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Amazon Echo can now answer follow-up questions similar to Google Home

While the Amazon Echo speaker, and its Alexa digital assistant, have been available for over two years now, it seems that it is just now adding a feature that’s been available for owners of the more recent Google Home speaker since it launched in early November. Specifically, Amazon Echo can now respond, at least in limited form, to follow-up questions that are given after the first inquiry on the same subject.

See also:

Amazon Echo commands – our guide to everything Alexa can do

1 week ago

What does this mean? Basically, if you have the Echo, you can say, “Alexa, who is the governor of Texas?” and it will say, “Greg Abbott.” Then if you follow up by saying, “How old is he?”, the Echo and Alexa should respond with “59”. This feature was first noted by Reddit users earlier this week, but it apparently only works with some inquires, so it’s doesn’t quite work as well as Google Home.

Amazon Echo can now answer follow-up questions similar to Google Home

Indeed, one of the biggest selling points of the Google Home is that you can start a normal conversation with it and it will, hopefully, respond in kind through multiple exchanges. This kind of feature is only just now rolling out to the Amazon Echo devices, via Alexa, but so far it would appear that Google Home has the edge on this particular feature.

What do you think of the Echo adding this feature that’s already available out of the box for Google Home? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Some Google Home owners report speaker randomly stops playing music

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The Google Home connected speaker has been available for over a month now, but a few owners have since reported that the device just randomly stops playing music in the middle of playing a song. So far, there’s no explanation for why this might be happening.

See also:

Google Home review – the future of the home?

November 18, 2016

Google’s support forums have a number of posts from owners on this issue, including one who says it occurs while using voice commands to play a song or when Google Home is casting from a phone or PC. Many of the owners have tried to reboot the speaker, but the problem keeps popping up.

Some users have speculated that a bad Internet or WiFi connection may be to blame, but others have stated their connection seems to be fine when it is in use to stream content to other devices.  A Google rep posted on the forums on Nov. 19 stating the company is going to do some “further research on this matter”. However, that’s the last time that a team member has posted on the issue in those forums. In the meantime, more and more owners of Google Home have been reporting the same random music interruptions.

If you own a Google Home speaker, have you experienced these same kinds of problems? If so, let us know your impressions in the comments.

Google Home now works with some Sony speakers and Android TVs

The recently launched Google Home connected speaker is slowing adding new third-party devices that will work with the product. This week, Sony revealed that some of its Chromecast built-in Sony speakers can connect to Google’s latest hardware product, along with some of its and Android TV-based 4K HDR televisions.

See also:

What voice commands can I use with Google Home?

November 10, 2016

If you own one of these Sony speakers and Google Home, you can say, “Ok Google, play some workout music on my Sony speaker”, for instance. You can also ask it to stream your favorite playlist from your preferred music service. Other voice commands will allow you to control the volume of the speaker, stop or skip over a music track, or even ask for a song’s title simply by saying, “Ok Google, what is playing?”

All of Sony’s Android TVs now support Google Home, too. The company’s sound bars that support the speaker include the HT-ST9, HT-NT5, HT-CT790, HT-XT2, and HT-RT5 models, along with the STR-DN1070, STR-DN1060, and STR-DN860 receivers. Finally, the Sony wireless speakers with the model numbers SRS-X99, SRS-ZR7, SRS-ZR5, and SRS-HG1 all now work with Google Home.

Google’s new speaker product recently added support for over 30 new services and apps, including Netflix and Google Photos.

Google Store spreads holiday cheer with free expedited shipping until Dec. 21

If you are still looking to get the perfect tech gift for a family member or friend, Google wants to help out with a special offer. From now until December 21 at 3 p.m. Eastern time, the Google Store hardware retail site is offering free expedited shipping for any orders.

See also:

Google Home review – the future of the home?

November 18, 2016

That means any orders made on the site in that time frame should be shipped out and arrive at your doorstep, or the person you bought the product for, before Christmas. This is an excellent offer for people who want to get a new Google Pixel or Pixel XL smartphone, or perhaps a Daydream View VR headset to go with it.  You can also get the Google Home connected speaker, a Chromecast streaming dongle like the 4K-capable Chromecast Ultra, and even more products and accessories before the big day arrives, and not have to spend anything on shipping.

