Alexa’s new Whisper Mode goes live

At Amazon’s Alexa event last month in Seattle, the company teased a new feature soon coming to its voice assistant: the ability to whisper. The company demonstrated how whispering a request – like “play a lullaby” – to Alexa would trigger the voice assistant to respond in kind. Today, Amazon says Whisper Mode is officially […]

At Amazon’s Alexa event last month in Seattle, the company teased a new feature soon coming to its voice assistant: the ability to whisper. The company demonstrated how whispering a request – like “play a lullaby” – to Alexa would trigger the voice assistant to respond in kind. Today, Amazon says Whisper Mode is officially going live.

The feature is now rolling out to users in the U.S., the company tells us, and works in U.S. English.

It’s particularly useful around bedtime or nighttime scenarios, where you’re trying to keep the room quiet. And, of course, it’s especially helpful for parents, who don’t want to wake a sleeping child to command Alexa, or who are trying to set a more peaceful “bedtime,” “nap time,” or just generally “quiet time” tone to their interactions.

Whisper Mode is one of several features Amazon has been working on to make Alexa more context aware.
For example, the assistant knows that a command to “play Hunger Games” likely means launch the movie, if asked on a device with a screen, while the same command to an Echo speaker would start the audiobook instead.

Also at Amazon’s September event, the company showed off a forthcoming smart-home feature for Echo devices called “Alexa Guard.” This sound-detection technology will allow Alexa to recognize smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarms, and the sounds of glass breaking.

Both Alexa Guard and Whisper Mode use a machine-learning network known as a “long short-term memory,” explained Alexa head scientist Rohit Prasad.

The incoming audio signals are broken into ultrashort snippets, and the long short-term memory network processes them in order, the company explained in September. The system also factors in its judgments about preceding snippets when trying to make a judgement as to whether a new snippet is a whisper or alarm. In this way, it can learn systematic relationships between segments of an audio signal that are separated in time, Amazon says. 

The company also showed off last month how Alexa voice interactions were becoming more natural through “context carryover” – meaning you could ask follow-up questions, like “how about tomorrow?” after first asking “will it rain today?”, for example.

And recently, it patented tech that would allow Alexa to tell if you’re sick, then offer to sell you meds – like cough drops. The system could also detect emotion, like joy, anger or sorrow, according to reports.

To check to see if Whisper Mode has reached your Alexa device, you’ll just have to try it out. It’s not a setting you can manually turn on or off.

Amazon patents Alexa tech to tell if you’re sick, depressed and sell you meds

Echo could analyze your voice to detect a “physical or emotional abnormality.”

Amazon's Echo smart speaker with its blue light ring illuminated.

An Amazon Echo. (credit: Adam Bowie)

Amazon has patented technology that could let Alexa analyze your voice to determine whether you are sick or depressed and sell you products based on your physical or emotional condition.

The patent, titled "Voice-based determination of physical and emotional characteristics of users," was issued on Tuesday this week; Amazon filed the patent application in March 2017.

The patent describes a voice assistant that can detect "abnormal" physical or emotional conditions. "For example, physical conditions such as sore throats and coughs may be determined based at least in part on a voice input from the user, and emotional conditions such as an excited emotional state or a sad emotional state may be determined based at least in part on voice input from a user," the patent says. "A cough or sniffle, or crying, may indicate that the user has a specific physical or emotional abnormality."

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Alexa can now reserve conference rooms

Amazon is debuting a new feature that will allow businesses to use Alexa for booking conference rooms. The addition is part of the Alexa for Business platform, and works with linked calendars from either Google’s G Suite or Microsoft Exchange, as well as over an API, arriving soon. The feature is part of Amazon’s broader […]

Amazon is debuting a new feature that will allow businesses to use Alexa for booking conference rooms. The addition is part of the Alexa for Business platform, and works with linked calendars from either Google’s G Suite or Microsoft Exchange, as well as over an API, arriving soon.

