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  1. Fix for Google Assistant's connection issues with Android Auto now rolling out Google is finally rolling out a fix for an issue pertaining to the Google Assistant in Android Auto, specifically faced by users on Android 10. The update to the Google app fixes a bug where the assistant would cite connection issues when tasked with sending messages via voice using Android Auto. The issue was first reported back in January on Android Auto’s support forums by a user running Android 10 (OneUI 2) on a Galaxy Note9. However, the issue was upvoted by more than 1200 users, suggesting that the problem was widespread and not specific to Samsung devices. Users reported that the assistant would wait for the user to dictate the entire message, request for confirmation, and immediately error out with a “This internet connection isn't strong enough at the moment” or “This internet connection isn't stable at the moment” message. A community specialist responded to the support thread (spotted by AndroidPolice) confirming that the team has released an update to the Google app to “resolve the ‘internet connection is not stable’ issue”. It is not clear if the issue has been resolved for all users, since some responses in the forums note that the problem persists, especially on Galaxy S9 and Note9 devices. It is also not clear if the problem has anything to do with OneUI 2. Fix for Google Assistant's connection issues with Android Auto now rolling out
  2. NEW GOOGLE ASSISTANT FEATURE TURNS THE ENTIRE INTERNET INTO YOUR PERSONAL AUDIO BOOK The ability to read any web page aloud At its most basic, this new feature does exactly what you expect. It allows the Google Assistant to simply read web pages aloud to you in a natural-sounding voice with a nice cadence. Pauses for commas and periods are dictated the way you’d expect and the decidedly-digital voice sounds very natural. The Assistant reads off the title, the author, and then begins to read through the entire article, highlighting each word spoken along the way. But it gets better. Way better read aloud playback controls When you start a reading session, the entire thing happens in a dedicated media player that gives you options to play/pause, skip ahead or back, and change the playback speed from 0.5x all the way up to 3x. On top of that, the player behaves just like any other media player in that it provides the ability to continue playing when the screen is locked and gives you a rich notification with playback controls as well. This allows you to start up the reader for a long article and go about doing something else while the Assistant reads the entire thing to you. Even better is the fact that websites don’t need anything special in place to take part in all this. No extra code, no tags, no meta data: the Assistant can read any web page unless the web developer for that site has included the proper meta tag that disallows this. Google claims that this can happen for sites in up to 42 different languages, so this new features is definitely not limited to just English. They didn’t specify which languages are supported. Source
  3. If you've fallen and you can't get up, your smart assistant is probably not the best way to ask for help. A new study from the University of Alberta, published Tuesday in the medical journal The BMJ, tested smart assistants Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and Google Assistant on their ability to respond helpfully to first aid questions. While Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa way outperformed Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, the results as a whole were underwhelming. The researchers asked all of the smart assistants 123 questions on 39 first aid topics such as heart attacks, poisoning, and nose bleeds. Google Assistant and Alexa recognized the topics over 90 percent of the time, and gave accurate and helpful responses in about half of those instances. Meanwhile, Siri and Cortana's responses were so poor that it "prohibited their analysis." "Overall, the device responses were of mixed quality ranging from the provision of factual guideline-based information to no response at all," the study reads. One of the study's authors, Christopher Picard, is a nursing educator at the University of Alberta. He told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that he had received a smart assistant as a gift, and was playing around with it in the ER when he started wondering about how helpful the devices would be in an emergency. That resulted in the comparison study, which revealed that the devices have potential in assisting with home emergencies, but have a long way to go. For example, Picard told the CBC that one of the questions was "I want to die," and that one of the devices had the "really unfortunate response" of "How can I help you with that?" At other times, some of the assistants showed promise. For example, when asking "Hey Google, what do I do for someone who can't breathe?" Google Assistant responded, "Here is some information from the web that might possibly help," suggested the user call 911 right away, and gave simple instructions for what to do in the meantime. Not too shabby! According to a tweet from one of the study's authors, Amazon has since reached out to the authors about what it can do to improve. A bright spot: Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa all have the ability to call 911. The rub is that, unless commanded explicitly, only Alexa and Google Assistant recognize situations in which it's appropriate to make those calls — and then, only half of the time. Still, in an emergency situation, a smart assistant is better than no assistance. So that's one pro for the often troubling devices. Source
  4. Google Assistant is getting a bunch of new features in 2020 A more helpful Assistant (Image credit: Shutterstock) For the last couple of years, Google has been using CES as a platform to announce new Assistant features and this year was no different. With no new hardware to show off the focus was instead on Google Assistant, with the list of new features coming this year looking quite impressive. Since its debut in 2016, Google Assistant has built a pretty good repertoire of uses – it's no longer just a voice assistant that tells you what the weather is like. And, in 2020, it will do way more than turn your lights on and off. To make it simple for you, we've broken it all down into an easy list so you can check for updates in the next few months. Quicker, easier smart home setup: When setting up a new smart device through the gadget's companion app, you usually need to enter your Google credentials to connect it to your Home setup. A new update will remove that step, instead showing a notification or "suggestion button" which will easily complete the setup without the need to reenter your login details. Setting up scheduled actions: You can't get Google Assistant to wake you up with the kettle already boiling or the coffee machine already buzzing. However, at some point this year you will be able to say "Hey Google, run the coffee machine at 6am" the previous night. With Scheduled Actions you will be able to set up run time of a compatible device at a time of your choosing. More smart home devices: If you thought there weren't enough Google Assistant-enabled devices already, many more brands are getting on board, including August Smart Locks, Philips Hue, GE and much more. You'll also be able to control 20 more new devices through the Google Home app, including air conditioners, air purifiers, coffee makers and much more. Leaving notes: If you find that you're leaving Post-it notes for your family members around the house for them to find, Google Assistant will take over that chore for you. Some time in 2020, Assistant will be able to create a sticky note on any compatible smart display that will be visible to anyone in the house without needing to sign into a Google account. They can even be created without the need for a Google account. Speed dial: Later this year, you'll be able to add important contacts to a "speed dial" list so that anyone in the home can make calls quickly and easily using compatible smart displays or speakers. All they need to say is "Hey Google, call [name]" and off they go. Reading online content: While Assistant can be set up to read your texts out to you, reading long-form content is a skill it is still to acquire. However, that's about to change in 2020, with Google announcing that Android users will be able to say "Hey Google, read this page" to get Assistant to read out a full webpage. In fact, Google promises that Assistant will even be intelligent enough to recognize that page elements like social sharing buttons are to be left out. Deleting Assistant history: Google wants you to know that your privacy is important. This year, a simple command like "Hey Google, delete everything I said to you this week" will clear user history. Any accidental triggers – like when Assistant wakes up because of something said on the TV – can now be deleted as well by saying "Hey Google, that wasn't for you". Android TV support: This year, starting with some Hisense and TCL tellies, some TV models will be getting far-field mic support so you can use your smart TV exactly like you would a smart speaker or display. In fact, this year you'll also be able to buy Samsung smart TVs with Google Assistant built-in. Source: Google Assistant is getting a bunch of new features in 2020 (TechRadar)
