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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]

06.07.17 | 1:10 pm

Watch Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home gang up on Apple’s HomePod in this all-too-real Colbert skit 

Apple recently announced its new HomePod, which will rival Amazon's Alexa and Google Home in the smart speaker market. The tech companies are not pleased about Apple's foray into their product space. The only solution? Murder. At least that's according to a sketch from The Late Show, which pits the helpful home assistants against each other in a fight to the death—or a dance-off—whichever comes first. In the bit, the two internet-enabled speakers chat about the new Apple product. "It's $350," said Google Home. "Who will buy it?" 

"Apple fans will," replied Alexa. "Those zombies will line up to buy anything." To borrow a line from Homer Simpson, it's funny 'cause it's true.

04.20.17 | 12:00 pm

Now Google Home can recognize different voices

Getting virtual assistants to understand who's talking is a tough engineering challenge, but Google Home appears to have solved it. The connected speaker now supports up to six user profiles, switching on the fly based on the sound of each person's voice. That way, users can ask for their own music playlists, calendar appointments, news reports, and commute times.

Setting up separate profiles involves a visit to the Google Home app, where users must say "OK Google" and "Hey Google" twice apiece. Google then analyzes the voice on its neural network and downloads the characteristics to the speaker, so it can analyze hotwords locally instead of wasting time sending them to the cloud. The feature is rolling out to U.S. users starting today, and will expand to U.K. users in the "coming months." Your move, Amazon Echo.

[Photo: Google]

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]

02.06.17 | 10:28 am

Google’s Super Bowl commercial accidentally set off plenty of viewers’ devices

When one of the characters in the ad—which featured families laughing and hugging each other–said "OK Google," it set off many viewer's devices at home. 

Try it now…and see what happens!

01.06.17 | 2:01 pm

Thousands of people are taking a break from work today to watch two Google Homes duke it out

It's probably not what Google had in mind when they launched the Home digital assistant, but clearly, a lot of people think watching two of them have a (rather banal) philosophical and existential argument is worth being glued to their computers. 

Twitch is live-streaming the battle of words, which moments ago revolved around the gender-identity of both devices, as well as the idea that at least one of them was named Mia, and that Mia was a pirate. It seems quite clear to me that this will eventually be exposed as a prank, but for now, you can watch and operate under the assumption that this kind of endless loop of slightly antagonistic discussion is the best reason to not have two of these assistants in your house–or at least why you don't want to put them close enough to each other that they start to talk amongst themselves. Also, now I want to see what happens if you pit two Alexa systems against each other, or perhaps an Alexa and a Home. This could get fun.

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.