Google’s support page does point out that people who place their order on the Google Store site before 11 a.m. in their local time zone should count from the day they place the order, Orders turned in after 11 a.m. in their local time should be counted from the day after the order is placed.

Will you be ordering from the Google Store for a last-minute holiday gift?

Microsoft might have some secret weapons in store for its Echo competitor

You may have caught a glimpse of Microsoft’s teaser for its Amazon Echo competitor the other day. It’s a Harman Kardon speaker running Cortana that aims to take on not just the Echo, but also the likes of Google Home and whatever Samsung eventually comes out with running Bixby (besides the Galaxy S8 of course). But against such fierce competition, does Microsoft’s digital assistant speaker stand a chance?

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10 best personal assistant apps for Android

4 weeks ago

In short: absolutely. But there are quite a few things to consider when trying to predict how well a virtual assistant product will do on the market. First, there are the obvious things, like the quality and feature-set of the virtual assistant itself and the hardware in which it exists.

Then there are other less obvious aspects like compatibility with other devices, price points, form factors and other barriers to entry. And then there’s the issue of the openness of the platform to third-party developers and manufacturers, which can have an immense impact on its growth.

With these things in mind, how well is Microsoft’s Cortana speaker going to stack up? Google Assistant will likely always have the edge on search, and Amazon has a massive array of skills and third-party integrations already thanks to being first to market. Microsoft’s product design, which reeks of the Amazon Echo, isn’t going to differentiate it, so what secret weapons does Microsoft have?

Google Assistant will likely always have the edge on search, and Amazon has a massive array of skills and third-party integrations already.

Cortana vs the competition

The thing with digital assistants housed in speakers is that, like most things in life, it’s essentially what’s inside that counts. No one really buys a virtual assistant speaker based on looks. If they did, Google wouldn’t stand a chance (air freshener burn!). But Google Home still has a very good chance at being the dominant speaker in years to come, because Google. That is, until Apple releases some overpriced home AI product.

But if you were to ask me for a gut-reaction to which virtual assistant is best, I wouldn’t put Cortana at the top of the list, but it probably wouldn’t be at the bottom either. Of course, depending on what you use your digital assistant for, your mileage may vary: everyone has their preferred digital assistant for their own particular reasons.

Preference for an AI assistant boils down to two things: the quality of its voice recognition and enhanced functionality.

But ultimately, that preference boils down to two things: voice recognition and enhanced functionality. A virtual assistant is no good if it can’t understand you or is incapable of doing much.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s teaser don’t exactly inspire us with confidence. The only ‘skills’ shown in the short video are playing a song and setting a reminder. This is not the stuff of AI dreams.

Hardware options

Let’s face it, as important as the virtual assistant inside the product is, the hardware in which it is encased also matters. But not necessarily just for what it looks or sounds like, but also for what choices it offers. Microsoft, perhaps recognizing Cortana’s current weaknesses, has wisely identified that limiting Cortana’s home-assistant life to one product would put it in a very tough position.

Not only would it have to have better (or at least comparable) software abilities when compared to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, it would also have to be a better speaker than both of them. Partnering with Harmon Kardon certainly gives Microsoft’s first swing at bat a much better chance of outdoing the competition on audio quality. But why stop there?

This is where Microsoft diverges from the competition. That is because the speaker teased in the video isn’t a Microsoft product per se. It is a Harmon Kardon product that runs Cortana, much like a Dell PC running Windows. This is a critical difference.

Microsoft will only have third-party products running Cortana: the same approach it traditionally took to getting Windows on PCs.

Microsoft won’t make hardware

While Amazon and Google have released their own branded speakers running their own digital assistants, Microsoft will come out of the gate with only third-party products. This is the same way it traditionally approached hardware and software for computers (before the Surface, that is). These new products won’t just be relegated to speakers either: a recently-leaked Microsoft slide shows Cortana will live inside a wide range of household consumer products next year.

