amazon alexa

Amazon is testing a Spanish-language Alexa experience in the US ahead of a launch this year

Posted by | Amazon, amazon alexa, Gadgets, smart speakers, TC | No Comments

Amazon announced today it has begun to ask customers to participate in a preview program that will help the company build a Spanish-language Alexa experience for U.S. users. The program, which is currently invite-only, will allow Amazon to incorporate into the U.S. Spanish-language experience a better understanding of things like word choice and local humor, as it has done with prior language launches in other regions. In addition, developers have been invited to begin building Spanish-language skills, also starting today, using the Alexa Skills Kit.

The latter was announced on the Alexa blog, noting that any skills created now will be made available to the customers in the preview program for the time being. They’ll then roll out to all customers when Alexa launches in the U.S. with Spanish-language support later this year.

Manufacturers who want to build “Alexa Built-in” products for Spanish-speaking customers can also now request early access to a related Alexa Voice Services (AVS) developer preview. Amazon says that Bose, Facebook and Sony are preparing to do so, while smart home device makers, including Philips, TP Link and Honeywell Home, will bring to U.S. users “Works with Alexa” devices that support Spanish.

Ahead of today, Alexa had supported Spanish language skills, but only in Spain and Mexico — not in the U.S. Those developers can opt to extend their existing skills to U.S. customers, Amazon says.

In addition to Spanish, developers have also been able to create skills in English in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and India; as well as in German, Japanese, French (in France and in Canada), and Portuguese (in Brazil). But on the language front, Google has had a decided advantage thanks to its work with Google Voice Search and Google Translate over the years.

Last summer, Google Home rolled out support for Spanish, in addition to launching the device in Spain and Mexico.

Amazon also trails Apple in terms of support for Spanish in the U.S., as Apple added support for Spanish to the HomePod in the U.S., Spain and Mexico in September 2018.

Spanish is a widely spoken language in the U.S. According to a 2015 report by Instituto Cervantes, the United States has the second highest concentration of Spanish speakers in the world, following Mexico. At the time of the report, there were 53 million people who spoke Spanish in the U.S. — a figure that included 41 million native Spanish speakers, and approximately 11.6 million bilingual Spanish speakers.

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New privacy assistant Jumbo fixes your Facebook & Twitter settings

Posted by | amazon alexa, Apps, Facebook, facebook privacy, funding, Fundings & Exits, google search, Mobile, Policy, privacy, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC, Twitter, Twitter Privacy | No Comments

Jumbo could be a nightmare for the tech giants, but a savior for the victims of their shady privacy practices.

Jumbo saves you hours as well as embarrassment by automatically adjusting 30 Facebook privacy settings to give you more protection, and by deleting your old tweets after saving them to your phone. It can even erase your Google Search and Amazon Alexa history, with clean-up features for Instagram and Tinder in the works.

The startup emerges from stealth today to launch its Jumbo privacy assistant app on iPhone (Android coming soon). What could take a ton of time and research to do manually can be properly handled by Jumbo with a few taps.

The question is whether tech’s biggest companies will allow Jumbo to operate, or squash its access. Facebook, Twitter and the rest really should have built features like Jumbo’s themselves or made them easier to use, since they could boost people’s confidence and perception that might increase usage of their apps. But since their business models often rely on gathering and exploiting as much of your data as possible, and squeezing engagement from more widely visible content, the giants are incentivized to find excuses to block Jumbo.

“Privacy is something that people want, but at the same time it just takes too much time for you and me to act on it,” explains Jumbo founder Pierre Valade, who formerly built beloved high-design calendar app Sunrise that he sold to Microsoft in 2015. “So you’re left with two options: you can leave Facebook, or do nothing.”

Jumbo makes it easy enough for even the lazy to protect themselves. “I’ve used Jumbo to clean my full Twitter, and my personal feeling is: I feel lighter. On Facebook, Jumbo changed my privacy settings, and I feel safer.” Inspired by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he believes the platforms have lost the right to steward so much of our data.

