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 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!

NBN Co CEO resigns

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NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow has announced that come the end of 2018, he will be stepping down in his role, 2 years before the project is currently due to be completed. This latest high profile resignation follows chief corporate affairs officer Karina Keisler’s announcement that she’ll be leaving in the summer. Despite high praise for Malcom Turnbull, who said Morrow ‘turned the project around’, whilst the PM used the opportunity to take a dig at his political rivals, Morris leaves in a period of continuous turmoil for the company. Many customers have been disappointed at the speeds of their NBN, as they were much slower than advertised by partners like Telstra and Optus, the former of which already offered compensation to their customers at the end of last year. More recently the company have delayed the HFC cable rollout due to connection issues on the network, claiming to be focusing on a better quality for the customer, but it’s little consolation to see the new timetable delayed by months. Morrow himself has stated that customers are being left behind in the rollout and despite a positive outlook from the government, a 3rd CEO change in 4 years, coupled with ever altering plans from NBNCo, only adds to the lack of confidence from Australian consumers.

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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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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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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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How to make your Australian Amazon Alexa work with all alexa skills

As mentioned in the last article, many Aussie Alexa Users were frustrated when the AUS Alexa App and Software rolled out, claiming there were not enough skills or that their previous settings and smart home devices are no longer compatible. Well, FEAR NO MORE!

After speaking to a member of the Alexa team last week, I was given this VERY simple how-to guide. By following the steps below, you can successfully make your Amazon Echo Device compatible with your favourite brands and back to the USA software and app. With the added bonus of it recognising you are in Australia and not having to jump through a million hoops just to get the app on your phone.

This guide will work for all Australian marketplace compatible Alexa devices (such as any Alexa device sold on Amazon.com.au)Australian Skills and the Australian English language setting are NOT SUPPORTED on:

  •     Amazon Echo (1st Generation – bought before 2017)
  •     Echo Dot (1st Generation- bought before 2017)
  •     Echo Show
  •     Echo Spot
  •     Amazon Tap
IMPORTANT!!! *If you migrate an Alexa device to Australian from another country, you won't have access to digital content purchased from unsupported services, such as Amazon Music*

This guide will work whether or not your device is already active and registered, brand new, bought in Australia with Australian software, or bought previously from the American (or other countries) marketplace unactivated or activated.  if you had previously had a working American Amazon Alexa device and it lost all your setting and smart home features when the Australian software rolled out, this can get back your old account and settings and will let you pick u with your home automation and Alexa skills where you left them.

FOR PREVIOUSLY ACTIVATED DEVICES

To Complete the next steps you MUST have an Australian Amazon Account AND American Amazon account. The Echo device you wish to change should be already on your Australian account. ( this also works to move other countries Alexa to Australia,  just in reverse)

  1. Log into the Amazon marketplace your device is registered to and hover over my account menu, in the drop-down select 'Manage Your Content and Devices' link
  2. Go to the My Devices tab in the Manage Your Content and Devices, and find the device you wish to change and choose to deregister your device.
  3. then you just simply register the device again using the Alexa app, logging out of the olde account and back into the desired countries marketplace account, and then select your country's default language.

FOR NEW DEVICES

Now, this is REALLY easy part…. just change your country settings to your local Amazon website to get access to content and features on your Echo device.

You can change your country settings by visiting Manage Your Content and Devices and following these steps: To migrate your account to Amazon.com (or any other desired country including back to australia when the skils are availble), please follow the steps mentioned below.

  1. Visit the Manage Your Content and Devices page on Amazon.com.au (http://www.amazon.com.au/mycd)
  2. Select the Settings tab.
  3. Under the Country Settings heading you will see text stating

“You are currently linked to shopping on Amazon.com.au. Click here to learn more about other Amazon sites you are eligible to shop on based on your country of residence.”

  1. Select the link to see the available options.
  2. Click the “Learn about transferring your Kindle account to Amazon.com” link.
  3. If you're happy to return to Amazon.com, select the “Transfer your Kindle account to Amazon.com” button and follow the on-screen instructions.

You can migrate back to Amazon.com.au whenever you wish just repeat this process to the Australian website.

If you get stuck or are confused, or unsure of anything above, you can ask questions in the comments below, contact us via web-form, or on Facebook.   Alternatively, you can contact the Amazon support team.

Enjoy getting your 'Smart Home & Automation Skills' back.