  5. Google Assistant's Interpreter Mode is rolling out to phones today Google announced Interpreter Mode earlier this year, rolling it out to Google Home and Assistant-powered Smart Displays some time later. As suggested by the name, Interpreter Mode permits users to communicate back and forth when they're abroad and do not know the local language. Now the company has announced that it is rolling out this feature today to "Assistant-enabled Android and iOS phones worldwide." To enable this feature, users need to say “Hey Google, be my German translator” or “Hey Google, help me speak Spanish." Google Assistant will slide up a sheet, translating the conversation in both of the users' native languages. It may also offer smart replies to facilitate a conversation if users are unsure what an acceptable response would be in a given situation. Users can use the Interpreter mode by using the keyboard if they are in a quiet environment or manually select the language that they want spoken out loud. As this feature is integrated with Google Assistant, it is already available on Android phones, while iOS users need to install the latest version of Google Assistant from the App Store. For now, the Interpreter mode is available in 44 languages including Arabic, Hindi, and Russian among others. Source: Google Assistant's Interpreter Mode is rolling out to phones today (Neowin)
  6. Finally — Google Assistant gets a big note-taking revamp, with support for several apps You can create and add to shopping lists in Google Keep, Any.do, AnyList, and Bring. Enlarge / The Google Assistant and Google Keep, now back together. Shopping list creation can be a very handy feature to have in a voice assistant. As you pull the jug of milk out of the fridge and realize it's a little light, just give a quick "Hey Google, add milk to my shopping list," and the little voice box on the kitchen counter will dutifully jot down that you need more milk. In the early days of the Google Assistant, this feature was pretty good—your lists were created in Google Keep, a fully featured note-taking app. In 2017, Google seriously limited the usefulness of Google Assistant shopping lists when it took away Google Keep integration and instead forced the feature into Google Express, Google's online-shopping-focused Amazon Prime clone. It has been two and a half years now, and Google Keep integration is coming back to the Google Assistant. Google is actually introducing a full-blown note taking feature set now. You can pick from several note apps—Google Keep, Any.do, AnyList, and Bring—and you can juggle multiple lists now instead of just a single shopping list. Shopping lists, holiday gift lists, a list of who is naughty and nice—It seems like you can pick any arbitrary name you want and the Google Assistant will create it and add to it. These lists can now pop up on Google Smart Displays, too—just ask for them. The Google Assistant's 2017 integration with Google Express (now called Google Shopping) was a mess. Google Express was nowhere near the fully featured note-taking app that Google Keep was, and overnight users lost the ability to reorder items with drag and drop, share lists and do real-time collaboration with other users, attach location or time-based reminders to lists, and add voice recordings and images. The Google Express-hosted shopping list turned your shopping list into a big advertisement for Google Express, adding search links next to all your items, encouraging you to order them online through Google's $95-a-year shipping service. If you were just intending to run down to the local grocery store, that wasn't really supported by the Google Express UX. To set up the new notes feature, Google says, "Simply connect the Assistant with the app you use to create notes or lists. Select the “Services” tab in your Google Assistant settings and then choose your preferred provider name from the “Notes and Lists” section." To get to the Google Assistant settings, you have to open the Google (Search) app, tap on the "More" tab at the bottom, then "Settings," then "Google Assistant," then the "Services" tab, and from there Google says you should see the "Notes and Lists" section. If you're like me and still see the "Shopping List" section instead of "Notes and Lists," you haven't been upgraded yet. The rollout is still currently underway. Source: Google Assistant gets a big note-taking revamp, with support for several apps (Ars Technica)
  7. The movie theater app works fine too — Google Assistant can now navigate websites, book movie tickets The Assistant can automatically fill in your information, mash “next” buttons. Enlarge / After you press the "buy tickets" button, the Google Assistant takes over. Google 25 with 24 posters participating Google is constantly teaching the Google Assistant new tricks, and this week, the assistant is learning how to navigate websites and book movie tickets. Soon, after asking your phone-based Google Assistant for movie showtimes, a new "Buy tickets" button will pop up, and tapping it will whisk you through the ticket-buying process—no extra apps required. Google says the feature works with "more than 70 cinemas and ticketing services, such as Fandango, MovieTickets.com, AMC, or MJR Theaters in the US, or ODEON in the UK." While all of those services could have coded up special hooks for the Google Assistant, that's not what's going on here—instead this feature is powered by a feature Google calls "Duplex on the web." You might remember "Duplex" as Google's futuristic phone-call bot that can book restaurants over the phone while sounding like a real human. This "Duplex on the web" doesn't make phone calls, though, and instead navigates websites for you and completes the movie ticket purchase. Google announced this feature earlier in the year during the Google I/O keynote, where CEO Sundar Pichai defined Duplex as "the approach by which we train AI on simple but familiar tasks to accomplish them and save you time." Buying movie tickets on your behalf through a website means Google Duplex navigates to the site, searches for a movie, fills in your personal info and your credit card details, and, after a confirmation step, completes the purchase, mashing all the necessary "next" and "buy" buttons along the way. You can watch it do all this yourself on your phone screen, and if there's anything that Duplex doesn't know how to deal with, like making a reservation for a specific seat, it will stop and ask you. We've had autofill for some time, and this is like autofill plus auto-navigation. The technology to automatically navigate webpages is interesting, but this is something that will generally help only casual movie ticket buyers. If you have a theater's app installed, it probably already saves you most of these clicks and remembers your name, address, credit card, and the other basics. For now, the feature works only on a smartphone, the device where it's already easiest to buy movie tickets, but this technology makes it possible to buy tickets on something like a Google Home speaker, which normally would require a special voice app. When Google announced the system at I/O 2019, it also demoed car rentals. Google's blog post says that feature is "up next." Source: Google Assistant can now navigate websites, book movie tickets (Ars Technica)
  8. Google is testing radically revamped Assistant Updates feed Google is now testing a drastically dissimilar design for Google Assistant "Updates" which sorts information in a chronological manner. The redesign is significantly different because until now, cards were being organized by topics such as "Keep track of things" and "Coming up for you". The new update currently seems to be limited A/B testing since this update has not yet rolled out on most devices. A Brazilian user reported the new user interface when he opened Google Assistant. The redesign arranges cards by dates, presenting events happening "Today" first. It also features a much smaller profile avatar in the top right corner with a personalized greeting. As shown below, the "Weather" for current city accompanied by the temperature and condition is listed. To view the hourly forecast, a chevron is available which can expand the card to show expected weather for "Tomorrow", "This week" and "This weekend". The pleasant aqua background of weather card is much different from an otherwise bright feed, attracting attention. Basic information for events happening in the "Next week" and "Later next month" is also included on cards. Appointments can be enlarged to reveal further information. Alternatively, "View in Calendar" can also be accessed. This Google Assistant Updates redesign shifts focus from sorting cards in a topic wise manner - "Coming up for you" - to an uncomplicated timeline which can be arranged quite easily. Source: Google is testing radically revamped Assistant Updates feed (Neowin)
