Spotify launches in Thailand

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Spotify launches in Thailand

Spotify the music radio service that subscribers pay a monthly fee to access the music from just about every artist in the world, has just launched in Thailand.  Those who use Sonos music systems in Thailand and other multi room audio systems may well be familiar with Spotify as the goto streaming service.  Previously to use Sonos with Spotify you had to reset up the system and pretend you were from another country where Spotify is available (and you have an account).  This makes it much easier to access all your favourite music all over your home.

"Spotify launches in Thailand to continue its Asia push. While talk of Spotify’s apparent upcoming IPO continues in the U.S., the music streaming service is furthering its coverage of Asia after it launched its service in Thailand.

Spotify Premium, which counts over 60 million paying users, will cost 129 THB in Thailand. That’s just over $4 and in line with its pricing across Asia. Customers in the U.S. and UK will be aware that it is substantially cheaper than what they pay, but Spotify has opted for local pricing worldwide.

Interestingly, Spotify will introduce daily and weekly packages to boost its potential in Thailand, where revenue from online music has actually declined by over 20 percent since 2012, Spotify Asia head Sunita Kaur told media at a press conference

The launch — which we reported was on the cards back in May — takes Spotify to 61 markets worldwide, and it is emblematic of the company’s recent focus on expanding its business in Asia.

Spotify Thailand.png

Spotify first entered the region in 2013 with launches in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, it only added one new market over the next two years. It restarted its expansion plan in Asia last year when it launched its service in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s fourth largest population, and Japan, which is the world’s second most lucrative music market. Today’s launch takes it to seven countries in Asia, not including Australia and New Zealand when looking at the wider Asia Pacific area.

As we reported back in May, Vietnam is the next country in its sights, as evidenced by job listings and sources. India is a market that we understand Spotify has looked at seriously, but for now it has not committed to a launch.

Getting a solid position across Asia will help Spotify when it does finally go public. The latest reports suggest that will be via a direct listing, an unorthodox approach that involves going public without an IPO. Spotify is potentially missing out on hundreds of millions in proceeds from the IPO, but it could do a secondary offering to raise cash at a later date.

It’s also under pressure to compete with Apple Music, which is available worldwide. Spotify had an early head-start and it added 20 million paid subscribers in less than a year. It’s taken Apple Music more than a year and a half to make that progress. Spotify now has 60 million subscribers, compared to Apple Music’s 27 million, as of June."

https://techcrunch.com/2017/08/21/spotify-thailand-launch/

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“Hello Alexa, read me the latest technology news.”

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“Hello Alexa, read me the latest technology news.”

From The Phuket Gazette

Starting with Apple’s Siri, released back in 2011, and followed by Google Now in 2013 on Android, smart phone users became accustomed to talking to smart devices with their voice. Sure, it feels a bit strange at first but once you got over the psychological hurdle of talking to your phone, instead of into it, we took it as granted as one more weapon in the smart phones arsenal.

Amazon-Echo-review-macro-2.jpg

For many of us though, myself included, it all felt a bit clunky and convoluted and was relegated to the interesting but not particularly useful scrap-pile of smartphone apps.

It all could have stayed that way, except out of nowhere in late 2014, Amazon, currently the 4th largest company in the world, unveiled the Amazon Echo and alongside it Alexa – their intelligent personal assistant.  Inspired by the voice control system featured on board the Starship Enterprise in the TV series Star Trek, the Echo is a cylindrical speaker and microphone array that can listen to voice commands and play back music and speak back to users.  It might have gone mostly unnoticed however shortly after introduction Amazon launched a $100 million dollar venture capital fund – The Alexa Fund, a program that invested in companies making voice control skills and technologies.  A slew of young technology companies started purposing the technology for real life needs and integrating it with other technologies already available.

Amazon Alexa Appliances.jpg

Initially Echo sales where limited by invitation only, eventually they opened up general USA sales in mid 2015, Canada in mid 2016 and UK in late 2016.

The response has been incredible – Amazon will ship more than 10 million Echo devices in 2017. In addition, Amazon users increased their spending by an average of 10% after their purchase of an Echo device.

So what can you do with Amazon Alexa?