The feature is part of Amazon’s broader plan to put Alexa to work outside the home. At last year’s AWS re:Invent conference, Amazon first launched its Alexa for Business platform to allow companies to build out their own skills and integrations for practical business use cases. Amazon also spoke of integrations that would allow Alexa to support productivity tools and enterprise services, including those from Microsoft, Concur, Splunk, and others.

Shortly after, early partner WeWork integrated Echo devices in some of its own meeting rooms to test out how the smart assistant could be useful for things like managing meeting room reservations, or shutting off or turning on lights.

Now, Amazon wants to make booking rooms themselves possible just by asking Alexa.

As the company explains, it’s common in workplaces for people to walk from room to room to grab a space for an ad-hoc meeting, or to find a space for a meeting that’s running over. But to reserve the room, they often have to pull out their laptop, run an application, do a search, and then look through the search results to find an available room. The Room Booking skill will allow them to ask Alexa for help instead.

The feature requires read/write permission to users’ calendar provider to enable, but can then be used to check the availability of the conference room you’re in, by asking “Alexa, is this room free?”

Users can then schedule the room on the fly by saying, “Alexa, book this room for half an hour,” or whatever time you choose.

Alexa will also be able to confirm if the room is booked, when asked “Alexa, who booked this room?”

Amazon is making this functionality available by way of a Room Booking API, too, which is soon arriving in beta. This will allow businesses to integrate the booking feature with their own in-house or third-party booking solutions. Some providers, including Joan and Robin are already building a skill to add voice support to their own offerings, Amazon noted.

The feature is now one of several on the Alexa for Business platform, specifically focused on better managing meetings with Alexa’s assistance. Another popular feature is using Alexa to control conference room equipment, so you can start meetings by saying “Alexa, join the meeting.”

A handful of large companies have since adopted Alexa in their own workplaces, following the launch of the Alexa For Business platform, including Condé Nast, Valence, Capital One, and Brooks Brothers. And the platform itself is one of many ways Amazon is contemplating as to how Alexa can be used outside the home. It has also launched Alexa for Hospitality and worked with colleges on putting Echo Dots in student dorms. It also last month introduced its first Alexa device for vehicles.

 

HiKam A7 Outdoor Security Camera: Budget Friendly and Alexa Compatible

Our verdict of the HiKam A7:Reliable email alerts, Alexa compatibility, ONVIF third party support, and reasonable image quality make this budget outdoor security camera a fully featured device at a fraction of the price. It’s let down by an outdated user interface, and right now setting up Alexa is a bit kludgy. 710The HiKam A7 is a budget option for outdoor security, and offers a feature not seen on other budget outdoor cameras: Alexa compatiblity, so you can view the live feed though an Alexa Show or Spot device. At just $60, you could buy two, three, four of these…

Read the full article: HiKam A7 Outdoor Security Camera: Budget Friendly and Alexa Compatible

Our verdict of the HiKam A7:
Reliable email alerts, Alexa compatibility, ONVIF third party support, and reasonable image quality make this budget outdoor security camera a fully featured device at a fraction of the price. It's let down by an outdated user interface, and right now setting up Alexa is a bit kludgy.
710

The HiKam A7 is a budget option for outdoor security, and offers a feature not seen on other budget outdoor cameras: Alexa compatiblity, so you can view the live feed though an Alexa Show or Spot device. At just $60, you could buy two, three, four of these for the same price as a Ring, Netgear Arlo, or Nest Outdoor.

HiKam A7 WiFi Wireless Outdoor Security Camera - Cloud Recording Included, Human Detection, HD 960P, Waterproof Home Security Camera(Full Metal, Night Vision,Alarm Push to Phone, SD Card Slot) HiKam A7 WiFi Wireless Outdoor Security Camera - Cloud Recording Included, Human Detection, HD 960P, Waterproof Home Security Camera(Full Metal, Night Vision,Alarm Push to Phone, SD Card Slot) Buy Now At Amazon $54.50

So do you get what you pay for, or is this device just as capable as more expensive brands? Let’s find out, and at the end of this review, we’ve got one HiKam A7 to giveaway to a lucky reader. Read on to find out how to win it!