Of course, there are already third-party Alexa-powered devices available, but they tend to be less fully-featured when compared to Amazon’s own hardware (requiring a tap before speaking commands for example). They also tend to be cheaper and nastier than Amazon’s offerings, clearly pitching them beneath Amazon’s own products. And as far as I’m aware, there isn’t an Alexa-powered fridge in the pipeline.

Microsoft, Google and Amazon have all opened their platforms up to third-party developers.

Meanwhile, Google indicated way back at I/O that it was working with various audio companies on third-party speakers as vehicles for Google Assistant. But it seems to be prioritizing giving its own hardware a head start first, because we’ve not heard anything more on that front since May.

Both Google and Amazon have already opened their platforms up to third-party developers, just as Microsoft has done this week.

Microsoft might have some secret weapons in store for its Echo competitor

Third-party support

By opening up the Cortana Devices SDK to anyone that wants to include Cortana in their connected products, Microsoft is taking a two-pronged approach: get an uncrippled version of Cortana into as many products as possible, and remove itself from the hardware side of things as much as possible. This is important, because as mentioned above, Microsoft is going to need all the help it can get.

To get an idea of how Microsoft’s approach might pan out, just think of the distribution model of iOS vs Android. With Home, Echo and Dot, Google and Amazon released their own device running their own software with very little choice for consumers. This is Apple’s approach with the iPhone. It’s essentially take it or leave it.

Microsoft hasn't made an Echo competitor so much as asked others to do it on their behalf.

On the other hand, Microsoft will allow basically anyone that wants to use its software to do so, much like Google did with Android. So Microsoft hasn’t made an Echo competitor so much as it is getting others to create those products on its behalf, covering a much wider product portfolio than it could ever hope to manage on its own.

That’s not to say that making Cortana open to all OEMs and ODMs that wish to incorporate it means Cortana will suddenly become the Android of virtual assistants. Far from it. If Google does start releasing third-party speakers at the high end and Amazon continues its low-end Alexa-powered expansion, Microsoft will be squeezed from both sides.

Microsoft’s edge

For Microsoft to really compete against the cheap, third party-friendly and very capable Alexa products, Microsoft needs Cortana-powered products at the high and low end of the scale. Fortunately, Microsoft won’t cannibalize its own sales by doing so as it is strictly focused on getting Cortana out there. But if Microsoft wants to compete against the power of Google Assistant it really needs to beef up its software.

This is the crux of the software issue: Microsoft can’t just settle on letting manufacturers slap Cortana inside their products and hope for the best thanks to greater numbers. After all, Apple successfully proved one iPhone was enough to compete with the multitude of Android options.

Not having to focus on hardware means Microsoft can invest all of its time and resources into making Cortana better.

No, if Microsoft wants to join the voice assistant speaker over a year late it needs to bring something new and fresh and compelling. Not having to focus on hardware so much means that Microsoft can invest all of its time and resources into making Cortana the best-in-class assistant for whatever hardware it appears in.

Thankfully, Microsoft recently achieved human parity in conversational voice recognition and has confirmed it will make its way into Cortana. This is hugely important, as speech recognition has always been Cortana’s weak spot. The recent update to the Cortana app also shows Microsoft is actively working on more than just the back end too, which is equally encouraging.

Microsoft might have some secret weapons in store for its Echo competitor

Differentiation

A display has already been ear-marked as a requirement for third-party manufacturers to incorporate Cortana into their products. While this might sound novel, Amazon is already rumored to be working on an Alexa device with a large screen. So Microsoft won’t be able to stand out there.

Likewise, knowing you can buy the toaster, fridge, speaker and washing machine you like and have them all support Cortana is a bonus, but having multiple devices that all do the same thing isn’t necessarily a killshot either. (That said, planning multiple devices that all feature a fully featured Cortana is definitely a wise move.)

