Ge­nie in a speaker!

The Luxury Collection - - Contents - -By Neil Shah

Per­sonal As­sis­tants play a very im­por­tant role in our work­place and are in many cases the linch­pin of our pro­fes­sional lives. On a sim­i­lar note, tech­no­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion has led to the rise of Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence (AI) in our day to day set­tings, pow­er­ing what we now call as AI pow­ered Per­sonal As­sis­tants. We have been al­ready us­ing these highly cog­nizant and in­tel­li­gent AI pow­ered per­sonal as­sis­tants baked right into our smart­phones. For ex­am­ple: ‘Siri on iphones or ipads’ or ‘Google As­sis­tant on An­droid phones’ or ‘Cor­tana on Win­dows based phones or per­sonal com­put­ers’ or ‘Alexa on Ama­zon Kin­dle tablets’.

Now these AI as­sis­tants are find­ing a place in newer firm-fac­tors and de­vices such as speak­ers, mak­ing those pas­sive sound ma­chines, con­ver­sa­tional and smarter. Soon we will have our homes equipped with at least one of these AI pow­ered smart speak­ers. This all started with the launch of Ama­zon’s AI ‘Alexa’ pow­ered smart speaker called ‘Ama­zon Echo’ fol­lowed by Google with its own ver­sion of Ama­zon Echo known as Google Home – pow­ered by Google As­sis­tant. Mi­crosoft also soon fol­lowed lever­ag­ing its own AI as­sis­tant Cor­tana in­te­grated into a Har­man-kar­don speaker. All three tech gi­ants now tout their AI prow­ess. Re­cently, Ap­ple also an­nounced its en­try into this space with its Siri pow­ered smart speaker called ‘Home­pod’, de­signed pri­mar­ily to drive its Ap­ple Mu­sic ser­vice, ship­ping by the year end in USA, UK and Aus­tralia. While most of these smart speak­ers are at a nascent stage and avail­able in se­lect coun­tries, the pace with which In­dia is grow­ing with hun­dreds of mil­lions of smart­phones users, some of these smart speak­ers should launch in In­dia sooner rather than later. Let’s deep dive into some of these AI pow­ered smart speak­ers and fig­ure out why they are revo­lu­tion­ary:

AMA­ZON ECHO

Ama­zon Echo is a nine-inch tall cylin­dri­cal shaped hands-free speaker which one can con­trol with one’s voice and is al­ways con­nected to the internet via Wi-fi. Echo’s de­sign is noth­ing short of an engi­neer­ing feat. It sports Ama­zon’s “far-field” voice recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy with an ar­ray of seven mi­cro­phones with en­hanced noise-can­cel­la­tion pick­ing up your voice from all di­rec­tions even while play­ing mu­sic or an­swer­ing your ques­tion. The ver­ti­cal cylin­dri­cal de­sign hosts a 2.5inch woofer at the cen­ter with a re­flex port above promis­ing deep­est bass and a 2.0-inch tweeter be­low to de­liver crisp

and clear higher notes fill­ing the room with im­mer­sive 360 de­grees Om­ni­di­rec­tional au­dio.

Ama­zon Echo is con­nected to the highly in­tel­li­gent and knowl­edge­able Alexa voice ser­vice re­sid­ing in Ama­zon’s cloud. Alexa within Echo can be con­trolled with your voice as well as a com­pan­ion app on your phone or tablet.

Echo in­cor­po­rates what is known as “skills” and can answer most of your ques­tions, read news, pod­casts, sports scores and au­dio­books, in­te­grate, con­trol and play dif­fer­ent mu­sic stream­ing ser­vices such as Spo­tify, report weather and even con­trol your light fans, ther­mostats and more with com­pat­i­ble Smart Home de­vices from Philips, Nest, Sam­sung Smart­things, Wemo and more. Since op­er­at­ing Echo re­quires an Ama­zon Prime sub­scrip­tion, Alexa is per­fectly geared to also do ‘voice-shop­ping’ over Ama­zon’s ecom­merce plat­form. Alexa gets smarter with ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion in terms of speech pat­terns, ac­cent, vo­cab­u­lary and more. Ama­zon is work­ing with a plethora of app de­vel­op­ers to bring more and more skills into Ama­zon Echo, mak­ing it an AI pow­er­house. For ex­am­ple: you can now book an Uber by just say­ing – “Alexa, Ask Uber to re­quest a ride” or can or­der a pizza from Domino’s by sim­ply say­ing – “Alexa, open Domino’s and ask for my Easy Or­der” or “Alexa, play Jeop­ardy” or con­trol your car “Alexa, tell Blue Link to lock my Sonata.”