Valade’s Sunrise pedigree and plan to follow Dropbox’s bottom-up freemium strategy by launching premium subscription and enterprise features has already attracted investors to Jumbo. It’s raised a $3.5 million seed round led by Thrive Capital’s Josh Miller and Nextview Ventures’ Rob Go, who “both believe that privacy is a fundamental human right,” Valade notes. Miller sold his link-sharing app Branch to Facebook in 2014, so his investment shows those with inside knowledge see a need for Jumbo. Valade’s six-person team in New York will use the money to develop new features and try to start a privacy moment.

How Jumbo works

First let’s look at Jumbo’s Facebook settings fixes. The app asks that you punch in your username and password through a mini-browser open to Facebook instead of using the traditional Facebook Connect feature. That immediately might get Jumbo blocked, and we’ve asked Facebook if it will be allowed. Then Jumbo can adjust your privacy settings to Weak, Medium, or Strong controls, though it never makes any privacy settings looser if you’ve already tightened them.

Valade details that since there are no APIs for changing Facebook settings, Jumbo will “act as ‘you’ on Facebook’s website and tap on the buttons, as a script, to make the changes you asked Jumbo to do for you.” He says he hopes Facebook makes an API for this, though it’s more likely to see his script as against policies.

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For example, Jumbo can change who can look you up using your phone number to Strong – Friends only, Medium – Friends of friends, or Weak – Jumbo doesn’t change the setting. Sometimes it takes a stronger stance. For the ability to show you ads based on contact info that advertisers have uploaded, both the Strong and Medium settings hide all ads of this type, while Weak keeps the setting as is.

The full list of what Jumbo can adjust includes Who can see your future posts?, Who can see the people?, Pages and lists you follow, Who can see your friends list?, Who can see your sexual preference?, Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos?, Who can post on your timeline?, and Review tags people add to your posts the tags appear on Facebook? The full list can be found here.

For Twitter, you can choose if you want to remove all tweets ever, or that are older than a day, week, month (recommended), or three months. Jumbo never sees the data, as everything is processed locally on your phone. Before deleting the tweets, it archives them to a Memories tab of its app. Unfortunately, there’s currently no way to export the tweets from there, but Jumbo is building Dropbox and iCloud connectivity soon, which will work retroactively to download your tweets. Twitter’s API limits mean it can only erase 3,200 tweets of yours every few days, so prolific tweeters may require several rounds.

Its other integrations are more straightforward. On Google, it deletes your search history. For Alexa, it deletes the voice recordings stored by Amazon. Next it wants to build a way to clean out your old Instagram photos and videos, and your old Tinder matches and chat threads.

Across the board, Jumbo is designed to never see any of your data. “There isn’t a server-side component that we own that processes your data in the cloud,” Valade says. Instead, everything is processed locally on your phone. That means, in theory, you don’t have to trust Jumbo with your data, just to properly alter what’s out there. The startup plans to open source some of its stack to prove it isn’t spying on you.

While there are other apps that can clean your tweets, nothing else is designed to be a full-fledged privacy assistant. Perhaps it’s a bit of idealism to think these tech giants will permit Jumbo to run as intended. Valade says he hopes if there’s enough user support, the privacy backlash would be too big if the tech giants blocked Jumbo. “If the social network blocks us, we will disable the integration in Jumbo until we can find a solution to make them work again.”

But even if it does get nixed by the platforms, Jumbo will have started a crucial conversation about how privacy should be handled offline. We’ve left control over privacy defaults to companies that earn money when we’re less protected. Now it’s time for that control to shift to the hands of the user.

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You can now ask Alexa to control your Roku devices

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, artificial intelligence, echo, Gadgets, Media, roku, Streaming Media, virtual assistant, voice assistant, voice search | No Comments

Roku this morning announced its devices will now be compatible with Amazon’s Alexa. Through a new Roku skill for Alexa, Roku owners will be able to control their devices in order to do things like launch a channel, play or pause a show, search for entertainment options and more. Roku TV owners will additionally be able to control various functions related to their television, like adjusting the volume, turning on and off the TV, switching inputs and changing channels if there is an over-the-air antenna attached.

