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07.13.17 | 2:57 pm

Buying stuff with Amazon Echo? You have company but also lots of doubters

Amazon's plan for turning Alexa into a ubiquitous driver of voice-activated impulse buys seems to be working out quite nicely. Almost 20% of consumers said they have made a purchase through Echo or another voice-controlled device over the past year, according to a new survey from Walker Sands. Another 14% say they are "very likely" to make a voce-controlled purchase in the next 12 months and 19% more say they're "somewhat likely" to do so. The poll of 1,622 U.S. consumers—part of the agency's "Future of Retail" report—speaks to the rapid adoption of smart home devices since the introduction of Amazon's first Echo in 2014.

There are still a considerable number of naysayers, however. Almost half (48%) of consumers polled said they are "not likely at all" to use a voice-controlled device to make a purchase in the next year. Moreover, only 24% of consumers said they even owned a voice-controlled home assistant, compared to 55% who said they own a tablet and 78% who said they own a smartphone. Check out more from Walker Sands here.

[Images: Walker Sands]

07.07.17 | 12:54 pm

Your Amazon Echo is ready to nag you now

In case your phone's desperate cries for attention weren't enough, you can now get notifications on Amazon Alexa devices such as the Echo speaker and the new Echo Show. When Amazon has something to say, it'll play an audio tone—which can be disabled—and show a yellow light ring or on-screen banner. Users can then manage their notifications with a variety of voice commands, such as, "Alexa, what'd I miss?"

For now, Amazon is only offering notifications for when a package is out for delivery, and users must opt in to receive the alerts. But over time, the company plans to expand notifications to other services, such as Washington Post news updates and reports from Accuweather. Still needed: A better system to juggle all those nagging alerts and avoid more notification overload.

(h/t AFTVNews)

06.28.17 | 1:14 pm

Amazon’s Echo Show is already making Alexa skills way better—and more visual

With today's launch of the Amazon Echo Show, a handful of third-party skills have started taking full advantage of the device's touchscreen. Ask Alexa for movie suggestions from Fandango, for instance, and you can scroll through a list of nearby theaters, tap on the movie you want to see, and buy tickets. Set up a restaurant reservation in OpenTable, and all the details will appear in text before you confirm. Other Echo Show-optimized skills include Uber, All Recipes, CapitalOne, Bloomberg, CNN, and Jeopardy.

Those visual cues and touch controls are a big part of the Echo Show's appeal, but during our review period, they weren't available to the thousands of third-party Alexa skills that developers have created. As more developers optimize their skills for touchscreens, the Echo Show will become much more useful, and Alexa will become a lot more practical on other devices like car dashboards and smartphones.

06.21.17 | 11:00 am

Bored kids and their desperate parents are the biggest fans of smart speakers: study

If you're wondering who is getting the most out of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home, turns out it's the future tech CEOs of America, aka our net-native children. A new study from NPR and Edison Research reveals that nearly 90% of children who have one say they enjoy smart speakers, and eight in 10 parents say these devices have made it easier to entertain their children. Some 57% of smart speaker owners with kids at home said that one of the reasons they bought a smart speaker was to entertain children. (Library cards are free, kids!) 

The Smart Audio Report was based upon a national online survey of 1,620 Americans ages 18 and over, 800 of whom owned at least one Smart Speaker. Other interesting findings were that use of the speaker grows over time—nearly half say they are using the speaker more now than in the first month they owned it. Proving that you should not give up on the Alexa your uncle bought your for Christmas yet. In fact, people liked smart speakers so much that 44% of owners expect to purchase another one and that goes up to over half (56%) among parents. The majority (65%) said that that "they would not want to go back to their lives before getting one of these devices," and 42% calling their devices "essential" to their everyday lives. 

The researchers will present their findings in a webinar on June 28. More on that here.  

[Photo: Google]

05.19.17 | 9:26 am

Privacy concerns are the biggest drawback for smart home devices, say people who have them

We Americans aren't going to let a little thing like privacy stop us from wiring up our homes with more and more smart devices. A new survey from ReportLinker found that 31% of consumers say concerns about privacy are the main drawback for owning devices such as connected appliances, security systems, or smart speakers like Amazon's Echo. That makes privacy the most-cited drawback. A slightly smaller number, 29%, cited price as the main drawback to the devices, while 10% said they just don't have the time to learn how to use one. (Put me in that last bucket.) 

Still, half of the respondents said they owned one or two smart home devices and 26% said they owned five or more, so the convenience of having a smart home seems to be winning out over privacy angst. 