Installation is Simple, But You’ll Need a Power Socket

In the box you’ll find the camera itself, 12V 1A power adaptor, mounting bits, and waterproof Ethernet cable cover.

Installation is simple, involving screwing the mounting bracket to a wall or ceiling, then bolting the camera to the bracket. Alternatively, you can just screw the device straight to your wall and bypass the mounting plate. A hex tool is also provided to tighten and relax the mount for repositioning.

hikam a7 box contents

If your plan was to eventually use the device wirelessly, I’d suggest leaving it unmounted for the time being in order to add the Wi-Fi details first and check those work before locking it in-situ.

One major drawback of the HiKam A7 is that you’ll need a power source: it can’t use Power over Ethernet, so you’ll either need a breakout cable to pull 12V from your PoE line (which drives up the overall cost), or use the included mains adaptor. There’s also no solar power option, unlike the Reolink Argus Pro we looked at a few weeks back.

hikam a7 mounted outside
The biggest restriction on where to place the HiKam A7 will be the availability of a power socket. In this case, I ran power from the garage.

Setup the HiKam A7

Start by downloading the HiKam app, and creating a new account. Curiously, you’re instructed that you’ll need a different account for each copy of the app that you’ll be using. So if you have two phones, you’ll need to create a unique account login for each. On top of that, if you forget your password, there is no reset option: you’ll need to just create a new account.

I can confidently say HiKam is an established company, because their app looks like it was designed at least 5 years ago, with a graphical UI that hasn’t been updated since. It’s terribly antiquated, and mostly devoid of any HiKam branding. This is as barebones as they could get away with really, the weakest part of the whole package–but that’s fine since my interest in the A7 was primarily its ability to integrate into other systems.

To add your camera, the easiest option is to plug it into a spare Ethernet port on your router (read our networking guide if you’re unsure about switches, routers and hubs). Then click the + button. It should automatically scan and discover it. The initial setup password is 123 (and you’ll need to choose a new one that doesn’t start with 0). After that, you’re free to reconfigure the network options to Wi-Fi instead.

hikam a7 waterproof cable cover
Helpfully, a waterproof Ethernet cable cover is also included.

You can also select the Other -> AirLink option when adding a new device and attempt to connect it straight to your Wi-Fi, but this isn’t as reliable, as many routers block the initial setup packets. This did work fine for me though.

I decided to site the camera overlooking my car park, where I can grab mains power from inside the garage. Since there’s no Ethernet cable here, I configured the Wi-Fi to use my Unifi Outdoor+ connection. This is a powerful outdoor antenna which broadcasts 2.4GHz, but obviously your setup may be different and if you don’t have a Wi-Fi signal at all outside then you’re going to be even more restricted as to where you can mount it.

View the HiKam A7 with Alexa Show/Spot

For me, the biggest draw of the HiKam A7 is third party integration. Not only is it compatible with Synology Station via the standard ONVIF protocol, but they’ve also released an Amazon Alexa Skill. That means you can call the camera up on your Echo Show or Echo Spot to view the live feed. That’s previously been the domain of significantly more expensive brands, at least when it comes to outdoor cams.

So how does the Alexa support work? First, you’ll need to email support to enable the feature on your account. They told me this was due to stability issues–it’s a beta firmware, so only enabled to those who actually want it. That said, I didn’t experience any issues, and they said it will be rolling out publicly after Christmas or sooner if enough people ask for it, so it may even be available to all when you read this review. This is obviously a bit kludgy, but I found support to be very responsive. It is open to everyone, it’s not a private beta test–anyone can opt in to get it.

Once enabled, you’ll need to update the firmware on the camera via the app to version 1.19. Then after enabling the skill (available both in Europe and the US), you’ll be asked to link your account, and you should see your camera listed. Then just refresh your Alexa smart home devices.