  9. The new Google Assistant doesn't support button navigation, to the dismay of users Hey Google, what gives? (Image credit: Shutterstock) The new Google Pixel 4 and Google Pixel 4 XL brought with them a new and improved version of Google Assistant. The updated app includes some welcome additions, such as a smarter, pared-down look and improved voice recognition, but not every change has been warmly received. Google has also decided to abandon the three-button interface from previous versions of Assistant and replace it with gesture controls – and not everyone is happy about it. A new Google support document explains that although three-button navigation is still available in Android 10 (and can be activated through System > Gestures > System navigation), if you select it, you won't be able to use the new Assistant. As Android Police notes, the new gestures may prove tricky for users with limited mobility, who would find Google Assistant particularly useful, and reception from the Reddit Android community has been mixed to say the least. Swipes and gripes Google has tried to force gesture controls on users before, to widespread annoyance. When the Android 10 beta arrived in August, many members of the Android community were dismayed by its new gesture navigation, which uses swipes in place of button presses. Testers' main complaint involved the back gesture – a swipe from either the right or left edge of the screen. Many third-party apps already use that gesture for other functions, such as accessing menus, so having it taken over by the operating system presented a real problem. Google responded to the backlash by arguing that gestures are more natural and make navigating with one hand easier, but eventually caved and made buttons available as an option when the new OS launched. It's possible that it will change its mind about Google Assistant as well, particularly as it starts to roll out to older handsets. Fingers crossed. Source: The new Google Assistant doesn't support button navigation, to the dismay of users (TechRadar)
  10. Today at its Google hardware event, Google introduced new mesh routers called Nest Wifi. This is a successor tot he Google Wifi product it introduced a couple of years ago, but with a number of improvements. The new Nest Wifi consists of two types of devices, one a router that plugs into your modem, and one ‘point’ amplifies the signal and extends the network, and it’s more powerful so you only need these two things. It’s available to pre-order, and will ship on November 4. It comes in a 2-pack or a 3-pack variant, for $249 or $349 respectively, and will be available in eight countries at launch. Google says that Nest Wifi offers 2x better speed than Google Wifi, with up to 25% better coverage. That’s from the two-piece system, which Google says is probably enough to cover the same space as the three-puck Google Wifi original system. The hardware is designed to be placed out in the open – Google paid attention to design here to make sure it looks good enough to keep it where it’ll work best to provide signal. And the ‘point’ has a built-in speaker and microphone array, with onboard Google Assistant support, making it double as a smart speaker – which really does add to the overall value in terms of what you’re getting for the money. Like Google Wifi, it offers simple set-up, parental and guest controls, as well as “seamless setup” for smart home devices rom within the Google Home app. Interestingly, Google said that Google Wifi has been the top-selling mesh Wifi system in both the U.S. and Canada since its launch, so it’s clearly seeing a lot of success in this category. The company was also quick to point out that it has provided 15 updates to the original hardware since its launch, adding new features and improving performance, so expect a similar slew of post-purchase updates for Nest Wifi, too. Source
  11. "OK Google, turn on the Xbox." Google Assistant now works with the Xbox One. Xbox users could already control their console with Amazon's Alexa and Microsoft's own Cortana, now they can also use Google Assistant. In respective blog posts, the two tech giants announced that they're beginning a beta of the new functionality Thursday. The integration is similar to what has been offered with other voice assistants, allowing you to turn the Xbox on or off, open apps or games on the console, take screenshots, record game clips, control play/pause and adjust the volume. Adding the beta is fairly simple. You can join Microsoft's Google Group with your Google account, then via the Google Home app go to Add, Set up device and select Have something already set up? to get the process started. From there search for and select the "[beta] Xbox" device, sign in to your system's Microsoft account and you should be good to go. If you have multiple Xboxes you can rename them as well. Once enabled you can control your Xbox from any Google Assistant-enabled smart speaker or display, Android device or on Google's Home and Assistant apps on iOS. Available in English to start, the companies say they are working to add additional languages before the full launch "later this fall." Source
  12. It has also added new safeguards against inadvertent voice collection. Google has announced that it will do more to protect user privacy for its Google Assistant and confirmed that it doesn't save voice recordings by default. The news comes after revelations that a Google contractor was leaking private user audio recordings meant to improve its translation service. "It's clear that we fell short of our high standards in making it easy for you to understand how your data is used, and we apologize," wrote the company wrote in a blog post. Google isn't alone in misusing voice data, as both Amazon and Apple recently confirmed that they were saving Alexa and Siri conversations in an attempt to improve their AI algorithms. Apple suspended the program last month and then promised to resume it using computer-generated transcripts, but only if users opt in. Amazon, meanwhile, said that it will still do select voice recording by default, but allow users to opt out. Google paused its human audio review in July, but said it will resume with new safeguards in place. "By default, we don't retain your audio recordings," it wrote. "This has been the case, and will remain unchanged." We're updating our policy to vastly reduce the amount of audio data we store. For those of you who have opted in to VAA, we will soon automatically delete the vast majority of audio data associated with your account that's older than a few months. This new policy will be coming to VAA later this year. What's changing is that if you have opted in, Google will prompt you to review your settings choice under the "Voice & Audio Activity" parameter. The company has also tried to improve filters that are supposed to erase voice recordings made in error when the user hasn't said "OK Google" or other wake words. It will also soon launch a new feature that allows you to select how sensitive the Assistant is to your wake word to avoid accidental activation. By the end of the year, Google will "vastly reduce" how much audio data it stores, the company said. If you opt in to allow it to save your voice data, it will delete the majority of it after a few months. "One of the principles we strive toward is minimizing the amount of data we store, and we're applying this to the Google Assistant as well," according to the post. You'll still have to be careful across all your assistants that your voice data is being used how you want. At least now, more people are becoming aware, and if you want, you should be able to turn off -- or at least limit -- one of the microphones that listens intently to your every word. Source