Ama­zon Echo pow­ered Alexa now in­cor­po­rates more than 10,000 skills and con­tin­ues to grow ev­ery day. The skills cat­e­gories vary from education and ref­er­ence to news, shop­ping, smart home, movies, sports, ac­tive life­style to trans­porta­tion and more. Ama­zon Echo re­tails around USD180 and its new­est vari­ant with a touch­screen called Echo Show re­tails around USD230. Fur­ther­more, Ama­zon also sells a smaller ver­sion of the Echo Speaker but with­out a speaker called “echo dot” for USD40 which can con­nect to any speaker of your choice via Blue­tooth or a 3.5mm au­dio jack via ca­ble to func­tion same as the orig­i­nal Echo. This is the fu­ture of smart homes with a voice con­trolled per­sonal as­sis­tant to en­hance your life­style.

GOOGLE HOME

Google Home is an­other smart speaker which is in­te­grated with Google’s AI pow­ered Google As­sis­tant, tak­ing the helm from you. Google Home, like Ama­zon Echo, is also a voice ac­ti­vated speaker and has a bet­ter abil­ity to answer your ques­tions as you say the magic words: “Ok Google, who was the 42nd Pres­i­dent of the Unites States? or Ok Google, What is the cur­rency of Nicaragua?” lever­ag­ing Google’s huge data­base of knowl­edge due to its internet search en­gine prow­ess.

The hands-free Google Home links to your Google ac­count and hence is highly per­son­al­ized and can sync closely with dif­fer­ent apps on your Google An­droid pow­ered smart­phone. Like Echo, Google gives you real-time an­swers to all your ques­tions on sports, weather, traf­fic, fi­nance, news or lo­cal busi­nesses. It also can play dif­fer­ent mu­sic stream­ing ser­vices from Spo­tify to Google Mu­sic to Youtube Mu­sic and more. It also per­fectly syncs with your Google Cal­en­dar and Google Now on your phone to set re­minders, alarms and re­trieve your flight in­for­ma­tion. Google has been work­ing its huge pool of An­droid app de­vel­op­ers to add new ca­pa­bil­i­ties from con­trol­ling Smart Home de­vices to pro­grams on your Smart TV.

Google Home also in­cor­po­rates a far-field voice recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy to pick up your voice from far in your room and fea­tures a set of hi-fi­delity speak­ers to pro­duce the bril­liant sound you ex­pect from a good speaker. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, Google Home speaker sound trumps Ama­zon Echo by a bit with a deeper punch and a wider fre­quency range. How­ever, in terms of skills and ca­pa­bil­i­ties, Ama­zon Echo has made head­way and out­beats Google Home by a fair mar­gin. Also, Google Home lacks “voice-shop­ping’ as Ama­zon is a pre­mier ecom­merce plat­form and has in­dexed its plat­form well to the Alexa voice ser­vice for one com­mand shop­ping us­ing the Ama­zon Prime sub­scrip­tion.

Google Home re­tails at USD130 and is a good al­ter­na­tive to Ama­zon Echo if you are deeply en­trenched into Google’s ecosys­tem of apps and ser­vices.

While Ama­zon Echo has higher chances to reach In­dian shores as Ama­zon con­tin­ues to grow in the In­dia mar­ket with its ecom­merce plat­form and ser­vices ecosys­tem, Google Home and Ap­ple Home­pod reach­ing In­dian shores of­fi­cially looks a bit dis­tant at this point as they are very US cen­tric de­vices. How­ever, the Google Home speaker

works well in terms of some Google ser­vices plus an­swer­ing queries, ex­cept for US cen­tric third-party con­tent ser­vices which won’t play if the speaker is ac­quired in USA and brought to In­dian shores.

In sum­mary, we are on the cusp of a true smart home rev­o­lu­tion in get­ting our­selves a highly in­tel­li­gent per­sonal as­sis­tant – a Ge­nie – lever­ag­ing the gi­ant strides in Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence tech­nol­ogy to en­rich our lives like what smart­phones have been able to.

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