Alexa Show / Spot integration works, but takes about 5 seconds or more to appear on screen.

Once it’s setup, usage couldn’t be simpler, just ask Alexa to “show me” plus whatever you named the camera. For some reason, it complained of multiple devices when I named mine “car park”, despite only a single device being listed, so I opted for “outside” instead. You can see a demo in the review video. However, I found it to be really slow to access the feed: a good 5 seconds or so of watching the “Waiting for Hikam” screen before I could see anything useful.

The HiKam App, and Motion Alerts

The HiKam official app, as mentioned, is rather barebones. It gets the job done and allows full configuration of all your devices simply, but it just feels like it was designed ten years ago. For a company so progressive in supporting Alexa, it’s a sharp juxtaposition.

When viewing the feed, buttons are difficult to see thanks to their translucent grey on translucent black shading. The microphone button in the middle gives the impression that it sends your voice; but in reality, it does nothing. No audio is transmitted. You can also turn on the audio stream from the camera, take a snapshot, and switch between SD and HD streams, but that’s it. There’s no zoom controls, or other image adjustments.

The live view interface is discreet to the point of being barely visible; and that microphone button does nothing.

Enable motion alerts is simple, though I found it would inexplicably turn itself off sometimes. There are five levels of sensitivity, and a “human detection” mode, though I found the default level three was too sensitive for outdoors, with rain and wind causing false alerts. Email alerts were reliably sent and included 3 snapshots of the event, which is good because a single one may be slightly too early or too late to record the actual trigger event. It did go to spam folder initially, but you can tell Gmail to not do that.

hikam email alerts example
The HiKam email alerts include 3 images, so you can clearly see what motion triggered the alert.

Unless you have an SD card inserted, the in-app alert list is pretty useless, and won’t even display a thumbnail of the event. It’ll just list the date and time.

There’s also a free 72-hour cloud backup service. You only get very short clips, but this also requires your own SD card to be inserted, so it’s not an alternative to local storage, it’s an enhancement.

Synology Surveillance Station

The HiKam A7 also integrates nicely with Synology. It’s great to find devices that support third party software, so you’re not locked into using a manufacturer specific app. The camera was found straight away, and nearly everything worked as it should. Event detection from the camera wasn’t supported though, so you’ll either need continuous recording, or use event detection on Surveillance Station itself.

HiKam A7: The Best Budget Alexa-Compatible Outdoor Security Camera?

This is as far as I can tell, the cheapest outdoor Alexa compatible camera you’ll find on the market at the moment, and despite being budget friendly, you still get all the features you’d expect. You’ll find configurable motion detection with app or email alerts, night vision, local SD card recording, and reasonable HD image quality. It’s not the best option for an indoor camera: there are certainly cheaper devices out there if you don’t need a waterproof housing.

But, it is sometimes a case of you get what you pay for. If you’re only going to need one to cover your front porch, I would perhaps opt for the more expensive, more reliable devices, officially endorsed by Amazon.

The smartphone app isn’t amazing: it works, but looks quite antiquated. But then again, you probably won’t use the app other than for initial setup. With ONVIF standard protocol support, you can use numerous third party applications of your choice to view the livestream and record events, such as Synology Surveillance Station.

HiKam A7 WiFi Wireless Outdoor Security Camera - Cloud Recording Included, Human Detection, HD 960P, Waterproof Home Security Camera(Full Metal, Night Vision,Alarm Push to Phone, SD Card Slot) HiKam A7 WiFi Wireless Outdoor Security Camera - Cloud Recording Included, Human Detection, HD 960P, Waterproof Home Security Camera(Full Metal, Night Vision,Alarm Push to Phone, SD Card Slot) Buy Now At Amazon $54.50

You are a little restricted as to where you can place it since it does require a 12V 1A power source, either via the included wall adaptor or otherwise, and there’s no internal battery. But with the option to run over Ethernet or Wi-Fi, the HiKam A7 is overall a good budget option that’s relatively easy to set up, has good image quality, reliable Wi-Fi, and a good feature selection.