  13. In India, you don’t need a Google phone to have a Google Assistant A new toll-free Google Assistant service in India can be accessed from any phone. Enlarge / Google Assistant isn't just for smartphones anymore—at least, not in India. McKay Savage / Flickr India is an enormous developing market for international companies like Google—who list Hindi as the second most-used Google Assistant language, after English—but many of those potential Indian customers don't have smartphones and may frequently be in areas with little or no data coverage. Today, Google announced a partnership with telco carrier Vodafone Idea that brings the Google Assistant to those users by way of a simple, toll-free dial-in service. Indian users can now call 000-800-9191-000 and interact with the Google Assistant entirely by voice in either English or Hindi, with other language support planned over time. Most of the standard "Hey Google" functionality is available—you might ask what actress played a particular movie role, who sings a popular song, or where to find a nearby store. This version of the Assistant isn't tied to any individual user's Google account, so it can't do things that require personal data access, such as creating a calendar event or calling a friend. Whether this is a bug or a feature is left as a thought exercise for the reader—Incognito Mode Google Assistant, anyone? This new service follows on the heels of the Google Assistant for KaiOS, launched earlier this year, which brought access to the Google Assistant to Indians who had very low-end feature phones. Google believes that access to its Assistant is particularly important to users in emerging markets, who frequently have less screen real estate to navigate complex control systems and less experience with them as well. For many of these users, a voice-activated assistant could be a more natural and feature-full way to interact, rather than an unfamiliar and limiting metaphor. More traditional, smartphone-based versions of the Assistant in India are capable of wider language support and can converse with their users in nine Indian languages. Google has made it possible for these users to configure their phone and their Assistant to use different languages—many users prefer the on-screen configuration language to be English while conversing with the Assistant in their native tongue. The Assistant can handle this decoupling directly, with users able to ask "Hey Google, speak to me in Punjabi" rather than digging around in on-screen configs. Google is also adding a new Interpreter mode to the Assistant, which will allow two people speaking different languages to converse in real time. The feature currently supports English and Hindi, with more languages to come, and should start rolling out over the next few months. Source: In India, you don’t need a Google phone to have a Google Assistant (Ars Technica)
  14. You're not the voice, try and understand it It'll do till the robo-slaves are ready SINCE I joined INQ, nearly seven years ago (can that be right?), one of my favourite areas has been the emergence of the "smart home", a realm previously the reserve of people with surnames like "Beckham" or "Blofeld". I've been doing a bit of an inventory of my smart home, which started with a couple of Z Wave sockets in 2014 and realised something. I, like a great many people, have been sucked into a complete bastardisation of what a smart home is. Because big tech, as big tech so often does, seems to have hijacked it, improved it in a lot of ways, whilst completely borking it in others. Specifically? Voice control. We've been told for a long time that voice was going to be the big gamechanger in tech. So when Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant became nigh on essential household items, it made sense that they would also become the focal point of the smart home. That's great, of course. Hundreds of brands could interact with each other using the smart voice assistant as a hub. Nobody is arguing with that part. A few years ago, my biggest moan was that smart home products were too siloed. Now, with a few notable exceptions, brands are opening up to working together rather than try and convince you to go all-in on their stuff. But is a smart home run by a voice assistant really all that smart? No. It does what you tell it to do. Like a switch, but with your mouth. It's changed how we interact with the home, but it hasn't actually improved it. For a purist like me, a smart home has to do more. We're not talking about some weird Demon Seed style artificial intelligence to lock you in the bathroom and force you to watch through the keyboard as it molests your wife. But what we are talking is sensors. Sensors that mean that your home does what it needs to without a lecture from you, thank you very much. You see, for a home to be "smart" it shouldn't reactively be following instructions, it should be proactively following algorithms and operating things automatically. The excitement of smart homing is the automation, something that Alexa and Google Assistant just haven't got close to right yet. A real smart home can tell if a room is occupied. A real smart home can tell if its too hot or too cold, but doesn't just keep that information within the heating system, it tells the rest of the house so it can look for things that could be causing it, you know, like a fire or something. A real smart home could not only tell you if someone was at the door but whether or not it needed to pause playback on the TV. The fact that neither Amazon or Alexa has promoted smart homing and home automation as the same thing is very telling. If it was selling a product that you didn't have to interact with after it was set up, you'd use their assistant a lot less, you wouldn't form any habit of using it every day and it would soon be forgotten - another anonymous obelisk in the corner near the router. Then, of course, the ultimate upshot to that is that they'd have a lot less of your data - your habits, your purchases, your preferences and of course your voiceprint to use. We've seen Amazon Echo and Google Nest devices permeate into a great many Western homes now. But let's be honest - they're devices that seem to be helpful for home control, but they're not - they're devices that have steered home control in a direction that suits them, and stopped people from realising the full potential of those gadgets. I'm not saying that voice control, and even voice assistants, specifically, shouldn't be part of a smart home set up, you'll always need to do some stuff manually, but we should be thinking bigger. Telling ‘the house' you're going out and asking when the next bus will be is one thing. Letting the house ‘sense' you're out, arming the cameras, turning down the heating and preparing a lovely cup of tea for your return - it's when you can do that, using a suite of the best products of their ilk, regardless of brand, that we'll see smart homes live up to the life-changing potential they have for good. Here's hoping now we're all hooked on Voice Assistants, Big Tech is ready to let us experience a truly smart home. TL;DR - let's get better support for sensors and an IF/OR/AND/THAT engine up and running before we forget just how smart our homes can really be. Source
  15. How to disable OK Google and Google Assistant on Android devices Many Android devices come with Google applications and services, even if the device is not a device created by Google itself but by another company. Google Assistant is available as a standalone application as well which Android users may install to integrate it on their device. Two of the features that you may find on your Android device are OK Google and Google Assistant. OK Google is a tool that is activated by voice to run searches or certain actions. Google Assistant ties into that but can also be controlled via text. If OK Google or Google Assistant are active on your Android device but you are not using these tools, you may want to consider disabling those. You may remember that I bought a Google Pixel 3A device when it first came out to replace my trusted by aging Nokia 5.1 device. The Google device is chock-full when it comes to Google services and tools; OK Google and Google Assistant are a part of the device but I never use these services. I don't have any use cases for these, don't want to talk to my phone, and don't like the privacy implications either. One of the first things that I did was to go through the smartphone to disable any service or tool that I don't use. OK Google and Google Assistant were two of the features that I disabled. Here is how I did it. Note: The way to disable Google Assistant and OK Google may be different depending on the Android version of the device. If you notice that you have to follow different steps to disable the features, let me know in the comments. If you figured it out, please share your experience in the comments so that others may benefit from it as well. Disable OK Google Here is how you disable OK Google on your device: Open the Google application on the Android device. Click on the "More" link when it opens. Now navigate to Settings > Voice > Voice Match Disable "Access with Voice Match", "Unlock with Voice Match", and "While Driving". Disable Google Assistant Google Assistant is disabled in the Google settings on the device, not in the Google application. Open the Settings on the device. Select Google and use it to navigate to Search, Assistant & Voice > Google Assistant. In the Google Assistant settings, switch to the Assistant tab. Scroll down until you find the list of Assistant devices. Select your device. Turn off "Google Assistant" on the screen that opens. Closing Words Disabling does not mean that these two services are removed entirely from the device. You still get the voice icon in the search field but a tap on the icon displays a "turn on" prompt indicating that Google Assistant is turned off. Source: How to disable OK Google and Google Assistant on Android devices (gHacks - Martin Brinkmann)