Right out of the box you can ask; about the weather, traffic and road conditions, news updates, to listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks and even get it to help answer maths questions for the kids homework.

Where it gets really interesting is when you have smart home technology within your home, for example the Philips Hue range of smart bulbs. I have those in my home and I can simply Ask “Alexa, dim living room lights” or “Alexa turn off bedroom lights”. We haven’t used light switches on a daily basis for months.

Philips Hue Room.jpg

Because it can control any other device on your home wifi network you can buy a smart plug for a thousand baht or so, connect it to a fan, name the socket as “fan” and Alexa can then then be told “Alexa, turn on the fan”.  Replace fan with coffee machine, air purifier, computer, lamps etc… and suddenly it’s very easy to control anything in your home. What’s even better is that electrical manufacturers are lining up to build Alexa technology into their products. At the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas this year the buzz was all around Amazon’s Alexa with manufacturers building it into fridges, washing machines, cookers, fans, speakers, tv’s, stereo systems, air conditioners and all manner of home appliances. This means in the future we will see white goods that can connect with Alexa natively, directly, Alexa can automatically find them and you can issue commands directly to them through Alexa without buying any new hardware or complex programming.

Amazon Echo on Wood.jpg

It’s not all good news though for users or Amazon.

As Alexa isn’t currently released in Thailand, to use it here you will first need to sideload an app, rather complicated, then you will not have access to location based services such as traffic. You can still ask “Alexa, whats the weather like in Phuket” but will have to pretend you are in another country for initial setup, not ideal.

For Amazon the competition is phenomenal. Google (2nd largest company in the world) has launched Google Home – another smart speaker promising all the same control and assistance but backed by Googles exceptional search experience and Apple (the largest company in the world) is launching their HomePod at the end of this year, it’s own voice-equipped assistant for the home – essentially Siri for their home. They have a unique advantage of a tested technology tied to a very loyal fan base and although late to the game in terms of home assistants, with Alexa and Home already released. Apple have a history of being game changers in the technology space.

Google's Home is one of Amazon's competitors.

Google's Home is one of Amazon's competitors.

So there you have it, voice may well be the future of how we control our homes. With the worlds 1st, 2nd and 4th largest companies battling it out with competing technologies, we can certainly expect innovation to come hard and fast and soon you might be saying hello to your truly smart home.

https://www.phuketgazette.net/lifestyle/hello-alexa-read-me-the-latest-technology-news

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Wired on the Ikea Smart Home Lighting System

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Wired on the Ikea Smart Home Lighting System

Ikea are one of the worlds biggest home furniture stores but did you know they also sell lightbulbs, a lot of them. In the UK they sell over 2.3 million bulbs alone, they were one of the first companies to sell only LED bulbs.  Now they are moving their smart home offering forward with a range of easy to use, affordable Smart Home Automation lights that promise to be voice controlled by ALexa, Home, And Homepod in the near Future.  Wired website has an article on their new range and what it means for the home automation and smart home industry.

"THE "SMART HOME" has not yet distinguished itself. Sure, you might dim your lights with an app; you might even talk to your large appliances. But despite years of promised ubiquity, the connected home has yet to cleave with mainstream reality. It's too expensive, too futzy, too filled with interoperability landmines. You know who can fix that? Ikea. In fact, it's already started to.

Ikea Smart Lights


Ikea's current smart home lineup is limited to a handful of lighting products. Nothing so special about that. But the way Ikea has so far approached its Trådfri LEDs illustrates exactly how the furniture behemoth can light a path toward a generation of products that finally fulfill the smart home's potential. They're cheap. They're easy. And most importantly, they'll soon speak HomeKit, Alexa, and Google Assistant with equal fluency.


No surprise, maybe, that a Swedish company embraces neutrality. But as Ikea goes, the rest of the industry may have to follow. Let's hope so, anyway.
Stick To the Basics


The Ikea smart home—which it calls "Home Smart," because even the branding is economical—reflects the rest of furniture giant's strengths. The Trådfri lights strip down functionality and flash. They don't change color, and you can't control them from halfway around the world. If those immediately register as disadvantages to you, chances are you're not the target market in the first place.


"The smart home has been possible for some time, but there's been two major dilemmas," says Björn Block, who heads up Ikea's Home Smart division. "It's too complicated, and too expensive. Let's make it super easy to install and super easy to understand, at a price tag you haven't seen before."

To that end, Trådfri bulbs work right out of the box. Screw them in, put a battery in the included remote, and you're set. Smart, but simple. You can also, of course, buy a hub and download an app so that you can control them through your phone, and most of buyers likely will. But at least you have the option of dumbing down your smart bulbs a bit.
Starting with just lighting also keeps things simple for Ikea. Rather than slapping a chip in the nearest Frostig, it entered the market playing to its strengths.


"They've had lighting fixtures for quite a long time," says Brad Russell, a research analyst at Parks Associates. "It's a natural fit for them. One of the use cases for lighting is design, so that fits into the design consciousness of the brand. Also more generally speaking, lighting is a low-cost entry point for any smart home."


There's a practical benefit to starting slowly, as well. By easing into the smart home market, Ikea can ease its customers along too. It doesn't have to be a mess; in fact, it's as easy as screwing in a lightbulb. Especially given Ikea's commitment to working with whatever tech you already have in the house.


Trådfri of Babel
Some good news under the hood: Trådfri uses the Zigbee Light Link standard to communicate with the rest of the smart home, meaning it'll play nice with a wide range of devices. That includes competing smart bulbs; after a planned software update, you'll be able to control your Trådfri from within the Philips Hue app.

The Secret to Hacking Ikea Furniture Is More Ikea Furniture, Says Ikea
That commitment to interoperability feels rare in today's smart home world. It's valuable turf, after all. A home only has so many sockets. But Ikea has still chosen openness, a model that, in an ideal world, every retailer would follow.

"We were pretty clear from the start that we couldn't succeed doing this by ourselves," says Block. "It was never our intention to create a proprietary system that would knock other users out."

Block likens that smart home approach to Ikea's more conventional offerings. "If you look at Ikea furniture, you can match with furniture from other retailers. We want to tap into the same behavior, and same type of story," says Block. "It should be the same type of freedom to choose."

Perhaps just as importantly, Ikea announced this summer that it would extend that freedom of choice to voice voice assistants. After an incoming round of software updates, it won't matter whether you own a Google Home or Amazon Echo, or both. You'll be able to shout at your light fixtures, and have them respond.

OK, so it may sound silly when you put it like that. But voice commands will be an important part of making smart homes viable. Pulling out your phone, opening an app, and tapping a few times doesn't feel all that more disrputive than just flipping a switch or adjusting a dimmer with your fingers. But a house that listens to you? That's sci-fi material.

"Ikea's move to support these intelligent assistants in the same device will appeal to a wider consumer base than could be obtained if they were to integrate with only one over another," says Adam Wright, senior consumer IoT analyst for research company IDC.
And consider the alternative: A world in which being a Google Home or Echo Dot household determine big-ticket home purchases. That's not as farfetched as it sounds; Sears recently cut a deal to sell Alexa-enabled Kenmore appliances through Amazon. Given that Amazon doesn't even sell the Apple TV on its digital shelves, it seems unlikely that you'll ever find a Siri-powered Kenmore dishwasher.

Set aside how appealing that might sound to you personally; if the smart home in general has a chance of mass appeal, it needs as much interoperability as possible. And that's exactly what Ikea's selling.

Big Footprint
Ikea's biggest advantage—and its best opportunity to boost the smart home overall—lies in its sheer size. Over 900 million people pass through the doors of its 400 stores each year. It's the biggest retailer in the world. That means Ikea can not just sell, but educate.

"The vast majority of consumers don't understand the value proposition of these products," says Russell. But what seems either too involved or not useful enough online can suddenly sharpen into focus when experienced in person. Being the first in-person introduction to the smart home should benefit Ikea, too, as it looks for ways to broaden its connected portfolio.

"We have a lot of insights, because when you try and test that product, that's when you make the buying decision," says Block.
Ikea hasn't announced its next smart target, though Block says his team works together with most sectors of the company. That doesn't imply a scattershot approach, though.
"I think we're quite curious about different product areas in the home, but the common denominator is we will not step in just to do it," says Block. "Only if it makes sense."

In a world filled with smart shower heads, smart trash cans, and even a smart hair brush, it's disorienting to hear a company focused on hitching fewer devices to the internet, not more. It's unusual to think in terms not of moving fast and breaking things, but moving slowly, simply, and getting it right.
In fact, that deliberately modest quality feels so refreshing cinches it: No one wins more with Ikea entering the smart home than the smart home itself."

https://www.wired.com/story/ikea-smart-home/

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We need more space!

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We need more space!

It's starting to get crowded in here.  We've just had our latest shipment of Nuvo speakers from Legrand.  We are the distributor for Thailand so we ship these to our dealers all over Thailand.

Speakers from Legrand (Nuvo)

They don't look very interesting sitting there in cardboard boxes, but these fantastic sounding speakers are installed in some of the most luxurious properties in Thailand.  Here are some examples.

Our In-Ceiling speakers blend into the architecture so that you can have great sounding music without the wires. Outdoor speakers are weatherproof even against the harsh elements of beachside living.

Want to listen to great sounding music in your home? Then get in touch and we can design and install a fantastic music system for you to enjoy.

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It's the little things! Amazon & Sears

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It's the little things! Amazon & Sears

Sometimes announcements go under the radar, this is one of those times.

Sears and Amazon have come to an agreement whereby Amazon will help sell and market Kenmore appliances for Sears and Sears will build Amazons Alexa Smart Home Technology into virtually all of it's appliances.

Kenmore is more than 90 years old and has a wide range of home appliances including fridges, freezers, cookers, dishwashers, dryers and air-con.

"Last month, Amazon and Sears had a bit of an interesting announcement. Amazon is going to begin to sell Sears’ Kenmore appliances through its online store, and in turn, Sears will be adding Alexa to its appliances. Virtually making its entire lineup of appliances “smart.” This is a big deal, and perhaps a bigger deal than most people realize. Obviously, with this deal there are more advantages for Amazon than for Sears here. But for Sears, it’s going to help the company stay afloat, in a time where companies like Amazon, are killing off brick and mortar stores, where Sears really shined over the years.

Smart Home Appliances

Kenmore isn’t just a brand name, it’s a name that many people think of when they think of high-end and quality appliances. Kenmore, as a brand, has been around since 1913. Not many brands are able to stay around for over a hundred years, but Kenmore has done that. And through the years, Sears and Kenmore have produced some incredible appliances that have been high quality, and not really all that expensive, compared to its competitors. But Sears’ recent financial troubles has made it tough for the store and the Kenmore brand to exist. And that’s where Amazon comes in. Amazon is able to list these products on its website and sell them directly to customers. Saving Sears money on physical stores. Amazon also gets help from Sears who knows how to ship and distribute large products like refrigerators, dish washers and such. Something that Amazon hasn’t yet started shipping, but that’s changing with this new agreement.

Amazons Alexa Home Automation


On the smart home side of things, that’s where things get interesting. Sears has agreed to include Alexa into all of its Kenmore appliances. That is a huge deal. That basically gives Alexa an exclusive on working with these appliances, since they don’t yet work with Cortana, Google Assistant or Siri and there’s no word on these working in the future. It is possible that Kenmore could expand to other personal assistants, but at this point, it’s pretty unlikely. This also means that Alexa will be in more hands, and that’s something Amazon wants more than anything. With Alexa built in, users will be able to tell their oven to turn to 350 degrees, or tell the dish washer to start a load, etc. And of course there are plenty of other things that Alexa would be able to do.

kenmore-avatar.jpg

The smart home industry has been a bit stagnant in recent years. It is growing, but not as much as some companies had hoped or thought it would. It’s still a fairly small market, but with the addition of smart assistants like Alexa coming in and making it easier to tie all of these products and appliances together, more people are getting into the smart home area. This doesn’t mean that people are going to go out and replace all of their appliances with smart ones. First off, that’s expensive to do, and secondly, not every appliance is smart, yet. So it’s not really feasible. But as far as the smart home goes, this is a huge deal for Amazon.

It’s been said many times before that Alexa is basically Amazon’s entry into everyone’s homes. Not so that it can collect data on you, but so that Amazon is in everyone’s home. Alexa already acts as a window to Amazon’s store, making it easier for users to buy more items from Amazon with Alexa, instead of having to go to Amazon’s website, and with the Sears partnership, that is going to become a bigger deal. But for Sears, it is just looking to survive, and perhaps turn itself around. It has started to lose out thanks to competitors like Home Depot and Lowes, who are currently the top retailers for appliances in the US. Leaving Sears in the dust, and that’s something that Sears needs to change. Even companies like Best Buy, have taken up a big chunk of the appliance sales in the US as of late.

Now while this deal between Amazon and Sears likely won’t bear much fruit to consumers, it is a big deal for both Amazon and Sears. It’s a bigger deal for Amazon as it looks to get Alexa into just about everything. And on the Sears front, it keeps its oldest brand, Kenmore, alive just a bit longer. Sears has been around for over 120 years, and has sold virtually everything you can think of, and in the past few decades, it has started to lose its customer-base, largely due to the internet. Of course, Sears isn’t the only company to fall victim to the internet. A lot of retailers with physical stores are also struggling these days. So this deal should help Sears out, perhaps transition them over to the 21st century a bit faster."

https://www.androidheadlines.com/2017/08/tech-talk-amazons-sears-deal-jump-start-smart-home.html

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Spotify Music Service to go Public

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Spotify Music Service to go Public

Incredibly popular music service Spotify, which boasts 60 million subscribers, is to offer shares to the public via a direct listing.  The music service has proved very popular with multi room audio systems Sonos and Nuvo allowing you to for a monthly fee listen to millions of songs from just about every artist.

"Spotify’s singular focus on music sees it adding subscribers faster than the iPhone company with a streaming app on the side. Spotify has added 20 million paid subscribers in less than a year, while it’s taken Apple Music more than a year and a half to make that progress. Spotify now has 60 million subscribers, compared to Apple Music’s 27 million (as of June).

Spotify’s ability to accelerate its growth rate despite competition from arguably the world’s most powerful company is a testament to the product and community it’s built.

Apple Music offers three-month free trials, comes pre-installed on iPhones and pays big bucks for exclusive early access to top albums. Those advantages might help Apple Music win fans of particular artists, plus mainstream listeners finally switching over from MP3s. Yet Spotify remains the go-to streaming service for music lovers.

Spotify is gearing up for what’s being called a “direct listing,” where the company intends to go public without doing an IPO. Insiders, not the company, will be selling shares to the stock market.

This is a highly unusual move and has been met with widespread skepticism. While many companies dread the IPO process, which involves bankers rounding up institutional investors and determining a price for its debut, it is an opportunity to raise money for the company.

By skipping this, Spotify is potentially missing out on hundreds of millions in proceeds from the IPO, but it could do a secondary offering to raise cash at a later date. Spotify is said to be on track to complete this before the end of the year, which was previously reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Spotify growth has been fueled by several important product developments:

Discover Weekly: Spotify’s wildly popular weekly updated personalized playlist has made it the top choice for music fans trying to find new songs and artists to love. The playlist reached 40 million users its first year, and Spotify has followed it with Release Radar specifically for new tracks. Competitors like Apple and SoundCloud have tried to copy Discover Weekly, but Spotify is entrenching itself as the full-fledged streaming service for taste makers.

Spotify recently launched QR codes for sharing music

Recruiting Hold-Out Artists: While initially stuck with a bad rap for not giving enough royalties to musicians, the payouts have grown significantly alongside Spotify’s subscriber base. The cash, plus the leverage Spotify has built as it becomes a must-have distribution channel if artists want a big hit record, has lured hold-outs like Taylor Swift to adopt Spotify. The public debut could strengthen Spotify’s standing in the music industry, and convince both artist and listener holdouts that it’s built to last.

Google Home + Spotify vs Amazon Alexa: Voice-controlled music is an incredible experience that listeners are buying access to through Amazon and Google’s smart speakers. While Amazon Alexa preferences its own Amazon Prime Music service, Spotify is one of the premier partners for Google Home. It’s already more popular for dedicated music streaming than fellow partners Pandora and Google Music, and recently Google Home began allowing control of Spotify’s free ad-supported service. The partnership with Google Home will become even more important once Apple starts shipping its own HomePod smart speaker.

The No-IPO public offering

Spotify has not spoken publicly about the expected direct listing, but some close to the company believe that it could avoid some of the initial volatility. Bankers usually recommend a lower share price for a first-day “pop,” but many companies have trouble maintaining this in the coming weeks. This could be a way around that, some theorize.

It would also avoid those “lock-up” periods, where insiders can’t sell shares for months after the company goes public. Snap’s stock has been trading down in recent weeks in anticipation of today’s sell off.  If the experiment goes well, we may see other companies replicating it.

But it’s definitely possible that Spotify’s process will create even more volatility. The company hasn’t announced specifics about how it plans to execute this, but part of the reason IPO shares are sold to institutional investors is because they are expected to hold their positions longer.

Instead, Spotify may have to rely on its cache of cool with listeners to drive public support for its share price as it pushes to fend off Apple Music’s invasion of its streaming kingdom."

https://techcrunch.com/2017/07/31/spotify-vs-apple-music/

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H3 Digital New Office Update - Windows

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H3 Digital New Office Update - Windows

We are currently adding some of the windows to the new H3 Digital office, Thanks to Nathan at PSD for his help with these.  Once these go in we will pour the concrete for the floor and then we can start bricking up some of the rest of the space to enclose our office space.

The UPVC profiles should be finished tomorrow, we've gone for black colour and a dark tint on the windows to go with the outside Matt Nlack theme.

It's really starting to take shape now, looking forward to the floor being poured and then continuing the journey to turn it into our new office.

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Will.I.Am buys Home Automation company WINK

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Will.I.Am buys Home Automation company WINK

Will.I.Am

Will.I.Am's lifestyle and technology company i.am has today acquired Smart Home Automation company WINK for 38.7 Million $ and a promise of future manufacturing of 20 Million $.

WINK is the Smart Home Hub that was spun out of GE's Quirky, sitting in a similar space to Samsung's Smarththings and allowing you to control your homes Zigbee, Zwave, Blueooth and Wireless devices through the easy to use WINK App.

Wink Smart Home Automation
Today marks an exciting new chapter for Wink and we wanted you to be the first to hear about it.

Wink has been acquired by lifestyle technology company i.am+.

If you’re not familiar, i.am+ was founded by innovator and music artist will.i.am and has already shaken up the wearables industry with BUTTONS – premium wireless Bluetooth headphones.

Our teams are in the process of coming together to shape our future roadmap and we can’t wait to share what we’re working on.

In the meantime, please know that your Wink app and Wink Hub will continue to operate just as they have. The acquisition doesn’t change anything with regards to the Wink user experience.

We know you depend on Wink to stay connected to your home and are as committed as ever to delivering the best-in-class smart home experience you expect.

We’ll be introducing a number of new in-app features and partner integrations in the coming months. Keep an eye out on our blog for more information (and for updates throughout this transition).
— The WINK Team
Wink Replay Automation

Certainly an interesting development, WINK has seemed to have felt though it was a bit stuck, an OK Hub, an OK App - Maybe this will help catapult it onto greater things.

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H3 Digital New Office Update

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H3 Digital New Office Update

Our new office is coming on, this week we have been busy adding in the concrete floorpans as a base for the office floor.  Next week we hope to add in the first lot of windows and then we can cement over the floor. 

Laying The Foundation
Concrete Floor

Our office is going to be in the industrial/factory/warehouse style. we will be offering demo facilities of the very best in home cinema, audio systems and lighting control. We will also be showcasing Smart Home Automation  including Amazons Alexa, Google Home and Apples HomeKit.

Crane Lifting the Floor
Floor
Concrete Planks
Cement Planks
Cement Floor
Cement Plank Flooring

Once the windows go in we can start on the task of sealing the office up, it will be a mix of cement, bricks and glass.  Once it's all sealed up we will be adding on-wall metal conduit for the electrics and lights.

 

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iRobot's Roomba to map homes

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iRobot's Roomba to map homes

Roomba the little Robot vacuum from iRobot may well be key to the mapping of your smart home for other home automation applications.  The little vacuum cleaner robots already are linked with Alexa and map their daily travels which can give an idea of your homes floorplan.  In future the little robot may share this information with Amazon, Google or Apple to enhance smart home functionality.

Founded in 1990 iRobot was originally involved in designing and building bomb disposal robots for the U.S. Army before launching the world's first robot vacuum cleaner in 2002. 

" Roomba vacuum maker iRobot betting big on the 'smart' home

iRobot CEO Colin Angle is pictured at iRobot Shanghai office in Shanghai, China, May 16, 2017. Picture taken on May 16, 2017. Courtesy iRobot/Handout via REUTERS
(Reuters) - The Roomba robotic vacuum has been whizzing across floors for years, but its future may lie more in collecting data than dirt.

That data is of the spatial variety: the dimensions of a room as well as distances between sofas, tables, lamps and other home furnishings. To a tech industry eager to push "smart" homes controlled by a variety of Internet-enabled devices, that space is the next frontier. 

iRobot Home Automation

Smart home lighting, thermostats and security cameras are already on the market, but Colin Angle, chief executive of Roomba maker iRobot Corp (IRBT.O), says they are still dumb when it comes to understanding their physical environment. He thinks the mapping technology currently guiding top-end Roomba models could change that and is basing the company's strategy on it.

"There's an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared," said Angle.

That vision has its fans, from investors to the likes of Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Alphabet (GOOGL.O) who are all pushing artificially intelligent voice assistants as smart home interfaces. According to financial research firm IHS Markit, the market for smart home devices was worth $9.8 billion in 2016 and is projected to grow 60 percent this year.

Angle told Reuters that iRobot, which made Roomba compatible with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant in March, could reach a deal to sell its maps to one or more of the Big Three in the next couple of years.

Roomba Mapping

Amazon declined to comment, and Apple and Google did not respond to requests for comment.

So far investors have cheered Angle's plans, sending iRobot stock soaring to $102 in mid-June from $35 a year ago, giving it a market value of nearly $2.5 billion on 2016 revenue of $660 million.

But there are headwinds for iRobot's approach, ranging from privacy concerns to a rising group of mostly cheaper competitors - such as the $300 Bissell SmartClean and the $270 Hoover Quest 600 - which are threatening to turn a once-futuristic product into a commoditized home appliance.

Low-cost Roomba rivals were the subject of a report by short-seller Ben Axler of Spruce Point Capital Management, which sent the stock down 20 percent to $84 at the end of June.

The company's smart home vision has helped bring around some former critics. Willem Mesdag, managing partner of hedge fund Red Mountain Capital - who led an unsuccessful proxy fight against Angle last year and wound up selling his iRobot shares - is now largely supportive of the company's direction.

“I think they have a tremendous first-mover advantage," said Mesdag, who thinks iRobot would be a great acquisition for one of the Big Three. "The competition is focused on making cleaning products, not a mapping robot.”

Military Roots

Founded in 1990, iRobot saw early success building bomb disposal robots for the U.S. Army before launching the world's first "robovac" in 2002. The company sold off its military unit last year to focus on the consumer sector, and says the Roomba - which ranges in price from $375 to $899 - still has 88 percent of the U.S. robovac market.

iRobot Smart Home

iRobot headquarters is seen in Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S. in this recent photo released July 20, 2017. Courtesy iRobot/Handout via REUTERS
All robovacs use short-range infrared or laser sensors to detect and avoid obstacles, but iRobot in 2015 added a camera, new sensors and software to its flagship 900-series Roomba that gave it the ability to build a map while keeping track of their own location within it.

So-called simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology right now enables Roomba, and other higher-end Robovacs made by Dyson and other rivals, to do things like stop vacuuming, head back to its dock to recharge and then return to the same spot to finish the job.

Guy Hoffman, a robotics professor at Cornell University, said detailed spatial mapping technology would be a "major breakthrough" for the smart home.

Right now, smart home devices operate "like a tourist in New York who never leaves the subway," said Hoffman. "There is some information about the city, but the tourist is missing a lot of context for what's happening outside of the stations."

With regularly updated maps, Hoffman said, sound systems could match home acoustics, air conditioners could schedule airflow by room and smart lighting could adjust according to the position of windows and time of day.

Companies like Amazon, Google and Apple could also use the data to recommend home goods for customers to buy, said Hoffman.

One potential downside is that selling data about users' homes raises clear privacy issues, said Ben Rose, an analyst who covers iRobot for Battle Road Research. Customers could find it "sort of a scary thing," he said.

Angle said iRobot would not sell data without its customers' permission, but he expressed confidence most would give their consent in order to access the smart home functions.

Another Roomba risk is that cheaper cleaning products are what consumers really want. In May, the New York Times' Sweethome blog dethroned the $375 Roomba 690 as its most-recommended robovac in favor of the $220 Eufy RoboVac 11, saying the connectivity and other advanced features of the former would not justify the greater cost for most users.

Short-seller Axler's June report caused a stir mostly with its prediction that value-priced appliance maker SharkNinja Operating LLC could launch a robovac by year's end. SharkNinja declined to comment.

One potential iRobot bulwark against these new competitors: a portfolio of 1,000 patents worldwide covering the very concept of a self-navigating household robot vacuum as well as basic technologies like object avoidance.

A handful of those patents are now being tested in a series of patent infringement lawsuits iRobot filed in April against Bissell, Stanley Black & Decker (SWK.N), Hoover Inc, Chinese outsourced manufacturers and other robovac makers. The litigation is the most significant in iRobot's history.

A lawyer for Hoover declined to comment. Lawyers for Bissell and Black & Decker did not respond to requests for comment.

The patents are a "huge part of our competitive moat,” Angle said. “It is getting really hard not to step on our intellectual property.”"

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-irobot-strategy-idUSKBN1A91A5

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Home Automation - What is it?

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Home Automation - What is it?

It may seem obvious but Home Automation actually encompasses a wide range of systems that are designed to make life simpler around the home.

Wikipedia states That Home Automation is;

"Home automation or domotics is building automation for a home, called a smart home or smart house. It involves the control and automation of lighting, heating (such as smart thermostats), ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), and security, as well as home appliances such as washer/dryers, ovens or refrigerators/freezers.

Wi-Fi is often used for remote monitoring and control. Home devices, when remotely monitored and controlled via the Internet, are an important constituent of the Internet of Things.

Modern systems generally consist of switches and sensors connected to a central hub sometimes called a "gateway" from which the system is controlled with a user interface that is interacted either with a wall-mounted terminal, mobile phone software, tablet computer or a web interface, often but not always via Internet cloud services."

Philips Hue Home Automation

Which although correct is quite a verbose, technical way of describing something that can be summarized in a much simpler way.

Home Automation is;

  • Automating mundane or repetitive tasks with the use of home technology, sprinkler systems that operate themselves, lights that come on after dark and switch themselves off in the morning.
  • Using your phone, tablet, computer, voice or an intelligent keypad to control various parts of your home, such as; lights, air-con, music systems etc...
  • Timed or scripted events for your home, such as turning on the lights at 8pm or playing your favourite music as you arrive home.  When X happens then do Y.

So there you have it. Home Automation is available to everyone, no matter the budget - If you are in Thailand and would like to discuss Smart Home Automation in more detail then please get in touch. We install in Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Bangkok and overseas.

 

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Home Cinema Handover - 75" 4K TV

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Home Cinema Handover - 75" 4K TV

Today we handed over on a nice home cinema in the East Coast of Phuket.  An unused storage area was extended and turned into a plush home theatre room.

Here is Rob Hobbs our Systems Designer presenting our handover pack to the customer.

Home Cinema Handover

The project features a 75" 4K TV, Nuvo in-wall speakers, Roth surround Speakers, Polk Subwoofer and Onkyo amp - Lighting is cleverly done by Philips HUE GU10 bulbs and it's all controlled via a Harmony Elite.

Harmony Elite Automation
Nuvo Music System

Our customers are so happy they've asked us to propose Philips Hue lighting and another zone of audio for their Master Bedroom.

We also supplied a music system with a Nuvo P200 and in-ceiling speakers for the gym area next door.

Further photos to follow once the seating goes in next week.

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