echo

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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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.

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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

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Amazon’s latest Echos show the smart home space hitting its stride

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Echo, computing, e-commerce, echo, Gadgets, hardware, Home Automation, Publishing, smart home, smart speakers, TC | No Comments

 Amazon’s Echo lineup got a refresh earlier this year that included a brand new version of its basic Echo, well as an Echo Plus with integrated smart home hub, and the stalwart Echo Dot – unchanged, but still a compelling device at its price point. The new lineup of devices also made its way to more markets this year, including an expansion to Canada just this month, which is why I… Read More

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Amazon’s all-new Echo goes (RED) for a limited time

Posted by | Amazon, computing, echo, fabric, Gadgets, hardware, Philanthropy, product red, TC | No Comments

 The new Echo is a better looking device than its predecessor, thanks in large part to its various fabric coverings. Now, there’s a new option for the outer shell: A PRODUCT(RED) special limited edition. The fabric outer comes in red, appropriately enough, and $10 of the purchase price (of $99.99, same as any other Echo) will go toward (RED)’s work fighting AIDS through the Global Fund. Read More

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Amazon brings Echo and Alexa to Canada

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, computing, e-commerce, echo, Gadgets, hardware, Publishing, TC | No Comments

 Amazon has finally brought its line of Alexa-powered Echo speakers to Canada. The release of Echo hardware has been long awaited by America’s northern neighbor, which could only watch and wait as Echo went through two generations in the U.S. Echo Dot, the second generation Echo and the Echo Plus with integrated smart home hub are all on sale in Canada as of today, compete with full… Read More

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Amazon’s brightest new innovation might just be the smart home bundle

Posted by | Amazon, amazon echo 2017, echo, echo plus, Gadgets, hardware, smart home, smart speaker, TC | No Comments

 Amazon went above and beyond today in terms of launching stuff – it debuted not one, not two, but six brand new devices at an event held at its HQ. One of the most interesting things it did today was not any particular piece of hardware it designed or built – but the way it’s selling the Echo Plus, the version of its Echo smart speaker with an integrated smart home hub. The… Read More

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Comparing all 8 Amazon Echos

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon echo 2017, echo, Gadgets, hardware, TC, voice computing | No Comments

 Which Amazon Echo is right for you? The new Echo 2, Plus, Spot, Connect and Buttons, or the existing Dot, Show or Look? This handy chart lets you compare the functionality and pricing of Amazon’s entire Echo line that got several new additions today at a big launch event.
Though Amazon has traded simplicity for flexibility, the Amazon Echo sh*tshow makes Google Home look like… Read More

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