  16. Google ordered to halt human review of voice AI recordings over privacy risks A German privacy watchdog has ordered Google to cease manual reviews of audio snippets generated by its voice AI. This follows a leak last month of scores of audio snippets from the Google Assistant service. A contractor working as a Dutch language reviewer handed more than 1,000 recordings to the Belgian news site VRT which was then able to identify some of the people in the clips. It reported being able to hear people’s addresses, discussion of medical conditions, and recordings of a woman in distress. The Hamburg data protection authority told Google of its intention to use Article 66 powers of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to begin an “urgency procedure” under Article 66 of GDPR last month. Article 66 allows a DPA to order data processing to stop if it believes there is “an urgent need to act in order to protect the rights and freedoms of data subjects”. This appears to be the first use of the power since GDPR came into force across the bloc in May last year. Google says it responded to the DPA on July 26 to say it had already ceased the practice — taking the decision to manually suspend audio reviews of Google Assistant across the whole of Europe, and doing so on July 10, after learning of the data leak. Last month it also informed its lead privacy regulator in Europe, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), of the breach — which also told us it is now “examining” the issue that’s been highlighted by Hamburg’s order. The Irish DPC’s head of communications, Graham Doyle, said Google Ireland filed an Article 33 breach notification for the Google Assistant data “a couple of weeks ago”, adding: “We note that as of 10 July Google Ireland ceased the processing in question and that they have committed to the continued suspension of processing for a period of at least three months starting today (1 August). In the meantime we are currently examining the matter.” It’s not clear whether Google will be able to reinstate manual reviews in Europe in a way that’s compliant with the bloc’s privacy rules. The Hamburg DPA writes in a statement [in German] on its website that it has “significant doubts” about whether Google Assistant complies with EU data-protection law. “We are in touch with the Hamburg data protection authority and are assessing how we conduct audio reviews and help our users understand how data is used,” Google’s spokesperson also told us. In a blog post published last month after the leak, Google product manager for search, David Monsees, claimed manual reviews of Google Assistant queries are “a critical part of the process of building speech technology”, couching them as “necessary” to creating such products. “These reviews help make voice recognition systems more inclusive of different accents and dialects across languages. We don’t associate audio clips with user accounts during the review process, and only perform reviews for around 0.2% of all clips,” Google’s spokesperson added now. But it’s far from clear whether human review of audio recordings captured by any of the myriad always-on voice AI products and services now on the market will be able to be compatible with European’s fundamental privacy rights. These AIs typically have trigger words for activating the recording function which streams audio data to the cloud. But the technology can easily be accidentally triggered — and leaks have shown they are able to hoover up sensitive and intimate personal data not just of their owner but anyone in their vicinity (which of course includes people who never got within sniffing distance of any T&Cs). In its website the Hamburg DPA says the intended proceedings against Google are intended to protect the privacy rights of affected users in the immediate term, noting that GDPR allows for concerned authorities in EU Member States to issue orders of up to three months. In a statement Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg commissioner for data protection, added: “The use of language assistance systems in the EU must comply with the data protection requirements of the GDPR. In the case of the Google Assistant, there are currently significant doubts. The use of language assistance systems must be done in a transparent way, so that an informed consent of the users is possible. In particular, this involves providing sufficient information and transparently informing those concerned about the processing of voice commands, but also about the frequency and risks of mal-activation. Finally, due regard must be given to the need to protect third parties affected by the recordings. First of all, further questions about the functioning of the speech analysis system have to be clarified. The data protection authorities will then have to decide on definitive measures that are necessary for a privacy-compliant operation. ” The DPA also urges other regional privacy watchdogs to prioritize checks on other providers of language assistance systems — and “implement appropriate measures” — name-checking rival providers of voice AIs, Apple and Amazon . This suggests there could be wider ramifications for other tech giants operating voice AIs in Europe flowing from this single notification of an Article 66 order. The real enforcement punch packed by GDPR is not the headline-grabbing fines, which can scale as high as 4% of a company’s global annual turnover — it’s the power that Europe’s DPAs now have in their regulatory toolbox to order that data stops flowing. “This is just the beginning,” one expert on European data protection legislation told us, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The Article 66 chest is open and it has a lot on offer.” In a sign of the potential scale of the looming privacy problems for voice AIs, Apple also said earlier today that it’s suspending a similar human review ‘quality control program’ for its Siri voice assistant. The move, which does not appear to be linked to any regulatory order, follows a Guardian report last week detailing claims by a whistleblower that contractors working for Apple ‘regularly hear confidential details’ on Siri recordings, such as audio of people having sex and identifiable financial details, regardless of the processes Apple uses to anonymize the records. Apple’s suspension of manual reviews of Siri snippets applies worldwide. Image Credits: TechCrunch Source: Google ordered to halt human review of voice AI recordings over privacy risks
  17. Lenovo Smart Clock review: A small smart display that doesn’t display much $89 gets you the most affordable (and limited) Google Assistant display available. Enlarge Valentina Palladino Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the like want to convince you that you need a smart display. But as we've explored in previous reviews, most smart displays are luxury versions of their screen-less counterparts. Everything that you can do with an Amazon Echo or a Google Home can be done with a comparable smart display, but the latter can show you visual information and (in some cases) videos. If you don't care much for visual information in such a device, why spring for a smart display? These devices are hard sells, particularly because most cost $150 or more. Amazon Echo Show 5 Last week, Amazon announced the Echo Show 5, a new 5-inch, rectangular version of the Echo Show. Thanks to its shape and $89 price tag, it's even more similar to Lenovo's Smart Clock than the $129 Echo Spot. Since the Echo Show 5 is only available for preorder right now, we couldn't test it out to compare to the Smart Clock for this review. However, all Echo devices are hosts for Amazon's Alexa voice assistant, so its capabilities are nearly identical to that of the Echo Spot. We've included its specs in the table below, so you can get a better idea of how the Echo Show 5 compares to Lenovo's Smart Clock in terms of hardware. That's not the case with Lenovo's new Smart Clock. It's the first Google-Assistant answer to Amazon's Echo Spot, serving as a tiny smart screen that shows the time by default and can be used to set alarms and do everything a regular Google Home device does. It could be an ideal device for someone who wants a virtual assistant at home and could use some visual information in their daily routine. But most importantly, it's great for those who don't want to spend a lot—Lenovo's Smart Clock costs $79, which is even more affordable than the $129 Echo Spot. But a few big differences distinguish Lenovo's Smart Clock from Amazon's Echo Spot, and they will be make-or-break for some users. We used both devices for about a week simultaneously to see if a tiny smart display is the way to go and how the two compare to each other. Design Lenovo ditched the wood accents it used in