Alexa

When in Rome is the first Alexa-powered board game

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, arkansas, Gadgets, Rome, TC, voice technology | No Comments

Years ago, in the heyday of home video, I played a board games that used VHS tapes and electronic parts to help spur the action along. From Candy Land VCR to Captain Power, game makers were doing the best they could with a new technology. Now, thanks to Alexa, they can try something even cooler — board games that talk back.

The first company to try this is Sensible Object. Their new game, When in Rome, is a family board game that pits two teams against each other in a race to travel the world. The game itself consists of a board and a few colored pieces; the real magic comes from Alexa. You start the game by enabling the When in Rome skill, then you start the game. Alexa then prompts you with questions as you tool around the board.

The rules are simple because Alexa does most of the work. The game describes how to set up the board and gets you started, then you just trigger it with your voice as you play.

The company’s first game, Beasts of Balance, was another clever hybrid of AR and real-life board-game action. Both games are a bit gimmicky and a bit high-tech — you won’t be able to play these in a cozy beach house without internet, for example — but it’s a fun departure from the norm.

Like the VCR games of yore, When in Rome depends on a new technology to find a new way to have fun. It’s a clever addition to the standard board-game fare and our family had a good time playing it. While it’s not as timeless as a bit of Connect 4 or Risk, it’s a great addition to the board-games shelf and a cool use of voice technology in gaming.

Powered by WPeMatico

Digging deeper into smart speakers reveals two clear paths

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, Apple, artificial intelligence, Assistant, Ben Einstein, computing, echo, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, ring, smart speaker, smart speakers, Sonos, sonos one, Speaker, Spotify, steel, TC, technology | No Comments

In a truly fascinating exploration into two smart speakers – the Sonos One and the Amazon Echo – BoltVC’s Ben Einstein has found some interesting differences in the way a traditional speaker company and an infrastructure juggernaut look at their flagship devices.

The post is well worth a full read but the gist is this: Sonos, a very traditional speaker company, has produced a good speaker and modified its current hardware to support smart home features like Alexa and Google Assistant. The Sonos One, notes Einstein, is a speaker first and smart hardware second.

“Digging a bit deeper, we see traditional design and manufacturing processes for pretty much everything. As an example, the speaker grill is a flat sheet of steel that’s stamped, rolled into a rounded square, welded, seams ground smooth, and then powder coated black. While the part does look nice, there’s no innovation going on here,” he writes.

The Amazon Echo, on the other hand, looks like what would happen if an engineer was given an unlimited budget and told to build something that people could talk to. The design decisions are odd and intriguing and it is ultimately less a speaker than a home conversation machine. Plus it is very expensive to make.

Pulling off the sleek speaker grille, there’s a shocking secret here: this is an extruded plastic tube with a secondary rotational drilling operation. In my many years of tearing apart consumer electronics products, I’ve never seen a high-volume plastic part with this kind of process. After some quick math on the production timelines, my guess is there’s a multi-headed drill and a rotational axis to create all those holes. CNC drilling each hole individually would take an extremely long time. If anyone has more insight into how a part like this is made, I’d love to see it! Bottom line: this is another surprisingly expensive part.

Sonos, which has been making a form of smart speaker for 15 years, is a CE company with cachet. Amazon, on the other hand, sees its devices as a way into living rooms and a delivery system for sales and is fine with licensing its tech before making its own. Therefore to compare the two is a bit disingenuous. Einstein’s thesis that Sonos’ trajectory is troubled by the fact that it depends on linear and closed manufacturing techniques while Amazon spares no expense to make its products is true. But Sonos makes speakers that work together amazingly well. They’ve done this for a decade and a half. If you compare their products – and I have – with competing smart speakers an non-audiophile “dumb” speakers you will find their UI, UX, and sound quality surpass most comers.

Amazon makes things to communicate with Amazon. This is a big difference.

Where Einstein is correct, however, is in his belief that Sonos is at a definite disadvantage. Sonos chases smart technology while Amazon and Google (and Apple, if their HomePod is any indication) lead. That said, there is some value to having a fully-connected set of speakers with add-on smart features vs. having to build an entire ecosystem of speaker products that can take on every aspect of the home theatre.

On the flip side Amazon, Apple, and Google are chasing audio quality while Sonos leads. While we can say that in the future we’ll all be fine with tinny round speakers bleating out Spotify in various corners of our room, there is something to be said for a good set of woofers. Whether this nostalgic love of good sound survives this generation’s tendency to watch and listen to low resolution media is anyone’s bet, but that’s Amazon’s bet to lose.

Ultimately Sonos is strong and fascinating company. An upstart that survived the great CE destruction wrought by Kickstarter and Amazon, it produces some of the best mid-range speakers I’ve used. Amazon makes a nice – almost alien – product, but given that it can be easily copied and stuffed into a hockey puck that probably costs less than the entire bill of materials for the Amazon Echo it’s clear that Amazon’s goal isn’t to make speakers.

Whether the coming Sonos IPO will be successful depends partially on Amazon and Google playing ball with the speaker maker. The rest depends on the quality of product and the dedication of Sonos users. This good will isn’t as valuable as a signed contract with major infrastructure players but Sonos’ good will is far more than Amazon and Google have with their popular but potentially intrusive product lines. Sonos lives in the home while Google and Amazon want to invade it. That is where Sonos wins.