The Good

  • Alexa support for Echo Show and Echo Spot to view live feed, albeit slow.
  • Integrates with Synology Surveillance Station.
  • Wired or wireless, in one package.
  • Status LEDs for the camera and Ethernet cable.
  • Smooth set up.
  • Budget-friendly price at around $60.
  • Email alerts send three images.

The Bad

  • No PoE, needs 12V power adaptor.
  • Only one-way audio, no talkback.

The Ugly

  • The app is antiquated and as barebones as you can get.
  • Requires you to email them to enable Alexa integration (currently).
  • Multiple passwords for multiple devices could get annoying really quickly.

Enter the Competition!

HiKam A7 Giveaway

Read the full article: HiKam A7 Outdoor Security Camera: Budget Friendly and Alexa Compatible

Facebook Portal And Portal+ Announced To Compete With Amazon Echo Show

Facebook has just announced the Portal and Portal+ Alexa-powered devices to compete with the Amazon Echo Show. Here’s everything you need to know. [ Continue reading this over at RedmondPie.com ]

Facebook has just announced the Portal and Portal+ Alexa-powered devices to compete with the Amazon Echo Show. Here's everything you need to know.


[ Continue reading this over at RedmondPie.com ]

Echo Show 2 review

With the original Echo Show, Amazon added a new dimension to the smart speaker. To critics, the device was little more than a station tablet. For Amazon, however, the product unlocked a new vertical in the rapidly expanding category. The day to usefulness wasn’t always clear, but the potential certainly was, as Amazon and the […]

With the original Echo Show, Amazon added a new dimension to the smart speaker. To critics, the device was little more than a station tablet. For Amazon, however, the product unlocked a new vertical in the rapidly expanding category. The day to usefulness wasn’t always clear, but the potential certainly was, as Amazon and the competition looked to corner the smart home market.

Like most of the company’s first generation products, however, the hardware wasn’t great. The first Show was big and clunky. It looked dated before it even arrived in living rooms and kitchens. But it got the job done.

While the company hasn’t released sales figures for the product, the first gen clearly sold briskly in its early days, according to rankings. The numbers were ultimately hobbled by a war with Google that resulted in YouTube being pulled from the platform, but on a whole, the device appears to be a hit.

It’s already inspired a number of copycats. In January, Google announced a new Smart Display category relying on third parties to product their own Assistant-powered take on the device. And later this week, it’s expected to introduce its own competitor, the Home Hub. It’s fitting, then, that the second-gen Show bears Google’s unmistakable influence. Heck, it’s kind of theme in this latest batch of Echo devices.

There’s little question that the new show is much better looking product than its predecessor. The big, thick, plasticky look has been traded in for something a bit more homey, with a softer, fabric covering. The front, which was previously home to both display and speaker, is now all screen — meaning those tablet comparisons aren’t going away any time soon.

Still, from a pure design perspective, Lenovo’s Smart Display is the one to beat. It’s still far and away the best looking of the bunch — though the aforementioned Home Hub could give it a run for its money in the near future.

The design choice means there’s a lot more room for screen, which has been increased from seven to 10.1 inches (with a still fairly sizable bezel). That extra real estate makes the product a more compelling offering for watching short videos or episodic TV shows (I don’t know that I’d recommend it for a full film just yet) and finally offers enough space for something like a browser to make sense on the product.

The speaker, meanwhile, has been moved to the rear of the device. It’s a decision that makes sense from an aesthetic perspective, but is a bit less than practical. When listening to music while writing this review, I found myself actually flipping it around.

Sound quality has been notably improved with improved drivers and Dolby bass, but things get a bit muffled when faced away from you. The bass is also a bit too powerful for its own good here, contributing to a muddying of the sound quality. Thankfully, Alexa now understands you when you ask her to turn down the bass.