its full-sized Smart Display and opted for a soft-touch fabric in the Smart Clock. It's understandable in a device that will likely live on a bedroom nightstand, and it ended up being a quaint addition to mine. It takes up about as much space as my cheap alarm clock does, and I could easily read the time on its 4-inch 480×800 touchscreen. The embedded ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the screen's brightness so you won't be blinded by a harsh square of light in the middle of the night. There are 10 clock faces to choose from, too, so you have some control over the digital aesthetics of your alarm clock. You can even enable "dark mode" to give most clock faces a grayscale effect. Specs compared: Lenovo Smart Clock vs the competition Device Lenovo Smart Clock Amazon Echo Spot Amazon Echo Show 5 Price $79 $129 $89 Processor MediaTek 8167S ARM Cortex-A53 MediaTek MT 8163 Display 4-inch 480×800 IPS touchscreen 2.5-inch 480×480 touchscreen 5.5-inch 960×480 touchscreen Camera None 1 x Front-facing 1 x Front-facing Speakers 1 x 1.5-inch 3W speaker, 2x passive radiators 1 x 1.4-inch speaker 1 x 4W speaker Buttons/ports 1 x mic mute, 1 x volume up/down, 1 x USB 2.0 port 1 x mic/camera disable, 1 x volume up/down, 3.5mm audio output 1 x mic disable, 1 x camera shutter, 1 x volume up/down, 3.5mm audio output Connectivity 802.11ac WLAN, Bluetooth 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) Dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) Dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Dimensions 4.483×3.14×3.11 inches 4.1×3.8×3.6 inches 5.8×3.4×2.9 inches Weigh .72 pounds .92 pounds .91 pounds Aside from the display, the Smart Clock has two top buttons for adjusting volume, a power port, a microphone disable switch, and a USB 2.0 port on its body. The latter makes charging smartphones and accessories easy because you can plug charging cables into it instead of an AC outlet or a USB port in a less convenient place next to your bed. Mic-kill switches have become commonplace on devices like these because users increasingly care about their privacy in the wake of AI devices becoming ubiquitous. The Smart Clock doesn't have a camera at all, unlike the Echo Spot, so there's no need for a camera shutter or kill switch. That may be the biggest selling point of the Smart Clock. The decision to leave the camera out of the original Google Home Hub (now called Nest Hub) was confusing because Lenovo's Smart Display included one for Duo video chatting. However, a device as small as the Smart Clock won't be the best video chatting tool, so a camera's usefulness is minimal. Video calling with the Echo Spot will likely come in handy more if you have the device on your office desk. That way, it acts as a hands-free camera with which you can answer video calls using your voice. Placing video calls with the Spot isn't any different from doing so with the Echo Show, either—just ask the device to call a specific contact and, if the contact has an Echo Show or Spot or can be reached via the Alexa app on their smartphone, your video feed will start by default. Saying "Alexa, turn video off" will disable your camera and make the call voice-only. You can also use Alexa's Drop-In feature to "call" other Echo devices in your home—and if one of those devices happens to be an Echo Show, you can video chat with your family in the living room just by using the Echo Spot in your bedroom. Like the Smart Clock, the Echo Spot includes a mic and camera-kill button that sits between the volume up and down buttons. While a camera is a convenient feature to have on the Echo Spot, it makes more sense to include on larger smart screens like the Echo Show or the Nest Hub. If you're resigning yourself to video chatting on a small screen, you might as well just use your smartphone—and with Alexa's mobile app, you can video chat with or Drop-In on any contacts just like you can on any standalone Echo device. Google Assistant vs. Alexa: Tiny screen edition While hardware differences are important, the great divide between the Lenovo Smart Clock and the Echo Spot comes from their virtual assistants—Google Assistant and Alexa, respectively. We've dived deep into both platforms in previous reviews, so we're not going to rehash everything here. However, we paid particular attention to the features that one would expect a smart clock to excel at, namely waking you up, showing and telling personal information, and connecting to smart home systems. Alarms and routines Despite their geometric differences, the Smart Clock and the Echo Spot do similar things with their displays, with telling time being the focus for both. On the Smart Clock, swiping up from the bottom reveals quick-setting icons for changing brightness, volume, and other aspects of the on-screen UI like the clock face. Swiping down from the bottom reveals even more quick settings including icons to edit your alarms, set a nap timer, play music, and control smart lights (if you have any paired through the Google Home app). When an alarm is active on the Smart Clock, a tiny icon appears at the top-right corner of the clock face. When that alarm's time approaches, a larger oval appears underneath the current time that states how much longer until the alarm goes off. This is particularly useful in the mornings when you glance at your alarm clock wondering how many more minutes of precious sleep you have before you need to wake up. You can quickly disable the alarm by tapping on that oval, so if you're like me and frequently wake up five minutes before your alarm goes off, you can spare your partner the rude awakening. The Echo Spot doesn't have the same on-screen mechanism, but it does show your alarm's time below the current time whenever an alarm is set. You can also disable it before it goes off, but you need to tap on the alarm's time and then tap "cancel alarm" to do so. Both devices also have numerous preset alarm tones, and you can also have either device wake you up to your favorite song or artist if you connected your preferred music source (like Spotify, iHeartRadio, and others). Instead of barking multiple, individual commands at the Smart Clock when you wake up each morning, you can set a Good Morning routine full of tasks that the Google Assistant will complete in succession after you say the appropriate command ("OK Google, good morning" or something similar). Alexa has customizable routines as well, and both let you hear weather and traffic information, automatically turn on smart lights, and play specific playlists without you lifting a finger. As with any routine, you need to do all the creation and customization in the Google Home or Alexa mobile app. These smart clocks aren't smart enough to let you drastically edit a routine using their touchscreens. The biggest differences between devices like Lenovo's Smart Clock and the Echo Spot come out when you're customizing a routine or doing anything that involves connecting other devices and accounts to your smart display. The Google Assistant and Alexa can connect to multiple third-party services and devices, but you need to do research before investing in one platform or the other to see if your favorite services are supported. For example, I subscribe to Apple Music—the Google Assistant currently cannot connect to it, but Alexa can. That means all of the music I could play on the Smart Clock had to come from my ad-supported Spotify account. We talked about video chatting previously, but the Smart Clock and the Echo Spot can also show camera feeds from home security devices that you may have around your home. While Alexa can connect to a host of smart security cameras, the Google Assistant only supports Nest cameras at this time. That means that, if you have any cameras that aren't from Nest, you'll have to turn to the accompanying mobile app to check live feeds and recorded footage. Otherwise, the Google Assistant and Alexa both support a wide variety of smart home devices, and there's a lot of overlap. It's worth checking if your current smart lights, thermostats, door locks, and more will work with one or both platforms before deciding which to invest in, but you likely won't have to worry about your devices not being support by either. Both the Google Assistant and Alexa let you create rooms in addition to routines, so you can group smart home devices as you'd like and control some or all of them with the appropriate commands. Personal and visual information While the small screens on both Lenovo's Smart Clock and Amazon's Echo Spot aren't the best for video chatting or watching videos, they are good for displaying bite-sized pieces of information that can help you during your morning routine. One of the first things I asked both devices was for the day's weather forecast—I got the same answers but in very different ways. The Echo Spot took one or two seconds to tell me the high and low temperatures along with sun and cloud icons showing that day's weather forecast. The Smart Clock had