The added support for Amazon Alexa will be available to devices running Roku OS 8.1 or higher, and will require that customers enable the new Roku skill, which will link their account to Amazon.

Roku has developed its own voice assistant designed specifically for its platform, which is available with a touch of a button on its voice remote as well as through optional accessories like its voice-powered wireless speakers, tabletop Roku Touch remote or TCL’s Roku-branded Smart Soundbar. However, it hasn’t ignored the needs of those who have invested in other voice platforms.

Already, Roku devices work with Google Assistant-powered devices, like Google Home and Google Home Mini, through a similar voice app launched last fall.

Support for the dominant streaming media platform — Amazon Alexa — was bound to be next. EMarketer said Amazon took two-thirds of smart speaker sales last year, and CIRP said Echo has a 70 percent U.S. market share.

The Roku app will work with any Alexa-enabled device, including the Amazon Echo, Echo Show, Echo Dot, Echo Spot and Echo Plus, as well as those powered by Alexa from third parties, the company confirmed to TechCrunch.

Once enabled, you’ll be able to say things like “Alexa, pause Roku,” or “Alexa, open Hulu on Roku,” or “Alexa, find comedies on Roku,” and more. The key will be starting the command with “Alexa,” as usual, then specify “Roku” is where the action should take place (e.g. “on Roku”).

One change with the launch of voice support via Alexa is that the commands are a bit more natural, in some cases. Whereas Google Assistant required users to say “Hey Google, pause on Roku,” the company today says the same command for Alexa users is “Alexa, pause Roku.” That’s a lot easier to remember and say. However, most of the other commands are fairly consistent between the two platforms.

“Consumers often have multiple voice ecosystems in their homes,” said Ilya Asnis, senior vice president of Roku OS at Roku, in a statement about the launch. “By allowing our customers to choose Alexa, in addition to Roku voice search and controls, and other popular voice assistants, we are strengthening the value Roku offers as a neutral platform in home entertainment.”

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Amazon has paused sales of its Echo Wall Clock due to connectivity issues

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, clock, computing, Gadgets, microwave, Publishing, TC, world wide web | No Comments

Amazon launched an Echo Wall Clock before the end of last year but, less than a month later, things aren’t running to schedule. The e-commerce giant has paused the sale of the $30 Alexa-powered smart clock after a number of customers reported connectivity issues, according to The Verge.

The clock is still listed on Amazon but, as of Tuesday, it is “currently unavailable.”

“We’re aware that a small number of customers have had issues with connectivity. We’re working hard to address this and plan to make Echo Wall Clock available again in the coming weeks,” Amazon told The Verge in a statement.

The clock is pitched at existing Alexa users who could use it to set timers, countdowns or alarms, while it automatically adjusts to seasonal time changes. It is unashamedly basic, both in design as well as functionality, but it is an interesting addition to Amazon’s expanding home appliance push. That also includes an Alexa microwave (less impressive), a singing fish (ok…) along the more established cast of home speakers, the “Show” video screen, a subwoofer and more.

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Sonos delays Google Assistant integration until 2019, private beta to launch in 2018

Posted by | Amazon, amazon alexa, artificial intelligence, computing, Gadgets, Google, smart speakers, software platform, Sonos, sonos one, Speaker, technology | No Comments

Sonos today announced that Google Assistant will not be available on its products until at least 2019. The service was supposed to launch in 2018 but the company said in a blog posting it needs a bit more time. Additional information about timing will be released in early 2019, Sonos says.

Eager customers can sign up for a private beta as long as they agree to use the service extensively and respond to surveys within a few days.

Sonos products already have access to Amazon Alexa. Given Sonos’s longstanding notion of supporting all platforms, it makes sense that the company would want customers to have access to both Alexa and Google Assistant. That’s what makes Sonos compelling: They provide the hardware, and owners use whichever software platform they want.

This is clearly critical for Sonos. For a long time, Sonos provided the best-sounding smart speaker system on the market, but Amazon, Google and traditional speaker brands are quickly introducing speakers that provide similar sound quality. To keep up and justify the higher price of its hardware, Sonos needs to offer owners the best sound and the best software, and offering Google Assistant on its products is a key part of that goal.