Things improve a bit when you place it around six inches from a wall, reflecting the sound back at you. Of course, not every home set up can accommodate that orientation. Either way, I wouldn’t recommend looking to the Show as your primary music listening device. Apple and Google’s high end speakers simply sound better — or build your own using the various modular pieces the company announced at its last event.

With a larger display, the new Show demands touch. Amazon clearly recognized this during the redesign. While, like its predecessor, it’s designed to be voice-first device touch-based interactions are more prevalent here.

Exhibit A is the addition of Firefox. It’s a bit of a strange one. You can call it up with an, “Alexa, open Firefox,” but actually browsing the web is a bit trickier. There’s no skill yet for, say, “open TechCrunch.com in Firefox.” Rather, you’ll have to open Firefox and either type the URL with two fingers, or click the microphone icon to speak it.

It’s a nice option certainly, if a bit clunky. Also, there’s no multitouch pinch to zoom here — in fact, so far as I can tell, there’s no way to zoom in at all. What the browser does afford, however, is a workaround for YouTube. Say “Alexa, open YouTube,” and the Show will offer you the choice of watching content in either Firefox or the Silk browser. Sure, it’s not ideal compared to a native app, but until the companies kiss and make up, or, more likely, Amazon launches its own competing service, it will have to do.

The other big news here is a bit of a no-brainer. After bringing smart home hub functionality to the Echo line with the Plus, Amazon has done the same with the Show. The smart screen now features a Zigbee hub inside. Connecting devices is pretty straightforward — just put them in pairing mode and say “Alexa, discover my devices.” If everything goes right, the whole process should take under a minute.

Thankfully, an app redesign has arrived alongside the new devices, so those smart devices can be accessed on your mobile device, along with the Show. The app also lets users routines around groups of devices, so you can, say, turn up the lights, turn on the coffee and get the day’s news (shudder) with an “Alexa, good morning.”

The new Show is nice upgrade over its predecessor. It’s better looking, has a bigger screen and improved (if backwards) speakers, while smart home hub functionality and last year’s addition of security camera monitoring make it a control panel for the smart home. The ball is in your court, Google.

Amazon Echo Dot 3 review

Amazon has sold a lot of Echo Dots. Like a crazy, silly, unfathomable number of the things. Over the past two generations, it has arguably become the single-largest driver of the smart speaker craze. There’s nothing exceptional about the product, of course. It’s a simply designed hockey puck of a product, designed to mostly stay […]

Amazon has sold a lot of Echo Dots. Like a crazy, silly, unfathomable number of the things. Over the past two generations, it has arguably become the single-largest driver of the smart speaker craze.

There’s nothing exceptional about the product, of course. It’s a simply designed hockey puck of a product, designed to mostly stay out of sight. But it’s a hard thing to resist — even for those who’ve been reluctant to embrace the category.

It’s a dip in the water, a gateway drug into the strange new world of smart speakers. So, how to improve upon Amazon’s best-selling device? The trick is adding to the experience while not impacting its biggest selling point: the fact that it’s $50. That sort of price point gives you considerably less wiggle room than with, say, a $1,000 phone.

Announced at an event in Seattle last month alongside eight million other new Alexa products, the new Dot marks more than just a simple upgrade to the line. It represents a way forward for the Echo line. It’s a product that bears Google’s unmistakable influence, while pointing toward the place the modular speaker system will occupy in the smart home going forward.

It’s the mark of Google that really strikes you right out of the box. The first two generations of the product were utilitarian. They weren’t much to look at, but rather a gateway to Alexa, designed to be hidden away. Granted, fabric covers are all the rage now in consumer electronics, but the new Echo’s cloth perimeter bears more than a passing resemblance to Google’s Home Mini.

Amazon was understandably shaken by Google’s rapid ascent in the category. Days before the Alexa event, Strategy Analytics noted that the Home Mini had surpassed the Echo Dot as the best-selling smart speaker for the quarter. It’s not exactly panic mode, but it’s a pretty clear indication that it’s time for an upgrade.