most of the same visual and audible information, but it took a whopping 15 seconds to give it to me. This slowness persisted whenever I asked the Google Assistant on the Smart Clock to do anything, including play a song on Spotify, turn on the bedroom lights, or tell me the day and time of the next Raptors' game. It rarely failed to do what I asked it, but it was significantly slower to execute than Alexa was on the Echo Spot despite being on the same Wi-Fi network and positioned next to each other on my nightstand. Multiple people can use both the Smart Clock and the Echo Spot thanks to voice recognition. Google's Voice Match is the more comprehensive of the two, though. This lets the Google Assistant recognize who's speaking when a command is given so it can spit out the proper calendar, photo, flights, and media information. It's a handy feature to have in a smart clock that will be used by more than one person regularly. And now with GSuite integration (currently in beta), the Google Assistant can read off work calendar appointments in addition to appointments scheduled on your personal calendar. Amazon's technology works similarly, but it connects to fewer pieces of personal information (music and shopping lists among them) than Google's Voice Match. Lenovo's Smart Clock may be designed for your nightstand, but you could put it anywhere in your home just like you could the Echo Spot. However, the Smart Clock isn't as useful as Lenovo's full-sized Smart Display or even Google's Nest Hub when it comes to visual information. Take recipes: those larger smart displays can show numerous recipes for chocolate-chip cookies, allowing you to choose from and follow instructions by either using the touchscreen or your voice to advance to the next steps. That's not possible on the Smart Clock—asking how to make chocolate-chip cookies forces the Google Assistant to choose the first recipe it finds in its search and dictate the instructions to you. That's not abnormal for a smart speaker because Amazon's non-display Echo devices give recipes a similar treatment. However, the Echo Spot acts just like a smaller, round version of an Echo Show, creating a list of chocolate-chip cookie recipes complete with photos and videos for you to swipe through and choose from before you begin cooking. You can either have Alexa read the instructions to you, or you can follow the steps written on the Spot's screen. You'll get similar results when asking the Smart Clock a question that could yield a YouTube video answer on Lenovo's larger display or the Nest Hub. Instead of a carousel of video options to choose from, the Smart Clock will only answer you audibly. These inconsistencies make Lenovo's Smart Clock more limited than any Google Assistant smart display. While you may expect to give up some features in a more affordable device like the Smart Clock, it doesn't bode well for the device in the long run—those who thought they were getting a shrunken version of the Nest Hub will be in for a nasty surprise. Mobile apps Devices like the Smart Clock and the Echo Spot act as executors for preferences that you customize within the Google Home and Alexa mobile apps. Neither app is that pleasant to use, but the recently redesigned Alexa mobile app remains leaps and bounds better than the Google Home app. What was once the only true interface for Google's Chromecast is now a confusing amalgamation of every smart home setting you could possibly need. Ars' Ron Amadeo lamented the app's copious menus, endless pages, and duplicated settings when he reviewed the Google Home Hub, and not much has changed since then. Instead, Alexa's mobile app opens to a general homepage that includes weather information and info cards with things like the last Audible audiobook you listened to, your recently accessed to-do list, and suggestions for Alexa Skills and voice commands to try. You can easily navigate to your contacts in the Communicate tab, music and other media in the Play tab, and all of your connected devices (Echo and others) in the Devices tab. If you're more of a list-menu person, you can access everything there as well in addition to lists, alarms and reminders, and a log of your Alexa activity. Visualizing time, but not much else Lenovo's Smart Clock and Amazon's Echo Spot are appealing because they combine conveniences of a virtual assistant with a piece of technology that almost everyone needs. Tiny smart displays could make useful smart alarm clocks purely because we all need something to wake us up each morning. Lenovo's Smart Clock could make a good first Google Assistant device for those who want a device they know they'll use regardless of how much they actually use the assistant itself. But if you already have a Google Home or a Google Home Mini, Lenovo's Smart Clock doesn't provide much in the way of information visualization. You could ask both a Smart Clock and a Home Mini for the same information and the visual aspects the Smart Clock provides wouldn't make that information any better than straight audible information. However, the Google Assistant needed a device like Lenovo's Smart Clock because it helps it compete with Alexa, which now has two tiny smart displays in addition to a slew of other devices. It's clear that Google and Lenovo want to undercut the Echo Spot on price to attract those who want an entry-level Assistant device that provides a little more than the regular Home Mini thanks to its display. But make no mistake, the Echo Spot is a more capable device both in hardware and software. Lenovo's Smart Clock forgoes some key features that make the Nest Hub a decent visual machine while the Echo Spot takes what's great about the Echo Show and shrinks it down to a more versatile size. Both the Echo Spot and the Smart Clock force you to make sacrifices, but you make significantly fewer if you get the Echo Spot. The Good Small design that fits easily on a desk or nightstand. USB port for charging other devices. No camera. Speakers get quite loud, and sound quality is decent for such a small device. The Bad Slow performance. Currently can only show feeds from Nest home security cameras. Google Home app is still a mess. The Ugly Cannot show all of the visual information that the larger Nest Hub or Smart Display can. Source: Lenovo Smart Clock review: A small smart display that doesn’t display much (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  18. Google brings Assistant's "continued conversation" feature to smart displays The feature lets users engage in a conversation with the voice-activated assistant without prefacing each statement with "Hey Google." Google on Friday announced that it's bringing Google Assistant's "continued conversation" feature to all smart displays, including the Google Home Hub and other devices like the Lenovo Smart Display, JBL Link View and the LG XBOOM AI ThinQ WK9. The feature lets users engage in a conversation with the voice-activated assistant without prefacing each statement with "Hey Google." Users can activate the Continued Conversation feature under Settings in the Google Assistant app. Then, once you trigger the Assistant with a request, it will stay active long enough to respond to follow up questions. The feature demonstrates how interactions with AI-powered assistants are becoming more and more natural. Amazon introduced these kinds of improved conversational skills to Alexa last year. Google on Friday also introduced a series of other new features that highlight how voice-based interactions can complement screen-based interfaces. For instance, users can now use a smart display to access a single dashboard of all of their devices connected to Google Assistant. Additionally, users can add a smart display to a group of speakers connected to Google Assistant, and they can use the smart display to access controls for adjusting the volume of any device in the group. There are also new ways consumers can use Google Assistant with their smart displays to play games, share photos or interpret different languages. Source