But Microsoft might have another secret weapon up its sleeve, one very close to its heart: voice controlling your Windows computer. A recent Windows 10 insider preview build includes the ability to wake your PC, put it to sleep, lock it, and change the volume, all with your voice alone. These powers and more will roll out officially in the Windows 10 Creators update scheduled for early 2017.

Microsoft might have a secret weapon up its sleeve if recently leaked plans for a Microsoft Home Hub pan out.

But it might not just be one way control, if recently leaked plans for a Microsoft Home Hub pan out. If these rumors are true, you won’t even need to go out and buy a Cortana-powered product to handle all your voice assistant needs in the home: your existing Windows 10 PC will be able to assume that role. All it will take is a software patch, which may well be a part of the Creators update.

There are numerous barriers to entry in this space: price, product range, maturity of the platform, perceived need for what is ultimately an unnecessary if-not-entirely ‘luxury’ product, compatibility and so on. But if Microsoft rolls out its Home Hub for free to gadgets people already have in their homes, it bypasses several of those traditional obstacles.

See also:

What voice commands can I use with Google Home?

November 10, 2016

Make it free

Betting your PC against an Echo speaker or Google Home is a much safer bet than competing on even ground. Microsoft must know that rolling out a free update to add super-charged AI features to your existing Windows 10 computer is a great way to introduce people to what the new Cortana can do.

Once folks have had the chance to try out Cortana’s voice assistant powers in the home will make convincing them to buy into the Cortana product ecosystem a much easier sell. Making multiple other products available without crippling them to push one’s own hardware first is also a huge plus. This might just be the way Microsoft manages to turn up late and still come out with a healthy piece of the pie.

We don’t know if we’ll see Microsoft’s Cortana-powered speaker or any other products revealed at CES or MWC, but we’ll absolutely be keeping an eye on Microsoft’s plans in this space. We may end up being totally wrong with what Microsoft has planned for its Cortana ecosystem, but what at first looked like a weak Echo clone might suddenly turn into real competition for Amazon and Google in your home.

Would you prefer your computer to take the place of a Echo or Home? Who do you think will come out on top?

Google adds more than 30 new services to Google Home

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The recently launched Google Home connected speaker just got a lot more useful. The company has updated the speaker’s official app, adding access to over 30 new services and games, including Domino’s, WebMD, NPR and many more.

See also:

What voice commands can I use with Google Home?

November 10, 2016

Owners of Google Home can access these new additions simply by saying, “Ok Google, talk to (name of service)”. The full list of these new services is as follows:

  • 21 Blackjack
  • Akinator the genie
  • Anchor
  • And Chill
  • Argus
  • Ask Jelly
  • busuu – language learning
  • CNBC
  • Domino’s
  • Eliza
  • ELLE Horoscopes by The Astro Twins
  • FitStar Personal Trainer
  • Food Network
  • Genius
  • Headspace
  • HuffPost Headline Quiz
  • itcher
  • Lonely Planet
  • NBC News
  • NPR One
  • Number Genie
  • Product Hunt
  • Quora
  • Quotery
  • SongPop
  • Sub War
  • Tender
  • The Bartender
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • Todoist
  • Trivia Blast
  • VentureBeat News
  • WebMD
  • Wonder

This is likely just the start of many more additions to come for Google Home. Support for both Netflix and Google Photos was added earlier this week, and the speaker can also now be used to control smart devices from Belkin’s home brand Wemo. Google has also launched the Actions on Google platform to the general development community. This will allow any developer or company to create conversational actions that can be supported by the speaker.

Wemo announces Google Home compatibility for its smart accessories

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Looking to make your home into a sci-fi futuristic one? Good news: Belkin’s home brand Wemo has officially announced compatibility with Google Home and Google Assistant. This means that you’ll be able to control power outlets and lights around your house hands-free, just using your voice.

See also:

Google Home review – the future of the home?

4 weeks ago

Google introduced Google Home back in October along with its Pixel smartphones. It’s essentially Google’s answer to the ever-growing voice-assisted smart home appliance market not unlike Amazon’s Echo. The difference, of course, is that Amazon’s Echo uses Alexa, and Google’s speaker uses Google Assistant.