While the new Dot draws some clear aesthetic influence from the Home line, I prefer Amazon’s take. It splits the difference between old and new in a nice way. The fabric cover doubles as a speaker grille, running along the outside of the product. The top, meanwhile, maintains a familiar design language, with a rounded matte black top bearing a quartet of physical buttons. The light-up status ring runs flush between these two surfaces.

The new Dot is notably larger than its predecessor — a bit of a surprise, given that the more compact size was the second-gen Dot’s biggest selling point. That said, the fact that the new device looks nice enough to be displayed out in the open no doubt emboldened the company to make it a bit larger. It’s a solid thing, too. I was a bit surprised by the heft of the puck — you could do some serious damage with the thing.

One of the upshots of the larger footprint is the volume increase. The new Dot is capable of getting 70 percent louder than its predecessor (by Amazon’s count). The move finds Amazon putting a stronger emphasis on the second part of the “smart speaker equation.” The sound system on earlier Dots wasn’t built for much beyond giving Alexa voice. That’s why the company built in an auxiliary output.

That’s still here, of course, but the built-in sound output is much improved. It’s also a lot less distorted at top volume. I still wouldn’t use it as my default speaker, but the Dot’s role in Amazon’s new à la carte sound system is an interesting one.

The company sent along two Dots for the sole purpose of trying out the new stereo pairing feature — and I’m glad they did. It’s probably the most interesting addition to the line. In the revamped Alexa app, you’ll find the Create a Speaker Set option under the Settings tab. From here, you can turn two Dots into a stereo pair. The setup is simple — though I did run into some trouble on our office Wi-Fi. Both Echos need to be on the same network in order for the feature to work properly, and the app wasn’t quite able to discern that they, in fact, were.

The app will walk you through the process and let you determine which device will handle which channel of the stereo track. Paired together, it’s a nice experience — kind of a small-scale home theater experience. Add in the new Echo Sub and it’s even better. Keep in mind, of course, that you’ve just spent $230. Things add up fast. Of course, that’s still $100 cheaper than the HomePod.

Of course, it’s unfair to compare the two. Amazon and Apple’s speakers are in entirely different leagues. But the new Dot and other additions to the Echo home stereo system represent a very Amazon approach to the category, giving users the ability to mix and match devices, while still maintaining a low price point.

The third-generation Dot isn’t a complete reinvention of the wheel, but it’s big enough to warrant an upgrade for many users. Though perhaps “upgrade” isn’t the operative word here. Given Amazon’s ultimate goal of an Alexa device in every room, it’s easy to see it becoming yet another addition to your growing collection.

Amazon’s revamped Alexa app makes it easier to manage your smart home

Amazon’s Alexa app has just been given a major visual overhaul, largely focused on helping users set up and control their smart home. From the app’s new devices tab, users can view all their different Alexa-enabled devices and groups on one screen, as opposed to switching between tabs like before. And the app is much […]

Amazon’s Alexa app has just been given a major visual overhaul, largely focused on helping users set up and control their smart home. From the app’s new devices tab, users can view all their different Alexa-enabled devices and groups on one screen, as opposed to switching between tabs like before. And the app is much more colorful, too. Instead of a set white icons on a dark background, Alexa’s device groups – like Living Room, Kitchen, Bedroom, etc. – now feature colorful backgrounds, so you can find the one you need with just a glance.

An overhaul of the devices section was needed, not only for aesthetic reasons, but because Alexa owners are stocking their house with more than one smart device.

According to a Nielsen report on smart speaker adoption released earlier this month, 4 out of 10 U.S. smart speaker owners today have more than one device, for example. Smart home device sales are also expected to reach nearly $96 billion in 2018 and grow to $155 billion by 2023, another report estimates.

Amazon itself sells a variety of smart devices, like Cloud Cam, Ring doorbells and Ring cameras. And it just introduced a whole mess of new Alexa-enabled devices at an event in Seattle last month, including everything from wall clocks to subwoofers to Alexa-powered microwaves.