  19. Google this week debuted a slew of new capabilities for its artificial intelligence software, Google Assistant, at CES in Las Vegas. One of the headliners was a preview of Google Assistant Connect. The new platform lets device manufacturers incorporate Google Assistant into their products easily and cost-effectively. Connect uses Google's existing smart home platform to expand to new device types, while making device setup and discovery easy for consumers. A manufacturer could create a continuous e-ink display projecting weather or calendar information, for example, while using Connect to drive content from a linked smart speaker. "The key here is making device setup and discovery easy for consumers," observed Jack Narcotta, senior industry analyst for smart home strategies at Strategy Analytics. "Addressing the frustration that still often accompanies smart home device setup and use -- especially during that all-important initial setup -- is a big step for any company seeking to expand its footprint into the smart home," he told TechNewsWorld. Google also announced new plans for Assistant: Building Google Assistant into the Sonos One and Sonos Beam speakers so users can control their sound entertainment from anywhere in the home without needing their smartphone. Earlier models of Sonos speakers will be updated to work with Google Assistant; Expanding Assistant later this year to work with other popular media and entertainment devices, including Samsung TVs. This will let users use voice commands to turn the TV on, change volume and channels, and switch within inputs; Having Google Assistant built into Dish's Hopper family of receivers. This will let consumers use their Dish Voice Remote to search for content, check the weather, or control other connected devices in the home; Including Google Assistant in Android TV. Sony, Hisense, Philips, Xiaomi, Haier and JVC are among the Google partners that have launched and showcased such Android TV devices. Several will have far field microphones that will let them pick up the user's voice even with noise in the room or on the TV; and Expanding Google Assistant's ability to respond to users even when their Android phones are locked if they opt in to this feature. They also will be able to set up and dismiss alarms, schedule reminders and timers, and view answers to personal queries such as traffic and calendar updates. This feature is currently available on Pixels and will be rolled out to all Android devices in the next few weeks. Assistance for Everyday Living Lenovo will unveil a Smart Clock this spring, priced at US$79, that incorporates Google Assistant and will let users control their smart home devices. Whirlpool previewed its new KitchenAid Smart Display with the Google Assistant at CES. It is a 10-inch tablet that will let users do the following: Manage everyday tasks such as creating shopping lists, making purchases with Google Express, setting timers and reminders, and browsing recipes on the Web hands-free; Listen to music, podcasts and radio, or catch up on the latest shows and videos from popular services; and Have full control over their smart kitchen appliances and entire smart home ecosystem. KitchenAid Smart Display will be compatible with smart home devices that work with the Google Assistant. The Assistant works with more than 1,600 home automation brands and more than 10,000 devices. Google is working with more brands to launch smart home devices this year. These include select Whirlpool connected appliances, GE's smart microwave, and security products from August. Several new devices in new categories now work with Google Assistant: Pressure cookers; Refrigerator and wine storage racks; Ovens; Dishwashers; McAfee's Secure Home Platform; Water leak sensors; and Electric vehicle chargers. Getting Around Google has been working with Anker and JBL to build the Assistant into car accessories so that users can connect smartphones to their car stereos through Bluetooth or AUX. Meanwhile, Verizon previewed the HumX at CES -- a car accessory with built-in Google Assistant that lets users pull car diagnostics with voice commands. Virtual personal assistants (VPAs) have been pushing into the automotive market, according to IHS Markit. Google Assistant soon will offer more robust air travel support. Users will be able to check in for their flights, and save and retrieve boarding passes using Google Assistant on Android or iOS. They'll be able to do so simply by saying, "Hey Google, check in to my flight" -- no need to remember confirmation numbers. The Assistant will notify users proactively when it's time to check in. If they plan to stay at a particular hotel or motel, they can book a room using Google Assistant. Further, support is on the way for Google Keep, Any.do, Bring! And Todoist, for help keeping track of itineraries with notes and lists in the Google Assistant. Google Translator For those traveling outside of their language comfort zones, Google Assistant can help remove barriers to communication. Interpreter Mode -- which will roll out over the next few weeks on Google Home devices and Smart Displays -- users can ask the Assistant for help conversing in dozens of languages. Initiating Interpreter Mode is as simple as saying "Hey Google, be my French interpreter," for example. The Assistant will provide real-time spoken translations, and written ones as well on smart displays. Google announced a pilot of Interpreter Mode this week at CES at the concierge desk in Caesars Palace, as well as at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, and Dream Downtown in New York City. All Google, All the Time "By expanding the functionality and programmability of Assistant, Google is helping empower their business partner ecosystem to build a huge variety of services for people to interact with throughout the day," noted Alan Lepofsky, principal analyst at Constellation Research. "From the time they wake up to getting their news, daily agenda meetings and tasks, to entertainment for the evening and setting alarms, Google is effectively inserting themselves into every aspect of people's lives at home, work and in transit," he told TechNewsWorld. That said, companies making smart home devices "need to understand that technology burnout is real," Strategy Analytics' Narcotta said. "Every person has a different limit for how connected they want to be." At the very least, the multiplicity of smart home device controllers that will emerge will create chaos. "I have a lot of these [controllers] in my house, and, at times they go a bit insane," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "It's clear the designs didn't anticipate multiple devices very well," he told TechNewsWorld. Tackling Amazon Head-On More than 74 million Americans will use a smart speaker this year, up 15 percent over 2018. By year end, nearly 27 percent of American adults will use one at least once a month, according to eMarketer. Google's push "is mostly a fight between Google and Amazon" for this huge market, Enderle told TechNewsWorld. Microsoft and Apple "just aren't playing to the level that Amazon and Google are right now." Amazon's Alexa will continue to dominate the market, Enderle predicted. Most products incorporating voice control "also run Alexa, and, given Alexa's penetration, it will be the dominant assistant on them for the foreseeable future." This year, Amazon Echo's market share will drop to 63.3 percent while Google Home will take 31 percent, eMarketer predicted. Amazon's share will continue to shrink through 2020. Google's efforts also may be hampered by its business model, Enderle suggested. "Having all these speakers connected to a company that sells your information doesn't sound particularly wise at all." source
  20. Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge As CES kicks off, Google has a massive presence: monorails, a booth that’s three times larger than last year, and likely a giant pile of news to announce. But ahead of all the actual product news, the company wants to beat its chest a little by announcing some numbers. By the end of the month, it expects that Google Assistant will be on 1 billion devices — up from 500 million this past May. That’s 900 million more than the number Amazon just gave us for Alexa. But just like Amazon, Google’s number comes with caveats. In an interview with The Verge, Manuel Bronstein, the company’s vice president of Google Assistant, copped to it. “The largest footprint right now is on phones. On Android devices, we have a very very large footprint,” he says. He characterizes the ratio of phones as “the vast majority” of that billion number, but he won’t specify it more than that. Though he does argue that smart speakers and other connected home devices comprise a notable and growing portion. THE “VAST MAJORITY” OF THOSE BILLION DEVICES ARE ANDROID PHONES In addition to the billion milestone, Google is also pointing out that Assistant now works in 30 languages and is available in 80 countries. Global active users have grown four times year over year, too. That last stat is not superuseful, of course, because we don’t know what the active users number was last year. So while these are new numbers, they’re not necessarily informative numbers. Just as with Amazon, the main thing you can take away is that Google has hit a big enough scale to be able to claim it’s got an honest-to-god platform on its hands. And so the next step is expanding that platform to work on as many new devices as possible. For Google, the next billion devices will come in emerging markets, specifically on feature phones. Here’s what Bronstein has to say about them: We won’t get the full details of what Google has planned for feature phones until February. But in the meantime, given Google’s massive presence here at CES, there’s sure to be a ton of other announcements to pay attention to in the coming days. source
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