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!

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 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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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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Dissappointed in Australian Echo Devices?

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Amazon's launch in Australia had a few Road bumps along the way, With false starts eventually making an Underwhelming catalogue. But the online retail giant did promise. Bring its own smart AI assistant. To Aussie Shores. In early 2018. That promise has been kept. With the echo range. Available in stores and online and with comes Australia's own true blue Alexa. While the echo range was the same physically as the American line, it was the ai assistant software that makes the unit unique to the Australian culture.

The Australian Amazon Alexa app launched in the past week, and the Amazon Alexa software was a major letdown for many, first off and not a huge issue is that Alexa has lost her bubbly sing-song voice, and now speaks in a thicker “more Aussie” accent. Which frankly sounds like an insult to many Australians, unless you sound like an 'ocker' computer. Alexa's Australian voice doesn't sound quite as natural as Google's, especially on the tiny Echo Dot which falls significantly short of the Google Home Mini when it comes to sound quality.

The biggest problem that many early users have though is the LACK OF SUPPORT, AND COMPATIBILITY Australia has received for Alexa. While it does feature a long list of Australian companies and websites that Alexa can connect to, which is excellent for weather recipes or news, the list of compatible devices skills … TINY!

For the company that single handly fueled the smart assistant and voice-controlled market in the states, and with significant competition from Google beating them to market on our shores, the smart devices companies that many consumers around the world turn to are nowhere to be seen.

It has not been announced why Amazon was unable to get more well-known companies to be ready launch day, but an unofficial source within Amazon told About Automation that they plan to release those skills at a later stage. “With more skills to be built on and release, and to expect an update to the skills list in the coming weeks”. To understand where I am coming from with this, let me list you all the “smart Home” Skills Alexa Aus can currently use.

Philips Hue

Harmony

Telstra Smart Home

LIFX

Koogeek smark Home (not work with p2)

Neo smart Blinde controller

YD Home2

Vertilux Shades (VTi Celtic Motors)

MyArticSpa

Feit_electric

eHomeLife

HomeMate New

mydlink Smart

Lanbon Smart Living

Meross

SSG Smart Home

Yeelight

Node-RED

B One VoiceAct

Harmony

mydlink Home

TP-LINK Kasa

Yonomi

AND THAT'S IT!!!!!!

Brands we want and need are ones like Samsung SmartThings, Wemo, Nest, Osram, eWeLink. I could go on, but I won't bore you. Personally, I find this a significant let down however you can not wholly blame Amazon for this, but with reliable companies like Amazon and Samsung, you do expect a bit more readiness for a major product launch.

There is also small let downs when you compare Alexa to the well established U.S AI Software. For instance, the Australian software can keep a shopping list, but they can't purchase directly from Amazon (yet). Nor can they control Amazon's Fire Stick for streaming, This combined with the lack of skill to recognise different users by voice. The average consumer would seem to think that Amazon is still treating Australia as a second-rate country,  which does appear to be the leading reason why we are not on par with the US or even the UK technology market. Large companies just seem to think we don't want or need it. With companies like Google, we ahead of this curve, however still fail to provide the services they do to other countries, but beating Amazon to market for home assistant hardware has already given Google a big head start. 

Now on to what the Alexa Australian Software CAN do…

for music streaming, you have a choice of iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Spotify and the newly released Amazon Music Unlimited. The echo dot, in particular, doesnt have a powerful sound like the Google home devices. However, All the Echo speakers have an impressive trick up their sleeve: the ability to connect to an external speaker via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm audio cable.

Like Google, you can create routines such as “Alexa, good morning” or “Alexa, I'm home” to trigger a string of smart home commands. This will prove to be a favourite set up for many smart homes.

If all this bad talk from many reviews and news outlets is dragging you down, or you already have an Alexa device and are sick of asking what the weather is like? Or to tell you a joke. There is hope yet.

The good news is as mentioned before amazon echo devices are identical to the units sold in America. It's just the software that changes its compatibility. The way it tells what country you are is far more straightforward than it seems, for now, if you which to continue to use American Alexa software you can follow this guide to switch countries software.

So your smart home can continue to function until the skills are more readily available in australia.

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AMAZON AUSTRALIA SOFTWARE DROPPED EARLY!

IN BREAKING NEWS – a fluke discovery for any Australian users of Amazon Alexa.
If you have shipped an Amazon Echo device from the UK or USA, and have had to do some tricky set up to get it to work, chances are on the 24th of Jan, it stopped working.
Things like not recognising your account, even dropped off basic set up features like switching accounts and answering set up questions. It appeared to have been in factory restored mode, forgetting all of your settings and account.
Well, there’s a reason for that!
As of tonight, Amazon has pushed the Australian Software for Amazon Alexa. (whether or not it was testing or intending this change, remains to be confirmed)
Upon further inspection (and a lot of back and forth trying to figure out why our lights weren’t talking to echo), we discovered that the Amazon app (not available in Australian app stores YET), gave us a preview of what is to come.
Below is a list of all new Australian and New Zealand skills ready to go come on launch day, set to be the 1st of Feb (in 6 days’ time).

Lastly, a massive feat for Austereo. Not only having Hit105 and sister stations all with skills but also Triple M Radio Stations, in particular, have been very busy working on TWO skills per major station. One for news, and one dedicated to sports news. This is a great skill to have for your morning briefing.

  • Triple M news for Sydney
  • Triple M news for Brisbane
  • Triple M news for Melbourne
  • Triple M news for Adelaide
  • Triple M sport for Sydney
  • Triple M sport for Brisbane
  • Triple M sport for Melbourne
  • Triple M sport for Adelaide

We are sure that there are many still to come, these are all the confirmed skills. There are many NON-BRANDED skills like games, facts and jokes ready to go as well.

Amazon Alexa new Wake up call feature

Alexa has been updated to support music alarms!

Amazon announced that Alexa has been updated to include support for music alarms. So instead of just asking Alexa to set an alarm for you, you’ll be able to request specific songs, playlists, artists, or genres to get you out of bed in the morning. Ranging from a variety of music services, already supported to use as alarm tones, including Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio. The Alexa-powered device can be directly connected to speakers with a 3.5mm audio cable or via Bluetooth.

To get yourself into the Christmas spirit on Christmas eve just say “Alexa, wake me at 8am to Christmas carols”

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