ReportLinker's survey of 508 online respondents representative of the U.S. population was conducted on May 4. Check out the full report here

[Image: ReportLinker]

04.28.17 | 1:36 pm

Amazon might launch a touch-screen Echo soon

A premium display-equipped version of the Amazon Echo speaker has been the subject of rumors for over a year now, and it could launch next month, according to CNET. The site's unnamed source claims that Amazon has accelerated the launch to stay ahead of Google, whose recent launch of multi-user support for the Google Home speaker served as a "wake-up call." If CNET's report is accurate, the device would be Amazon's second new Echo product in as many months, following this week's launch of the camera-equipped Echo Look.

This wouldn't be Amazon's first Alexa device with a display, as the voice assistant also appears on the company's Fire tablets and Fire TV media players. But the premium Echo device could help establish more of an on-screen presence for Alexa, ahead of its arrival on smartphones, car dashboards, and even refrigerators.

02.15.17 | 9:56 am

Alexa, call me maybe? Amazon and Google are mulling phone service for their home devices: report

Amazon and Google are reportedly interested in adding phone service to their popular home speaker devices—Echo and Home—but hangups about telecom regulations and privacy are complicating matters. Citing unnamed sources, the  Wall Street Journal reported this morning that the functionality could be added as soon as this year. Phone service would help the competing tech behemoths further entrench their devices into the lives of consumers and open a rich new vein of data collection. Read the full story here

[Photo: Amazon]

01.04.17 | 5:09 pm

Amazon says Alexa now has 7K “skills,” 7X what it had 7 months ago

So said Amazon's VP of Echo, Alexa, and app store, Mike George, while announcing an Alexa-enabled LG refrigerator at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Wednesday. Alexa is the voice-enabled AI brain behind Amazon's Echo home assistant device. 

The Alexa brain is finding its way into more and more devices as consumers get used to using voice commands for everything from music requests to cooking directions to hailing Uber rides. "We have a rich pipeline of Alexa voice service equipment that will be released over the coming months," George said.

Alexa has already made a big impact at CES this week, points out Geekwire. "Already, LG has announced the Alexa-enabled refrigerator, Lenovo debuted a voice-activated speaker that runs on Alexa, and Dish Network customers will soon be able to pair a Hopper DVR with an Alexa-powered speaker and control it using their voices," writes reporter Nat Levy.

11.03.16 | 1:40 pm

Google Home smart speaker off to a good start, say reviewers


Google finally has an AI- and search-powered home appliance to challenge the Amazon Echo. And the voice-controlled Google Home is off to a good start, say the first reviews.

The $129 Google Home's biggest strength is that it works well with Google, including complex search. "[Home] quickly informed me that giving my dog squash is totally fine as long as it's cooked," writes Brian X. Chen of the New York Times. Home wins for a smarter AI that understands context, not just individual questions, says Nathan Ingraham of Engadget. It answered both "When was Lincoln born?" and the follow-up "When did he die?" Because it integrates with a Google account (though just one person's) Home knows a lot about heavy Google users, if they enable the capability. It has the context to answer questions like how long will it take to get to work or to provide a summary of your whole upcoming day.

But Home could be dumb for to real-world uses. Walt Mossberg of The Verge and Recode asked it for local pharmacies and got three answers—two of them wrong—whereas Echo aced the test. Mossberg's in the minority on Home's audio abilities, calling the speaker "a tiny bit fuzzy," and saying that the Echo has better microphones to pick up commands. Others found the mic systems about equal, the speaker better. "Home is an excellent speaker, by the way—richer, brighter and more dynamic than the Echo," writes Wired's David Pierce.

Home falls short on integration with other services and devices, they all say, such as controlling a wide variety of home-automation products. Home could beat Echo some day, thanks to Google's capabilities. "Home might be better two years from now, but right now they're more or less the same device," says Pierce.

08.18.16 | 3:18 pm

The Whyd smart speaker looks like Sonos and Amazon Echo had a baby

Not sold on the whole wireless smart speaker thing? Here's another option to pique your interest: Whyd. The French company's colorful line of voice-controlled, high-fidelity speakers hit Sonos and the Amazon Echo where it hurts 'em the most. 

The $300 cylindrical speakers offer the simplicity of the Echo's voice control, but with higher quality: Each speaker contains five drivers and a subwoofer, aiming for audiophile crowd. It's also limited to music, unlike the Echo, which is trying to become the brains of your entire home. 

Sound-wise, the speaker is more analogous to Sonos, and it takes a crack at a common complaint among Sonos users: Its mediocre software control experience and its lack of support for wireless standards like Bluetooth, AirPlay, and Google Cast.  The Whyd vows to work with all of these standards, as well as major streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, and Deezer.  It has its own proprietary app for controlling music, but the Amazon-style voice control option is a nice, convenient touch.