefing and weather report. For us poor Aussies, this feels a bit lacklustre, especially considering we can use routines on the rival Amazon Echo already. So, what’s the holdup, Google? Let’s hope they bring routines to our home automation down under soon!

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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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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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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