It’s clear the retailer expects people to continue to build out their smart home, and its app needed to adapt accordingly.

In the new version of the app, the device types are displayed as icons across the top of the screen – starting with “Echo & Alexa” devices, then “Lights,” “Audio,” “Plugs,” and others. Below this are the colorful groupings of devices by room, each with their own “On/Off” button.

A small “+” button at the top right of the screen allows you to easily add your newest device, too.

Adding Bluetooth speakers to multi-room music groups is also now supported, the app’s update text says.

The redesign also makes it simpler to call, message or “drop in” on your other Alexa devices – the latter being the feature that turns Echo speakers into a voice-controlled intercom system of sorts, triggered by saying “Alexa, drop in on…” followed by the device name. It’s especially handy for larger homes, where there is an upstairs and downstairs, for example, or for reaching family members in another part of the house. You can also Drop In on trusted contacts, like grandma or grandpa.

Now, these communication options each have their own button at the top of the messaging screen in the app so you can just push a button to call, message or drop in, as you prefer.

The new Alexa app is live on the iOS App Store. Amazon hasn’t made a formal announcement about the changes, as they still be rolling out to users following the update.

 

Alexa’s skills can now work together, initially for bookings and printing

Amazon this morning announced a new way for customers to use Alexa’s skills – together, in combined requests. That is, you can start a request in one skill, then have it fulfilled in another. For example, the AllRecipes skill can now connect the HP skill in order to print out recipes for customers, Amazon says. […]

Amazon this morning announced a new way for customers to use Alexa’s skills – together, in combined requests. That is, you can start a request in one skill, then have it fulfilled in another. For example, the AllRecipes skill can now connect the HP skill in order to print out recipes for customers, Amazon says.

This is the first of many combined skills to come.

Skill Connections, as the developer-facing feature is called, can initially be used to take three types of actions – printing, booking a reservation, or booking a ride.

That means future skills could allow you to book a concert ticket through a skill, then connect to a taxi skill to find you a ride to the show. The idea is that customer wouldn’t have to separately invoke the different skills to complete the one task they wanted to accomplish (i.e., going to a show), or repeat information. Instead, data is passed from one skill to the next.

This isn’t the first time Alexa has tried to tie skills together in some way, but it is the first time it actually allowed two skills to talk to one another. Previously, Alexa was making game recommendations when customers exited a skill, as a means of exposing Alexa users to new content they may like. But this was more of a nudge to launch another skill, not a direct connection between the two.

Skill Connections is launching into a developer preview starting today. During this testing period, printing will be provided by a skill from HP, food reservations will be provided by OpenTable, and taxi reservations will be provided by Uber. Epson and Canon will soon provide prints services as well, Amazon notes.

The skills can also take advantage of Amazon Pay for Alexa Skills and in-skill purchasing announced earlier this year.

Developers who are accepted into the preview could do things like offer to print a game’s leaderboard using the HP skill, or book a taxi to a spot where you’ve made a reservation, Amazon also suggests. To be considered, developers first have to fill out a survey.

Developers can apply either to connect their skill to those from HP, OpenTable or Uber, or they can apply to provide services to other skills. The feature will remain in testing for now, with a public launch planned for a later, but yet unknown date.

 

Refreshed Fire TV costs $10 more, but brings 4K & Dolby Atmos support, 3 HDR formats

Amazon has refreshed its Fire TV HDMI dingle, adding support for 4K resolutions, the Dolby Atmos surround sound and three major HDR video formats: HDR10, HDR+ and Dolby Vision.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K hero image

Online retail giant Amazon on Wednesday took the wraps off of its updated Fire TV HDMI dongle, which now supports 4K video output, Dolby Atmos surround sound and three major formats for high dynamic range video: HDR10, HDR+ and Dolby Vision.... Read the rest of this post here


"Refreshed Fire TV costs $10 more, but brings 4K & Dolby Atmos support, 3 HDR formats" is an article by iDownloadBlog.com.
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