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Amazon Alexa goes AWOL for many users

Posted by | Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Dot, Gadgets, outage, TC, voice assistant | No Comments

Some Amazon Alexa users are currently having problems reaching the voice assistant. Instead of reacting to commands, Alexa simply says “sorry, something went wrong.” Amazon hasn’t commented publicly yet on the issue.

Based on tweets and Down Detector, users began having trouble reaching Alexa around 7AM PST. While some had their connection issues resolved quickly, many others are still waiting.

#AlexaDown ! Now I have to remember how to turn the lights on and off again!

— Erin Boyle (@erinboyle05) October 24, 2018

@amazonecho what’s up with Alexa? She seems under the weather. #alexadown #alexanotrreliable

— Holly Ross Tong (@USAHollyRT) October 24, 2018

I would like to apologize to #alexa users worldwide for the 80 times my 6 year old requested “what does the fox say” today which surely caused the outage. She was right to shut down. Enough is enough. I hope @amazon can fix her. #alexadown

— Amy Gail (@AmyGail8) October 24, 2018

This follows an outage last month that mainly affected Echo devices in parts of the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, and Australia. According to Down Detector’s outage map, however, most of the users who currently can’t reach Alexa are in the United States.

Alexa also suffered an outage in March after an Amazon Web Services networking issue.

TechCrunch has contacted Amazon for comment.

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Comparing Google Home Hub vs Amazon Echo Show 2 vs Facebook Portal

Posted by | Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo Show, artificial intelligence, eCommerce, Facebook, Facebook Portal, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, Google Hardware Event 2018, google home, hardware, JBL Link View, smart displays, Social, TC | No Comments

The war for the countertop has begun. Google, Amazon and Facebook all revealed their new smart displays this month. Each hopes to become the center of your Internet of Things-equipped home and a window to your loved ones. The $149 Google Home Hub is a cheap and privacy-safe smart home controller. The $229 Amazon Echo Show 2 gives Alexa a visual complement. And the $199 Facebook Portal and $349 Portal+ offer a Smart Lens that automatically zooms in and out to keep you in frame while you video chat.

For consumers, the biggest questions to consider are how much you care about privacy, whether you really video chat, which smart home ecosystem you’re building around and how much you want to spend.

  • For the privacy obsessed, Google’s Home Hub is the only one without a camera and it’s dirt cheap at $149.
  • For the privacy agnostic, Facebook’s Portal+ offers the best screen and video chat functionality.
  • For the chatty, Amazon Echo Show 2 can do message and video chat over Alexa, call phone numbers and is adding Skype.

If you want to go off-brand, there’s also the Lenovo Smart Display, with stylish hardware in a $249 10-inch 1080p version and a $199 8-inch 720p version. And for the audiophile, there’s the $199 JBL Link View. While those hit the market earlier than the platform-owned versions we’re reviewing here, they’re not likely to benefit from the constant iteration Google, Amazon and Facebook are working on for their tabletop screens.

Here’s a comparison of the top smart displays, including their hardware specs, unique software, killer features and pros and cons:

more Google Event 2018 coverage

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Alexa is reported down across Europe

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, austria, computing, engadget, Gadgets, Germany, ireland, Online Music Stores, Publishing, spain, United Kingdom, world wide web | No Comments

Reports are coming in that Amazon’s Alexa service is down in parts of UK, Spain, Germany and Austria. According to Down Detector and Twitter, the problem started surfacing around 8am local time and still continues. Interestingly, some users are reporting the issue is isolated to Echo Dot 2 models and while other Echo devices are still working. Sometimes. Other reports say everything is down. When users try to talk to their Echo devices, Alexa will report an error with connectivity and spin a red ring around the top.

Because of this outage, users will have to use wall switches to turn on lights, press buttons to make coffee and look outside to assess the weather. Sucks. I know.

As Engadget points out in their coverage, the outage could stem from Amazon Web Service issues at the company’s Ireland facility. Amazon is now reporting that those issues have been resolved so there’s a chance Alexa will be coming back online shortly.

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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.

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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

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