Given Google Assistant’s capabilities, if you’re keen on voice assistant services, this is the device to have for your home. And supported devices are growing steadily – now you can use Wemo’s core products such as the Wemo Switch, Wemo Insight Switch, and Wemo Light Switch with Google Home. In other words, you can simply say the wake word, “OK Google,” and ask Google Home to turn on a Wemo-controlled home appliance whether it’s a fan or a porch light.

As CTO for Wemo, Brian Van Harlingen explains, voice controlled home assistance is growing rapidly, and Wemo’s integration into Google Home will be an integral part in that:

Voice control continues to be a major driver of smart home integration, and we’re thrilled to expand our voice offerings with Google Home and Google Assistant. Wemo stands for simplicity and convenience, and working with Google Home is yet another way we can live up to those values and provide our users with an easy, useful and fun smart home experience.

Google Home may sound robotic at times, but overall our review has found it to be a well-designed home gadget with impressive far-field microphones and audio quality. If you already own a Google Home, you can get Wemo’s home switches for around $30 each on its official website.

What are your thoughts on voice assisted home appliances? Is it the future or still too early to tell? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Google Home receiving support for Netflix and Google Photos

Google is rolling out support for Photos and Netflix to its Google Home speaker. The update allows users to ask the Google Home to play Netflix content, or display their uploaded photos, on a Chromecast or Chromecast-compatible device.

A new ‘Videos and Photos’ section can be found in the Google Assistant settings of the Google Home app, giving users the opportunity to link their Netflix account or enable/disable the Google Photos integration.

See also:

Developers can now write apps for the Assistant on Google Home

4 days ago

Despite the Netflix option making an appearance, however, it’s reported that the functionality hasn’t yet been finalized. If you find it in your Google Assistant settings, it may be sitting dormant for the time being. Google could make an official announcement about the new services before they go live.

The news follows the recent introduction of ‘Actions on Google’ which allows third-party developers to integrate voice support for their own products through Google Assistant. You can learn more about that over at the Google Developers blog.

Developers can now write apps for the Assistant on Google Home

Google Assistant will be getting a lot more useful starting today. The digital voice assistant that’s available in the new Google Home connected speaker is now open to third-party app developers.

Specifically, the developer platform for Google Assistant, Actions on Google, is now allowing developers to create conversation actions that can be used by Google Home owners. The platform has been designed so that developers don’t have to make users enable a skill, like on Amazon’s Alexa platform. All the user will have to is begin a normal conversation with the connected speaker to initialize the specific app.

Developers can now write apps for the Assistant on Google Home

Many companies are already working on apps with the Actions on Google platform, including CNBC, Yahoo Fantasy, BuzzFeed, Dominos and more. Google plans to extend this developer platform for Google Assistant to the Pixel phones as well as the company’s Allo app.  Future plans call for apps that can be used for purchases and bookings via the platform.

It will be very interesting to see just what types of apps and conversations will be made available with the Google Assistant developer platform. What would you like to see your Google Home do for you with these apps?

Deal: Google Home on sale for $99 ($30 off) at Google Store and other retailers

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This year, Google is launching its Black Friday sale a bit earlier. The company announced a great deal for its Home voice-activated speaker via its Twitter account. If you have been thinking of getting your hands on one, now is the best time to do so.

Launched a little over a month ago, Google Home will be available for 99 dollars, which is 30 bucks less than its original price. The deal starts tomorrow, November 23, and will be available for a limited time only. However, Google has not specified exactly when the deal will end.

The device will be available for purchase at Google’s online store, but you’ll also be able to snag one up at Best Buy, Target, and Walmart for the same price.

See also:

What voice commands can I use with Google Home?

2 weeks ago

So, if you’re interested in getting the Google Assistant powered Home device to play around with, visit the Google Store — link below — or one the above-mentioned retailers tomorrow or in the next few days. And remember, the deal won’t last forever so be prepared to move fast in order to get it.

If you think this is a good deal and decide to buy the Google Home device for yourself or a loved one, do let us know in comments below. We always love to hear from you guys.

Get the deal