Powered by WPeMatico

Motiv’s neat little fitness ring gets Android and Alexa support

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, Android, hardware, Health, motiv, Wearables | No Comments

I was pleasantly surprised by Motiv . Sure, my expectations were low for a fitness tracking ring, but pleasantly surprised is pleasantly surprised is still pleasantly surprised. The $200 Fitbit alternative gets a couple of key software upgrades this week, including, most notably, the addition of Android compatibility, along with some Alexa integration.

Initially launched as iOS-only, the Ring is taking baby steps toward working with the world’s most popular mobile operating system. It’s launching first as part of an open beta with, “a more comprehensive feature set” coming by middle of the year. But adventurous users can download the app from the Google Play Store right now.

The fitness tracking ring now works with Alexa, as well. Users can ask Amazon’s smart assistant to sync data and check their heart rate. More metrics are on the way by year’s end, in an attempt to save having to look at a phone screen every time, I suppose. After all, Motiv doesn’t seem likely to cram a tiny screen into the ring any time soon.

Speaking of Amazon, the Ring is now on sale through the online retail giant. Motiv will also be selling the ring at b8ta stores, for those who went to see it in person before dropping $200.

Powered by WPeMatico

Alexa’s new ‘Brief Mode’ replaces verbal confirmations with chimes

Posted by | Alexa, echo, Gadgets | No Comments

Amazon confirmed it’s rolling out an optional “Brief Mode” that lets Alexa users configure their Echo devices to use chimes and sounds for confirmations, instead of having Alexa respond with her voice. For example, if you ask Alexa to turn on your lights today, she will respond “okay” as she does so. But with Brief Mode enabled, Alexa will instead emit a small chime as she performs the task.

The mode would be beneficial to someone who appreciates being able to control their smart home via voice, but doesn’t necessarily need to have Alexa verbally confirming that she took action with each command. This is especially helpful for those who have voice-enabled a range of smart home accessories, and have gotten a little tired of hearing Alexa answer back.

The addition of Brief Mode comes at a time when voice assistants are finding their way into ever more smart home devices, beyond the doorbells, camera, lightbulbs, thermostats, and others we’ve grown used to. At CES 2018 this January, for example, Alexa was found in a number of new devices, like smart faucets, light switches, car dashboard cameras, projectors, and several more home appliances like dishwashers, washers, dryers, and fridges.

The launch of Brief Mode was first spotted by users on Reddit (via AFTVNews), with many saying they had received the option just a few days ago. Others in the thread noted they had it as well, but then it went away – something that seems to indicate a test on Amazon’s part, or perhaps bugs with a phased rollout. In some cases, users also noticed a new toggle switch in the Alexa app, which allows you to turn Brief Mode on or off.

The explanation provided here doesn’t seem like Brief Mode would be limited to smart home commands, but anytime when Alexa could play a sound instead of a verbal confirmation. It also seems like it may cut down on Alexa’s overall chattiness in other ways, though we haven’t yet noticed any changes on other fronts.

I received the option to enable Brief Mode yesterday. When giving Alexa a command to turn off the bedroom light, she responded by explaining what Brief Mode does and giving me the option to enable it. (I said yes.)

Now when Alexa is commanded to do things with smart home devices, she just chimes.

We asked Amazon yesterday to confirm if Brief Mode is rolling out to all users, and it confirmed today that is the case.

“We’re always looking for ways to make Alexa even more useful for customers, and the new Brief Mode setting is another example of that,” a spokesperson said.

Powered by WPeMatico

Sonos One’s Alexa support comes to Canada

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, artificial intelligence, california, economy, Gadgets, hardware, smart speakers, Sonos, TC | No Comments

 Sonos One users in Canada can now join their peers south of the border in yelling requests at their connected speakers – a free update issued today enables Amazon Alexa on the Sonos One. The One launched with Alexa support in the U.S., but while the speaker has been available to Canadian buyers since late last year, Alexa voice commands are new with the update. That means Canadians will… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Amazon brings voice control to its Alexa app for Android, with iOS coming soon

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon Echo, Android, iOS, TC | No Comments

 Amazon’s slow push into mobile is getting a lot more real this morning with the addition of voice integration into its Android app for Alexa. Up to now, the app has been little more than a way to manage settings for the Echo and other smart home devices built around its smart assistant. The addition of voice commands means users can speak directly to their handset the way they would an… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

HQ Trivia Is Coming to Android | Crunch Report

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, Android, beta, bot, Canada, China, crunch, crunch report, daily, Disrupt, echo, founder, free life, hamze, Hands On, Holidays, HQ Trivia, LeEco, News, recap, report, review, Silicon Valley, TC, Tech, TechCrunch, technology, tito, tito hamze | No Comments

HQ Trivia is coming to Android, Amazon Echo is the No. 1 best seller on the site and the founder of LeEco is ordered to return to China. All this on Crunch Report. Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

New Destiny 2 Alexa skills let you ask Ghost to do stuff in-game

Posted by | Alexa, amazon alexa, computing, destiny, destiny 2, digital media, first person shooters, Gadgets, Gaming, ghost, hardware, Software, TC | No Comments

 Destiny 2 fans will know that you get your own virtual assistant of source in the game world – Ghost, who sort of floats around and guides you. The new Alexa skill for Destiny 2 allows you to ask Ghost to do a number of things for you, including provide guidance about your in-game mission, calling backup, equipping different armour and weapon sets and providing lore and fictional… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico