Amazon Echo for assisted living trial in the UK

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Amazon Echo for assisted living trial in the UK

A £15,000 trial is under way to see how smart homer technology such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home could help people with learning disabilities live a more independent and fulfilling life.

The Innovate Trust is running the trial initiative in Wales with five people initially, it's hoped that as well as helping them to improve their lives that this smart home technology could eventually help save the care sector some serious money.

Being funded by Innovate to Save and run by Cardiff University and Nesta foundation collaboration - Y Lab.

The Innovate Trust currently provides a supported living service for around 275 people with learning disabilities in Wales.

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Its six-month trial at two supported living schemes in Rhondda Cynon Taff is exploring how "intelligent personal assistants" (IPAs) such as Amazon Echo or Google Home can reduce the need for staff to be at people's homes around the clock.

The trust said the technology could remind people when to take medication, attend appointments and carry out household chores.

Samantha Snell, 26, from Treorchy, has mild learning disabilities and has received support from the trust for the past four years.  She uses the technology to set reminders to go food shopping and cook, know when care staff are due to arrive and to control sensory lights in her house.

It also helps her to call friends and keep up-to-date with events being held by the trust via the calendar.

"I used to have staff 24 hours every day and they would remind me if I needed to be anywhere, they would call me in the mornings and help me cook," she said.

"Echo has given me more independence, I don't have to rely on staff so much now. It's really easy to use.

"It helps me with my moods because I'm a lot happier now."

Ron Woods, director of policy development and procurement for Innovate Trust, said the possibilities "were huge".

"It's increasing their independence and confidence, emotionally it's making them feel as if they're in control of their own care package and own lives, they're not so dependant on staff, and it's teaching them new skills," he said.

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"It's also to make the model of supported living more sustainable. It's well known in the care sector we could expand the use of technology."

In the long term it's hoped that initiatives like this could spread and improve the quality of life of many and save million of pounds in the care sector.

Ron Woods.jpg
At the moment [the technology] is controlled by voices... but we’re looking at if somebody doesn’t have clear speech or voice, could they use swipe technology to gently move their hand and indicate to technology that they want to do something. That’s the next step,”
— Ron Woods

Innovate to Save, which is supported by the Welsh Government and Wales Council for Voluntary Action have said that they will assess the success of each project at the end of the six-month trial.

If successful, Innovate Trust will be able to apply for a loan to expand the project.

 

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Apple delays Siri powered Homepod

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Apple delays Siri powered Homepod

Apple has announced that it is delaying it;s Siri powered Apple Homepod until some time next year.  Unveiled in June the Homepod is Apples answer to Googles Home and Amazons Alexa.  It has been in development for years and CEO Tim Cook promised Apple customers they would be "blown away" by their "breakthrough" speaker, at least not until next year now that is.

Apple Homepod in Black

“While missing holidays is a shame I think what is at stake here is much more longer term for Apple and they are wise in taking the time,” said Carolina Milanesi, analyst at Creative Strategies. “If HomePod shipped today and all it did was deliver great sound, Apple would be more likely to lose the Assistant and connected home battle than if it delayed the product to knock our socks off when it ships.” Last year, Apple’s $160 AirPods had been scheduled to launch in October but did not go on sale until mid-December, and were in short supply for months. However, the product is now seen as one of Apple’s most popular accessories.  “It did not hurt Apple to kind of miss Christmas last year,” Ms Milanesi said.

Apple Homepod at ICC

Apple is way behind at the moment in the smart home stakes, if this was any other company they would be rushing it out the door to make sure they don't get left behind, but it's Apple.  They know their fanbase will wait and buy their version of the automated voice assistant, they have a locked in fanbase who have already got used to using Siri on their iPhone and iWatch.

Still they are a long way behind Google, who are about the same distance behind Amazon who, seemingly out of nowhere, released their Amazon Echo which has to date sold over 15 million units.

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Smart Homes in the USA - 55 million devices to be sold a year by 2020

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Smart Homes in the USA - 55 million devices to be sold a year by 2020

A report out from the US today estimates that by the year 2020 Smart Home devices such as Amazons Alexa, Googles Home, Apple Homepod, Sonos and Philips Hue will hit sales figures of 55 million units.  This is in the USA, I'd expect Thailand to be significantly behind this but it's a pointer of the way things are going to go as Smart Phones and Smart Homes become more ubiquitous.

"U.S. households with existing broadband service will purchase nearly 55 million smart home devices in 2020 if current trends continue, according to a report from Parks Associates.

Apple Homepod

The report found that although many smart home devices are still in the early adoption stage, the number of U.S. households installing smart thermostats, lights, locks, or networked cameras climbed from 12 percent earlier in the year to 15 percent.

A previous report said that connected appliances, thermostats, and home security systems were the most popular applications.

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"Collectively, U.S. adoption of smart home products is nearing the threshold of the early majority, thanks to marketing efforts of large players, popularity of voice-based products, lower product costs, and a focus on the consumer experience in the purchase process," said Senior Vice President Elizabeth Parks. "And consumers are beginning to recognize the value propositions of platforms such as smart video door bells and smart thermostats, which is boosting their adoption both for household use and as gifts."

The report also found that 42 percent of home security systems included a smart home device such as an electronic lock, smart thermostat, or smart light as of Sept. 11.

Alexa Thailand by Amazon

Although the ability to remotely monitor doors is convenient, setting up those systems can be onerous and consumers appear to remain concerned about the potential weaknesses of smart devices. A recent survey by NPR and Edison Research indicated that a majority of respondents who did not own a smart speaker were concerned about cost or lacked information about what smart speakers do."

https://www.cedmagazine.com/news/2017/11/smart-home-adoption-predicted-hit-55-million-devices-2020

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What is a Starfield Ceiling anyway?

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What is a Starfield Ceiling anyway?

A recent enquiry from Myanmar recently saw me describing a starfield ceiling for home theater in detail, so what exactly is it?

A starfield ceiling is a ceiling design featuring lights using hundreds (thousands) of tiny fibre optic lights embedded into the ceiling to simulate the effect of looking up at stars at night.  These are the very same fibre optics threads that are used for network telecomms and even that SPdif (Optical) cable for your old surround sound systems.

Starfield Home Cinema Ceiling

These fibres are threaded individually through the ceiling, ideally to a specific design based on the actual sky, back to a light engine or light box - which is basically a powerful light that can be dimmed and change colour for nice effects or even twinkling.  This will then need to be controlled somehow so that users can easily turn the lights on and off, dim and change the colour of the 'stars'.

As with many things if the starfield ceiling is done properly it can be absolutely stunning and add a real feeling of height and luxury to a home cinema, if it's done badly then unfortunately it will more than likely end up looking cheap and tacky.

Fibre Optic Threads

The hardware itself isn't particularly expensive, although the fibre threads aren't cheap by any means,  however it is very manpower intensive to run the threads (and each one needs gluing and trimming correctly) and it must be designed properly.  Personally I think the effect looks great, especially on ceilings with domed or arched ceilings or ceilings that are quite low.

 

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Amazon Cloud Cam

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Amazon Cloud Cam

Amazon continue their march forward into the smart home and connected world with their latest offering, the Amazon Cloud Cam.  This works with their Alexa and Echo devices and partners well with the new-ish Echo Show.

What is really interesting is that it can be tied into the new Amazon Key service that they launched last month, this is where Amazon delivery drivers (and possibly drones in a few years time) can open your smart home lock to deliver your goods.  Whats clever about this is that a combination of a smart lock opened with a specific code only held by the Amazon Driver (and only allowing one entry) can be combined with video recognition from the camera to ensure that it's the authorised delivery person (and record what he does).

Of course this is considerably further away for those of us in Thailand.

I'm fairly sure that in the future looking back this will be one of those defining moments, I  mean imagine how many hours are wasted waiting for or rescheduling deliveries, that may be a thing of the past in the near future.

Amazon Cloud Cam Home Technology

"Amazon on Wednesday began shipping its latest smart home product, a security camera that works with its Alexa personal assistant and Echo speakers.

The Amazon Cloud Cam allows customers to live-stream activity inside their home 24/7. It features 1080p full HD resolution, two-way audio for communicating with family members or pets, night vision technology, and sophisticated algorithms that use machine learning to figure out if the stranger entering your house is the building super or a possible burglar.

The smart cam, which retails for US$119.99, is incorporated into Amazon Key, which raised a ruckus upon its introduction late last month. The system allows drivers to open the doors of Prime members who want to have packages left inside their homes.

Amazon Key

Customers using the Amazon Key program will need a compatible smart lock from Yale or Kwikset that allows delivery drivers to enter the home during a specified delivery time window. Users can watch as the driver opens the door, sets the delivery inside, and closes the door.

Amazon plans to coordinate the secure home entry system with more than 1,200 different service and delivery companies, including Merry Maids and Rover.com dog walkers.

"Intelligent home security devices are likely to disrupt the traditional home security monitoring industry over the next few years," said Andrew Howard, chief technology officer at Kudelski Security.

Amazon Smart Delivery to your Home

"Paying for remote physical security monitoring may soon be a relic of the past, as consumers can save money and often receive better service while maintaining the same piece of mind with many of the same home security devices being offered by companies like Amazon and Google," he told TechNewsWorld.

The Amazon Cloud Cam uses the Alexa voice technology to connect with smart speakers like the Echo Show and Echo Spot, as well as Amazon Fire TV devices and Fire tablets, to let users see who is inside or entering their home.

Users can watch the video feed from anywhere in the home using one of those devices, or they can watch remotely on their mobile devices using an iOS or Android app. When users are away from home, the Cloud Cam can be set up to send notifications to their phones, alerting them when motion is detected.

For an additional subscription, Amazon will support additional cameras in the home and provide increased storage and unlimited downloads. The subscription also allows for person detection, a way to flag human activity inside the home.

The machine learning technology can tell when the motion is caused by something expected, like a pet, or by something unexpected -- like an intruder.

Technical Details of Amazon Camera

There is a growing market for automated home security cameras, with more than 90 different makers around the world shipping about 10,000 units per year, noted Blake Kozak, principal analyst for smart home and security technology at IHS Markit.

The market in the U.S. is currently estimated to be worth about $460 million, and has grown about 13 percent from a year ago, he told TechNewsWorld.

Amazon introduced the Cloud Cam as a way to build out its home automation ecosystem, Kozak said. Given the company's expanding grocery business and the $13 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, this likely is just the beginning of the process.

"That's really going to really let Amazon deliver a more customized home experience," he said.

Rival devices from Nest and other firms offer higher-end technology than the Amazon Cloud Cam. For example, the Nest Cam IQ includes SuperSight technology, a 4K sensor with HDR, close-up tracking, familiar face alerts with a NestAware subscription, noise cancellation and echo suppression.

Integration with Google Home is slated for this winter, and the company plans to introduce Nest Hello video doorbells by 2018.

Nest recently introduced the Nest Secure alarm system, which includes motion detectors, voice control, and optional remote security monitoring.

Despite the increasing activity, the smart home camera's impact on the home security market likely will be limited until the devices' capabilities expand, suggested William Malik, vice president for infrastructure strategies at Trend Micro.

"Amazon's weakness in the home security market is the absence of a real person to speak with," he told TechNewsWorld.

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Despite the increasing interest in these devices, privacy advocates have expressed concerns about the risk to consumers -- who might lose control over their private information -- versus the benefit of having these devices in their home.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center two years ago asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Alexa voice technology, and asked the Department of Justice whether such listening devices violated provisions of federal wiretapping laws. Some privacy advocates feared Alexa was monitoring users' everyday activities.

"A lot of tech experts are expressing serious skepticism about [Internet of Things] in the home," Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told TechNewsWorld. "The benefits are overstated, and the risks are substantial.""

https://www.technewsworld.com/story/84942.html

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4K TV – Is it worth it? Three times when it might be for you.

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4K TV – Is it worth it? Three times when it might be for you.

I enjoy writing home technology articles for the Phuket Gazette from time to time, this week I thought I'd give 3 reasons when you should be considering a 4k TV.  This is pretty Thailand centric when it comes to 4k sources but would generally apply anywhere in the world.

"Many people say that watching 4K TV is similar to looking through a window, it's a much more detailed, realistic image but only when the image is large enough for your eyes to be able to make out the extra detail.

First off – 4K TV, what is it? 4K refers to the horizontal resolution of around 4,000 pixels – Mostly 3840 x 2160 pixels (dots on the screen) of a TV picture. More pixels means more detail and a sharper image, think of a retina display from Apple and how the most recent phones and iPads have much clearer screens.

DVD’s and the first widescreen TV’s had a resolution of 720 x 480. High Definition was either 720p (1280×720) in the early days and then 1080p (1920×1080). A 4K TV will have four time as many total pixels as a 1080p HD TV, so four times as much detail.

So when is it worth considering upgrading to a 4K TV?

4K TV - Witness the Detail

REASON #1: When you have access to 4K Content

With a Netflix or Amazon Prime account you can stream and If you have a Kodi media centre or AppleTV 4K you can also download in 4K format. Just make sure that your internet connection is up to it if you are streaming (Netflix recommend a Strong 25mbps line).

Be aware that Apple, Netflix and Amazon may have limited release content in Thailand, so you may have to use a foreign account (and maybe VPN) to access 4K content.

BluRay’s are also available in 4K, These are labelled Ultra-HD. You will need an Ultra-HD Player and Ultra-HD BluRay movie disk. BluRay disks are sometimes region locked although many are region free – it’s worth checking when you are purchasing. Ultra-HD BluRay will offer a marginally better viewing experience because they don’t need to take into account the data limits of streaming.

Don’t be fooled by manufacturers promising upscaling to 4K, where it is suggested that 1080p content looks better on a 4K TV, it wont look noticeably better, no extra detail is being created by these upscaling systems.

LG Curved 4k TV

REASON #2: When you have (or want) a BIG TV

Or want to sit closer. The increase in detail and sharpness means that you can buy a bigger TV for your viewing distance, or sit closer, comfortably.

The more of an image that fills our field of view, the more you are drawn into the scenes unfolding before you. With a 4K TV the optimal distance for viewing is twice as close than with HD (1080p).

Since 4K TVs have such a large density of pixels you can pick out detail much better so it’s suited to much larger screen sizes or sitting in closer proximity. This will allow you to see the actual difference in quality.

Many people say that watching 4K TV is similar to looking through a window, it’s a much more detailed, realistic image but only when the image is large enough for your eyes to be able to make out the extra detail.

In summary; Don’t buy a 32″ 4K TV and expect the picture to be discernably better, I’d recommend at least a 55″ and feel more comfortable sitting closer than you previously did.

TV Optimal viewing distance

REASON #3: When you’re a Cinemaphile

If you are someone who appreciates the art of cinematography and really enjoys the viewing experience then 4K should be your main watching experience. It’s simply the best way to watch movies and TV. You will love the sheer new level of detail available – the tiny grey specks in the beard, the flecks of dust thrown up in a sandstorm, the detailed structure of a dilating iris.

It’s all there, no blur – you can go back, watch films and pick out fine elements that you’d simply never been able to see before.
Even if you just like the finer things in life, you will enjoy watching things in 4K over standard HD. It’s a better experience and increases exponentially with screen size.

And what about those huge curved TV screens? We’ll leave that to another day."

Original article can be seen at https://www.phuketgazette.net/lifestyle/4k-tv-worth-3-times-might

 

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Guest Post - 5 Home Automation Gadgets by SmarthomeGeeks

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Guest Post - 5 Home Automation Gadgets by SmarthomeGeeks

Krystian from SmartHomeGeeks

Krystian from SmartHomeGeeks

Today we have a Guest Post from Krystian Szastok from SmartHomeGeeks in the UK.

Krystian and Henry write about Smart Home technology that they own and have experience with.  They publish how to guides on Alexa, The Internet of Things, Sonos and other cool home technology.

Today they are telling us about 5 of their favourite High Tech gadgets.
 

 

5 Home Automation High-Tech Gadgets

Make everyday items smart with home automation!  Here are five of our favourite high-tech gadgets that will help you automate boring everyday tasks (such as boiling the kettle) and monitor your home from afar.

1.  Smart smoke detector:  Nest Smoke Detector & Carbon Monoxide Alarm

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What does it do?  This fantastic piece of kit detects smoke and carbon monoxide.  It’s fitted with an industrial-grade smoke sensor, has a 10-year battery life and tests itself automatically at regular intervals. Burnt your dinner again?  No problem; quickly silence the alarm using your smartphone.

Why do I need it?  If Nest detects smoke or carbon monoxide, it will sound an alarm AND send an alert to your phone in case you’re not home.  The detector will tell you what’s wrong and where the problem is, plus the smart sensor can even detect slow- and fast-burning fires.

2.  Smart monitoring:  PetCube Bites 

What does it do?  PetCube Bites is a High Definition camera that allows you to monitor your dog when you’re away from home (via a smartphone or tablet).  But that’s not all… you can also talk to your pet pooch and entertain him by dispatching tasty treats across the room, remotely, from wherever you are.   The PetCube will fling treats up to 6 feet across the room. 

Why do I need it?  It'll help ease the anxiety of leaving your dog home alone and provide him with regular bursts of stimulation (which will save them from chewing your sofa or tipping the bin over).  PetCube calls the device a "saviour for lonely pets."  

Pet Cube Bites

The stylish container holds up to 900g of treats, it can be fastened to the wall, high up, out of your pet’s reach. 

3.  Smart heating:  Nest Learning Thermostat 

Nest Thermostat

What does it do?  At first, it looks like an ordinary thermostat that fires up the boiler until it's reached the desired temperature, but it's so much more.  It's one of the most intelligent thermostats on the market.  It will learn your heating patterns over the space of a week and work out how long it'll take to heat your home, even taking the weather into account.   Then it will programme itself automatically.  It can even detect if your home is empty and switch off the heating if necessary.  

Want to manually override Nest?  Simply adjust your heating from your phone, tablet or voice-controlled speaker.  

Why do I need it?  NEST improves energy efficiency AND you don't have to move from the sofa to switch on the heating in winter! 

4.  Smart security:  Nest Cam Indoor Security Camera

Nest Cam indoor Security Camera

What does it do?  The Nest Cam delivers motion and sound alerts to your smartphone or email address.   You can also see what's happening live at home or go back and watch previous footage from the last three hours.  

Why do I need it?  For peace of mind.   Use the Nest Cam in your nursery in place of a baby monitor, or have it positioned by your valuables for added home security.

Smarter iKettle 3.0

5.  Smart appliances: Smarter iKettle 3.0

What does it do?  Boil the kettle from the comfort of your seat using either your smartphone or another smart device in your home (such as Amazon Echo).  It keeps water warm for up to 40 minutes.  Schedule the kettle to boil when you wake up in the morning or have it boil water when you're a few minutes away from home at night!

Why do I need it?  Saves you time.  According to the manufacturers, this smart kettle will save the average tea-drinker up to TWO DAYS PER YEAR!  


Author bio:

Krystian Szastok is a true smart home geek. He loves being up to date with latest home automation systems. In free time, he reviews gadgets and publishes his findings on https://www.smarthomegeeks.co.uk/.
 

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Amazon enables IFTTT style routines for Alexa

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Amazon enables IFTTT style routines for Alexa

Amazon recently introduced some 2nd generation Echo's and Dots for their Alexa voice control.  That wasn't particularly interesting, mostly these things are about cost savings and production - However at the same time the partnering software update contained something that was of real interest.

Amazon call them routines, it's a simple way to program your Alexa (and Smart Home) to respond to either pre-ordained voice commands or timed routines. So you can say for example "Alexa Bed time" and dim all your lights, lock your doors, turn off Tv's and Music etc...  Or you can have Alexa turn on/off a list of connected devices at certain times of the day, so turn your lights on in the evening etc...

At the same time they will be rolling out the placement of Echo's, Dot's and Show's into smart home groups, so you can place them inside the room grouping.  This will enable you to walk in and say Alexa turn off the lights and Alexa understands what room you are in.  Brilliant, no more "Alexa turn off the bedroom lights" just "Alexa turn off lights" - sounds like a tiny change but trust me it gets tiresome adding the bedroom (or forgetting) bit.

Amazon Echo Plus

Here's Amazons press release.

"Introducing the Next Generation of Echo: the All-New Amazon Echo and Echo Plus
All-new Echo brings all the features you love about Alexa, now with a new design, improved sound with Dolby processing, and a lower price—just $99.99

Echo Plus has a built-in smart home hub to easily connect your smart devices—set up and start controlling lights, locks, and more in minutes—just $149.99, with a Philips Hue smart lightbulb included while supplies last

Routines let you control multiple devices and actions with a single voice command—for example, simply say, “Alexa, good morning,” and Alexa will turn on the lights, start your coffee pot, and read the day’s forecast

Now, call anyone with Alexa—new calling feature offers free outbound calling from Echo devices, plus the all-new Echo Connect brings the convenience of hands-free inbound and outbound calling to your home phone

Three years ago, Amazon introduced Echo and Alexa, offering a new way to interact with technology using just your voice. Today, Amazon introduced the next generation of Echo: the all-new Echo with a new design and improved sound for just $99.99, and Echo Plus with a built-in smart home hub for just $149.99.

“Alexa, turn on the kitchen overhead lamp.”

“Three years ago we introduced the first Echo, powered by Alexa, with a goal to fundamentally simplify and improve the way customers interact with their homes,” said Tom Taylor, Senior Vice President, Amazon Alexa. “Today, Alexa can make calls, play music in every room, turn on your lights, and even order you a pizza. But it’s still day one, and today we’re making Echo and Alexa even better. The all-new Echo and Echo Plus deliver better sound, all new far-field technology, and new features we think customers will love.”

Amazon Silver Echo

New design

With an all-new compact design, Echo fits easily into any room in your home while delivering next generation far-field performance and improved room-filling sound. Pick from a variety of shell colors and finishes to fit into your home’s décor—choices include charcoal, sandstone, heather gray, oak veneer, walnut veneer, and silver.

Immersive sound

Echo combines an all-new speaker architecture, a dedicated tweeter, a 2.5” down-firing woofer, and Dolby processing to deliver crisp vocals and dynamic bass throughout the room—all in a smaller design and at an even more affordable price. Alexa can play music from leading services like Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and more.

Second generation far-field technology

The new Echo uses Amazon’s second generation far-field technology, which features better wake word processing, improved beamforming technology, and enhanced noise cancellation. The Echo far-field technology works to detect the wake word from across the room even in the noisiest parts of your home.

Amazon Smart Home

Set up your smart home in minutes

With its built-in smart home hub, Echo Plus makes connecting to compatible smart home devices easy. Just say, “Alexa, discover my devices,” and Echo Plus will automatically discover and set up compatible lights, locks, plugs, switches, and more without the need for additional hubs or apps. This simple set-up works with a variety of ZigBee products from leading brands such as Philips Hue, GE, Kwikset, and more. To help get your smart home started, Amazon customers will receive a Philips Hue smart lightbulb with the purchase of an Echo Plus while supplies last.

More powerful audio and better performance

Echo Plus has enhanced 360-degree omni-directional audio, with Dolby processing, to provide deeper bass and crisper high notes for better audio clarity. You can play music from Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and more. With Amazon Music, you can search for music by lyrics, time-period, or let Alexa pick the music for you. Like the new Echo, Echo Plus features second generation far-field technology for even better performance.

All new Alexa features

Alexa Routines

Routines allow you to automate a series of customizable actions using a single voice command of your choice. For example, say, “Alexa, good night,” and Alexa will turn off the lights, lock the door, and turn off the TV. You can also create Routines based on the time of day – for example, you can create a Routine that has Alexa turn on the kitchen lights, start the coffee maker, and read the weather forecast at 6 a.m. every weekday and at 9 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday.

Routines are compatible with popular Works with Amazon Alexa lights, plugs, switches, and door locks from leading brands like TP Link, Philips Hue, Wemo, and August, and will be available for all Alexa devices including the all-new Echo, the previous generation Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, and Echo Plus starting next month.

Improved smart home groups

You no longer need to remember the specific name of a smart device or group of smart devices to control them. Now you can place your Echo and smart devices into smart home groups, which enables Alexa to act intelligently on your request, making your interactions with your smart home more natural and effortless. For example, when you walk into the kitchen, you can now say to your Echo “Alexa, turn on the lights” rather than “Alexa, turn on the kitchen overhead lamp.”

This feature will be available on the all-new Echo, the previous generation Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, and Echo Plus starting next month.

Call anyone with Alexa

Four months ago, Amazon introduced Alexa calling and messaging, and millions of customers have started using the feature. Now, Amazon is expanding this feature to include support for free outbound calling to phone numbers within the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Just say “Alexa, call Mary’s mobile,” and Alexa will call Mary’s mobile phone from your smartphone’s contact list. Alexa can also dial phone numbers that you speak to her so that you can reach people or businesses that aren’t in your contacts. Calls to 911 are not supported. This feature is available for all Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show customers starting today in the US.

Amazon also introduced Echo Connect, a new Alexa accessory that turns your Echo into a high quality, hands-free speakerphone for your home phone line. Echo Connect works with your existing home phone service – either landline or VoIP. Without touching a single button, ask Alexa to call anybody from your contact list – when you call, they will see your home phone number as the caller ID. When someone you know calls your home phone, Alexa will announce their name from your contacts list—just ask Alexa to answer to start the conversation.

Echo Connect is easy to set up—simply connect it to your home Wi-Fi network and home phone jack or VoIP adapter, and use the Alexa app on your mobile phone to set up Echo Connect. Echo Connect is just $34.99 and will be available later this year.

Oak Echo%2C Kitchen Counter.jpg

Echo Buttons introduce new gaming experience with Alexa

Echo Buttons are new devices that deliver ways for customers to play games with friends and family using Alexa. The buttons illuminate and can be pressed to trigger a variety of multiplayer and interactive game experiences. There will be a number of new Echo Button-compatible skills available this holiday season including Sounds Fun with Mike Epps, Buzzer Beater Basketball Trivia with Karl-Anthony Towns, Fourth Down Football Trivia with Philip Rivers, Full Count Baseball Trivia with Buster Posey from Ground Control, as well as Beat the Intro from Musicplode. Echo Buttons will come in a two-pack, priced at $19.99, and will arrive in time for the holidays in the US, UK, and Germany. Echo Buttons are the first of many Alexa Gadgets, a new collection of accessories that enable fun and playful Alexa experiences. Sign up at https://www.amazon.com/AlexaGadgets to receive notifications and updates when Echo Buttons are available for purchase.

Now over 25,000 Alexa skills and new multi-player games

Tens of thousands of developers are building skills for Alexa using the Alexa Skills Kit, and today there are over 25,000 third party skills available for Alexa. Skills add even more capabilities like ordering a pizza, requesting a ride, tracking your fitness, controlling your TV, and more.

Pricing and Availability

The all-new Echo is just $99.99. It is available for pre-order starting today at www.amazon.com/echo and will start shipping next month.

Echo Plus is just $149.99. It is available for pre-order starting today at www.amazon.com/echoplus and will start shipping next month. To help get your smart home started, Amazon customers will receive Philips Hue smart lightbulb with every purchase of an Echo Plus while supplies last.

Echo Connect is just $34.99 and will be available later this year. Learn more about Echo Connect at www.amazon.com/echoconnect .

Amazon also today introduced the all-new Echo Spot which features a stylish, compact design with a screen so Alexa can show you things for just $129.99; and the all-new Amazon Fire TV with 4K and HDR for just $69.99.

About Amazon

Amazon is guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking. Customer reviews, 1-Click shopping, personalized recommendations, Prime, Fulfillment by Amazon, AWS, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle, Fire tablets, Fire TV, Amazon Echo, and Alexa are some of the products and services pioneered by Amazon. For more information, visit www.amazon.com/about and follow @AmazonNews.

The Echo Buttons have not been authorized as required by the rules of the Federal Communications Commission. This device is not, and may not be, offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, until authorization is obtained.

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Alexa commands for Sonos

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Alexa commands for Sonos

The latest Amazon Alexa and Sonos firmware updates have enabled the much anticipated voice control for your Sonos music system.  This works for any Sonos system if you already have an Echo or Dot (I'm still using an old ZP100 in some rooms) although they are advertising the feature heavily on the Sonos One which has an integrated microphone.

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One of the best aspects is that when your Sonos audio system is playing and you say "Alexa" Sonos automatically mutes itself so that your Alexa can hear your command properly.  It's a really nice touch and makes it feel fully integrated, it's also really useful as previously I'd always have to grab my phone to mute or turn down my Sonos so that Alexa would hear me properly.

Getting onto some of the general Alexa commands for Sonos we have the following;

Alexa, previous song / track.
Alexa, stop.
Alexa, next song/track.
Alexa, skip.
Alexa, skip song / track.
Alexa, pause / stop / resume in (room name).
Alexa, pause / stop / resume the music in (room name).
Alexa, skip / next in (room name).
Alexa, play the next / previous song/track in (room name).
Alexa, pause Alexa, resume (room name).
Alexa, what's playing in (room name)?
Alexa, turn it up / down in (room name).
Alexa, louder / quieter in (room name).
Alexa, set the volume to 3 (30%) in (room name). [0-10 volume levels]
Alexa, softer in (room name).
Alexa, mute (room name).
Alexa, unmute (room name).

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Depending on your source material there are other commands, Sonos are working on the Spotify integration right now to make it fully compatible but no worries you will still be able to issue all the above commands whilst we wait, you will just have to line up the spotify playlist on your phone/tablet first.

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Samsung pushes it's SmartThings Home Automation platform to developers

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Samsung pushes it's SmartThings Home Automation platform to developers

Forbes has a great article out about how Samsung is gearing up to push forward it's Smart Home Automation offerings via its new SmartThings Cloud Service.  SmartThings is the IOT hardware/Software/Hub company that Samsung recently bought and have been quietly designing into their hardware.

SmartThings is  a great system but it's in danger of being left behind as Amazon's Alexa, Google's Home and Apples Homepod / Homekit all march forward to the tune of voice control.

Samsung Smart Things

Samsung Gets Serious About Smart Home Battle, Announces Enhanced Voice, IoT Cloud And New Hardware

Samsung's recent developer conference drew over 5,000 attendees from around the world. While Samsung is a leading smartphone manufacturer, the theme of the development conference focused on what Samsung called “Connected Thinking”. DJ Koh, the President of Mobile Communications Business for Samsung Electronics, told the audience that science and technology were coming together for disruptive change. While the smartphone has changed the world, Koh discussed moving beyond the smartphone to a world of “Connected Thinking” that will deliver new intelligence to drive innovation. To enable this new connected thinking world, Samsung announced several product advancements.

Samsung Home Automation

Samsung is combining its existing IoT services—SmartThings, Samsung Connect, and ARTIK—into one united IoT platform called the SmartThings Cloud.  The goal is to streamline the process of connecting with any SmartThings-compatible device by offering one cloud API. All SmartThings-compatible products will also meet a nine-point security check that will ease some of the security challenges. The SmartThings Cloud provides developers access to one cloud API that can be used across all SmartThings-compatible products to build connected solutions. It also provides secure interoperability and services for business developing commercial and industrial IoT solutions.

Samsung Bixby 2.0 voice control

The company released an improved version of its voice and vision interface called Bixby. 2.0. The latest release brought voice functionality to the company’s devices such as Smart TVs and refrigerators. It can recognize multiple users, which is essential in a service that will be used in a home. While the company didn't explicitly say it integrated Bixby 1.0 with Viv functions, it appears that some integration has happened. The company said it's releasing a private beta of SDK for developers to create new voice and vision enabled experiences. Hopefully, Samsung will move this to general availability of its SDK soon.

Project Ambience. Samsung surprised the developer audience with a new offering called Project Ambience. It's a chip or dongle that can be added to devices within the home to make them smarter with voice and potentially application control.

Advanced augmented reality capabilities. Through a partnership with Google, developers will be able to use the ARCore SDK to bring AR to millions of Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8+ and Galaxy Note customers. According to the companies, the partnership offers new business opportunities for developers and a platform for creating immersive new experiences for consumers.

What does it mean for the marketplace?

While there were many announcements at the event, two were of particular note - The SmartThings Cloud and Project Ambience. Both have the opportunity to be game changers for Samsung and the general consumer IoT market if the company can execute correctly.

According to Samsung, a connected thinking system is obviously connected but must also be personalized and open. Given the number of connected home devices that Samsung owns, it makes sense that the company would pull the connection, management, and security of these devices together under one umbrella. All of these divisions are large and accustomed to running independently. It's a huge strategic commitment for a company as large as Samsung to unify its clouds. It’s an even more significant step from the branding standpoint to call it the SmartThings Cloud instead of the Samsung SmartThings Cloud. The shift in branding signifies that Samsung understands it’s important to create an inclusive environment where other vendors can participate in the IoT cloud Samsung has built.

Samsung Smart TV

One critical barrier to smart home adoption is difficulty connecting, using and securing the various connected objects. Every object has an app or a service. The SmartThings Cloud is the company’s first attempt to improve the experience across the Samsung. With a more open cloud API, the company can also make the cloud stickier for developers and Samsung by including non-Samsung devices.

Another challenge with today's existing smart home strategies is that they require you to purchase and install new hardware to reap the benefits of a connected home. Most consumers aren't interested in buying new thermostats, speakers and other household items that have a long usable life. Samsung’s Project Ambience aims to provide a way for consumers to keep what they own, but make those devices smarter by attaching a small dongle that adds Samsung's Bixby voice assistant. Injong Rhee, head of Research & Development, Software & Services of Samsung's Mobile Communications business, highlighted how this could work with a compelling Bixby plus Project Ambience demo during the conference keynote. Project Ambience combined with the enhanced version of Bixby has the opportunity to give Samsung a stronger position in the smart home battle with Amazon, Apple and Google.

What does Samsung need to do to be successful?

Many vendors are making a push toward openness, but the proof of success will be measured in how many applications and services that are designed to work with the Samsung cloud. Samsung's keynotes primarily focused on the technology innovations that the company provides developers. With some many companies vying for a developer's time Samsung needs to do a better job of explaining why developers should focus on a Samsung ecosystem? Will the effort generate more money, greater engagement or long-term customer loyalty? These are important questions to answer. Other developer conferences have spent considerable parts of the day one keynote discussing how working with their ecosystems will generate revenue and what type of solutions the company provides to assist application developers with a go-to-market strategy.

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The second thing Samsung must also provide highly accurate conversational interfaces for the smart home. A key message for developers was that Samsung’s trying to make its features frictionless to access. While other digital assistants have a significant lead on Samsung, the company’s efforts can still be successful if Bixby provides an easy way for consumers to manage their smart homes and provides easier access to functionality within Samsung products.  Its original version of Bixby had less than stellar performance, but onstage Rhee’s demo highlighted how much progress Bixby has made in a short time. Having said this, it's extremely challenging to build an easy-to-use and accurate conversational interface. Machine learning is still an imperfect science, and it takes enormous volumes of usage data to create models that can interpret a wide range of consumer commands. Fortunately, Samsung doesn't have to index all the world’s information to deliver a better customer experience.

The connected home market is a tough marketplace, but the battle for the smart home is just beginning. While challenges remain, Samsung still has an opportunity to win significant share in the space. One imminent threat is Apple’s new HomePod smart speaker that is slated to come out in a few months. Samsung should work overtime to help developers deliver multi-vendor smart home and IoT solutions to minimize this upcoming threat.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/maribellopez/2017/10/27/samsung-gets-serious-about-smart-home-battle-announces-enhanced-voice-iot-cloud-and-new-hardware

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How Microsofts Smart Speaker Stacks Up to the Competition

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How Microsofts Smart Speaker Stacks Up to the Competition

Lifehacker have a new article on the new Microsoft Smart Speaker, Personally I think they are way too late to the game and I haven't much positive to say about Cortana, in fact I've never used it. 

Still they didn't get to where they are today by being bad at the technology business - So can the software giant leverage their other technology assets to build a market share?

"Better late than never, right? Microsoft is finally ready to compete in the smart speaker market after unveiling its Cortana-powered version of the Amazon Echo earlier this year. The Harman Kardon Invoke launched on Sunday with high-quality audio and a stylish design for $199.

But how does it compare to the competition from Amazon, Google, Apple and Sonos? Let’s find out.

Microsoft’s Harman Kardon Invoke

Harmon Kardon Smart Home Speaker

Here’s what you need to know about the newest smart speaker in an increasingly crowded market.

What It Has

The Invoke’s biggest perk is audio quality, thanks to three 1.75-inch midrange drivers and three 0.5-inch tweeters that provide 360-degree sound. It’s missing a subwoofer, but makes up for it with a passive radiator for bass. In their review, The Verge notes that it sounds better than the Amazon Echo and Google Home, but not as good as the Sonos One. Apple claims its HomePod speaker will also offer superior sound quality, but we won’t know for sure until it actually launches later this year.

Microsoft’s new speaker also boasts a pretty nice design. It’s similar to the cylindrical Echo, but tapers in at the top with a metal speaker grille that covers most of the body. It also has touch controls up top, including the option to pause the music by simply tapping on the device. Plus, there’s an aux port if you want to connect it to a more powerful speaker, along with Bluetooth support.

As for Cortana, Microsoft’s AI assistant works pretty well according to The Verge, but can’t really compete with more refined services from Google and Amazon. Hopefully that will improve with future software updates.

What It Doesn’t Have

Cortana also comes with some drawbacks that could make you think twice about buying the Invoke. It only really works with Microsoft apps for features like checking your calendar or getting reminders. The Invoke also limits you to just one account (at least for now), so multiple family members or roommates can’t check their calendars on the same speaker.

The Verge notes in their review that call quality on the Invoke was pretty poor on both ends. The speaker also only supports Skype calls for now, and you can’t even use it to make a call from your phone over Bluetooth.

The Invoke doesn’t come at a discount, either. At $199, it’s way more expensive than the flagship Echo ($99) and the Google Home ($129). It’s still cheaper than the HomePod ($349) but it’s the same price as the Sonos One, which runs Amazon’s Alexa AI.

Who Should Buy It?

If you’re an audiophile who’s already bought into Microsoft’s ecosystem of apps, this is the speaker for you. Otherwise, there are cheaper options from Amazon and Google—or better audio quality for the same price from Sonos.

Sonos One 

Sonos One

Speaking of Sonos, here’s a bit more on the company’s first smart speaker: the Sonos One.

What It Has

Like the Invoke, the Sonos One boasts great audio, which shouldn’t come as a surprise from a company known for making speakers. The design is also appealing and includes a physical button for turning off the built-in microphone, though it’s a little boxier than Microsoft’s model.

The Sonos One should also get some great software features down the road, including support for Google Assistant (it currently only works with Amazon’s Alexa AI), but for now the software is actually pretty limited.

What It Doesn’t Have

Out of the box, the Sonos One is a bit of a letdown as a smart speaker. Alexa isn’t even enabled by default, and setting it up is a multi-step process that involves syncing your Amazon and Sonos accounts. Gizmodo also notes that it doesn’t yet support standard Alexa features like voice calls, sending text messages and setting reminders, though Sonos says they’ll come in a future update.

Who Should Buy It?

Audiophiles looking for a standalone smart speaker with great sound should consider the Sonos One. But if you already have a solid speaker, you might be better off hooking it up to a cheaper option like the Echo Dot or Google Mini.

Amazon Echo 

Amazons Alexa


Gizmodo
Amazon keeps adding new devices to its smart speaker lineup, but the Echo is still the gold standard. Here’s how the 2017 model compares to the competition.

What It Has

The biggest improvement to the new Echo is its far-field microphones, which were redesigned for better voice recognition. That should make it even easier to talk to Alexa. Amazon also redesigned the exterior, with a squatter shape and variety of covers in fabrics or wood so it blends into the decoration.

Alexa has become the industry standard for smart home speakers, so it supports the most skills and gadgets. Amazon also added the ability to sync multiple Echos together for a wireless system, and it’s selling three of the $100 speakers for just $250 when you buy them together.

What It Doesn’t Have

The Echo is limited to what Alexa can do, but that shouldn’t be an issue in most cases. It is missing a few features offered by more expensive Amazon devices like the Echo Plus ($150), which packs a built-in smart home hub in case the smart home gadgets you buy don’t work directly with the Echo. There’s also the Echo Show ($229) with its built-in touchscreen, but you’re not going to get any of that from the competition, anyway.

Who Should Buy It?

If you’re looking for a simple standalone smart speaker with okay sound, this is the way to go. If you’ve already bought into Google, Microsoft or Apple’s ecosystems, then it’s worth considering their respective options, and if you want something extra, try one of Amazon’s fancier models.

Google Home

Googles Smart 'Home'



Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo offers some great features thanks to Google Assistant. Here’s what you need to know.

What It Has

When it comes to AI smarts, Google Home “obliterates” the Amazon Echo, according to Gizmodo’s review, though it’s still far from a perfect product. Google Assistant is better at parsing natural language, and it understands context, so you can ask a follow-up question without repeating yourself.

Google Home also works with Chromecast. So you can tell it to play a video and it will stream on any TV in the house with an attached dongle or built in Cast support. The same goes for any speaker with support for Google Cast audio.

The design is fun and playful with swappable bases in different colors and fabrics, even if it looks a bit like an air freshener.

What It Doesn’t Have

Google Home does have some software limits on what it can do, though Google has reliably continued updating it with new skills and features. The audio quality is also pretty bad at high volumes, but most of the time it sounds fine.

Who Should Buy It?

For buyers on the market for the very smartest smart speaker, this is the way to go. Google Home is also a great choice if you already use a Chromecast for your TV and want everything in the house to sync up.

Apple HomePod 

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HomePod
Finally, there’s the HomePod. Apple’s long-awaited answer to the Echo won’t launch until December, so we don’t know exactly how well it will perform. Here’s what we do know about the upcoming smart speaker.

What it Has

Apple put a big emphasis on audio quality when it revealed the HomePod earlier this year. The speaker features seven tweeters, “precision acoustic horns” and a subwoofer. The Verge actually tested one back in June in a very controlled demo with specifically chosen songs, and said it sounds great, but quality may vary in real world use.

The HomePod also packs in six microphones for picking up your voice, so hopefully it won’t have any trouble recognizing commands. Though, again, no one’s been able to test that out in the wild yet.

What It Doesn’t Have

The fact that the HomePod relies on Siri is a little worrisome; Apple’s AI still lags behind the competition, even if the company says its working on a Siri-specific update for the speaker.

As for the design, it’s fine but not particularly appealing and comes in black or white. The $350 price tag may also scare some people away, but that’s the Apple tax for you.

Should You Buy It?

If you’re totally bought into Apple’s ecosystem, the HomePod is the smart speaker for you. Otherwise, you’re probably better off with something else, though it’s possible Apple will prove us wrong when the HomePod finally launches.

https://lifehacker.com/how-microsofts-new-invoke-smart-speaker-stacks-up-to-th-1819723763

 

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New H3 Digital T-Shirts

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New H3 Digital T-Shirts

Wirut our Installation Director and Electrical Engineer Wit are up in Chiang Mai installing Sonos and Nuvo music systems at customers homes, at the same time our T-Shirt run has just been finished so it was an ideal time to snap a photo of them wearing our brand new T-Shirts.

Wit and Wirut modelling our new T-Shirts

Wit and Wirut modelling our new T-Shirts

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Our work in Chiang Mai involves installing the latest in sound systems, audio visual and Smart IT networking into villas for our customers. This visit has seen us install Nuvo's wireless music system with P200's powering Nuvo's in-ceiling and outdoor speakers at this villa in Nam Phrae, Hang Dong.  Also we've fitted a Sonos multi room system and Sonos Playbar into another villa towards Doi Saket way, that also features a Flexson wall mount for the TV so that the SOundbar fits snugly underneath and directs audio exactly where it should be.

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By the end of 2017 work should be well underway on our new Chiang Mai office in Namphrae, Hang Dong.  Our new HQ in Phuket should be finished shortly after, we think by Feb 2018 - there's not that much left to do but we've got a busy schedule over the next 6 months so it's finding the time to allocate.

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