CES: Samsung Introduces an Easy-to-Use Smart Home Hub

Samsung Electronics announced its new $60 SmartThings Station, which the company describes as “an easy-to-use, affordable smart home hub and fast charging pad.” The product is designed to provide consumers with “simple control and interoperability of multiple connected devices.” SmartThings Station is one of numerous solutions touted at CES that are compatible with a growing collection of smart home products, including those that are labeled as Matter devices. The Matter home automation standard, which helps connect devices built with the Thread low-power mesh networking protocol, had a significant presence at CES. Continue reading CES: Samsung Introduces an Easy-to-Use Smart Home Hub

CSA Releases Global Connectivity Spec for Internet of Things

The Connectivity Standards Alliance has announced the release of the Matter 1.0 specification, a global connectivity standard for the Internet of Things, simultaneously opening the product certification program, administered through authorized test labs. Member companies “now have a complete program for bringing the next generation of interoperable products that work across brands and platforms to market with greater privacy, security, and simplicity for consumers,” said CSA. The Matter standard was developed so the devices from companies including Google, Apple and Amazon can communicate with each other via a local controller device. Continue reading CSA Releases Global Connectivity Spec for Internet of Things

Australia Proposes Google, Facebook Pay for News Content

Australia is introducing a law that would make Google, Facebook and possibly other tech companies pay news publishers for their content. In response, Google threatened to remove its search engine from the country, fearing the law would set a dangerous precedent. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said the country’s lawmakers will not respond to threats. News makes up 12.5 percent of Google searches there. In France, meanwhile, Google inked a deal with that country’s media publishers to negotiate individual license agreements. Continue reading Australia Proposes Google, Facebook Pay for News Content

The State of AI in Media & Entertainment: Pedal to the Metal

As the world turns its sights on the “new normal,” the future of the media and entertainment industry is starting to come into focus. Cloud-based everything. Internet of Production. Digital distribution. Automation. Truth is, most of these changes were already in progress. It’s the timeline that has been dramatically shortened: 5-year plans now have to be implemented in 5 months. And among the handful of technologies being fast-tracked, artificial intelligence holds a special place because of its ability to solve two of the industry’s most pressing post-COVID challenges: (1) how to better manage its inherent product risk, and (2) protect and optimize its precious financial, human and technological resources. Continue reading The State of AI in Media & Entertainment: Pedal to the Metal

Google Assistant Adds Read Aloud, Sensor Support Features

Read It is a new Google Assistant feature that reads web pages out loud in 42 languages. Accessible through browsers and Android smartphones, it is launched by saying “Hey Google, read it” or “Hey Google, read this page.” Users can adjust the reading speed, and the feature highlights words as they are read out loud. Buttons can be used to skip forward or backward in the text or pause the reading. Google also added native support for sensors in Google Assistant, and a special device type for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Continue reading Google Assistant Adds Read Aloud, Sensor Support Features

Spotify Still Dominates Podcast Space, Acquires The Ringer

Spotify, reporting its Q4 results, revealed that it now has 271 million subscribers, up 31 percent from a year ago, with paying subscribers up 29 percent to 125 million. The company’s overall revenue reached $2 billion, up 24 percent from the previous year, with a gross margin of 25.6 percent. Spotify is still posting operating losses, with Q4’s pegged at $85 million, with its loss per share now at $1.26. Spotify also acquired Bill Simmons’ sports and pop culture website and podcasting network The Ringer. Continue reading Spotify Still Dominates Podcast Space, Acquires The Ringer

BBC Is Creating Voice Assistant That Understands Accents

The BBC is developing a voice assistant named Beeb that it promises will understand British accents. Other virtual assistants have struggled with regional accents, but the BBC team will be recording staff voices from multiple U.K. locations to address that issue. While there are no plans to introduce a standalone CE device similar to Google Home or Amazon Echo, the BBC plans to debut Beeb next year to help people interact with online services offered via the company’s website and its smart TV iPlayer app. The assistant’s software will also be available to manufacturers interested in including it in their own consumer devices. Continue reading BBC Is Creating Voice Assistant That Understands Accents

Cable Provider Altice Plans Fall Launch For Smart Speaker

New York-based cable provider Altice USA, parent company to Optimum and Suddenlink, plans to launch a high-fidelity smart speaker this fall that features audio tech from French company Devialet. The $400 Altice Amplify will come with Alexa built-in for hands-free control of TV functions. The speaker, to be available through Altice’s cable stores and Amazon.com, will feature access to streaming apps on the Altice One cable system such as Netflix, Pandora and YouTube. Altice Amplify will work with additional TV systems and streaming devices and support apps including Amazon Music, Apple Music, Audible, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Tidal and TuneIn. Continue reading Cable Provider Altice Plans Fall Launch For Smart Speaker

Apple Ends Practice of Humans Monitoring Siri Recordings

Apple will no longer allow human contractors to listen in on users’ Siri recordings to “grade” them, and will not resume the program until it has completed a “thorough review.” The company also stated that, as part of a future update, users will be able to opt out of the quality assurance program. Apple told users that Siri data might be used to improve their experience, but not that humans would be listening to it. Most of the compromised confidential information was recorded via an accidental trigger of Siri. Continue reading Apple Ends Practice of Humans Monitoring Siri Recordings

CTA: Tech Sales to Reach New High of $401 Billion in 2019

The Consumer Technology Association forecast that U.S. consumer technology sales will grow 2.2 percent to $401 billion in 2019, due to AI-enabled devices, streaming services, and in-vehicle and other technologies. CTA chief executive Gary Shapiro noted that 5G will provide the faster connectivity that will help boost sales of new technologies, but warned, however, that “unnecessary tariffs — taxes paid by American consumers and businesses — threaten to slow down our nation’s economic momentum.” Continue reading CTA: Tech Sales to Reach New High of $401 Billion in 2019

Amazon, Google Overlap in E-Commerce, Digital Ads, More

Amazon and Google have become more competitive over the years, and at the latter’s annual Google Marketing Live conference this week, the company introduced new products to target online shoppers. At the same time, many shoppers now begin their search on Amazon, which has also been making inroads into Google’s traditional bailiwick of digital advertising. Marketing analytics firm Jumpstart reported that, in 2015, about 54 percent of product searches began on Google, and 46 percent on Amazon; those numbers flipped by 2018. Continue reading Amazon, Google Overlap in E-Commerce, Digital Ads, More

Google and Amazon Use AI to Improve Speech Recognition

Google’s artificial intelligence researchers made an unexpected discovery with its new SpecAugment data augmentation model for automatic speech recognition. Rather than augmenting input audio waveforms, SpecAugment applies augmentation directly to the audio spectrogram. Researchers discovered, to their surprise, that models trained with SpecAugment out-performed all other speech recognition methods, even without a language model. Amazon also revealed research on improving Alexa’s speech recognition by 15 percent. Continue reading Google and Amazon Use AI to Improve Speech Recognition

Amazon and Google Offering Ad-Supported Music Services

Spotify has new competition. Amazon just introduced an ad-supported version of Amazon Music available in the U.S. via Alexa devices. To jumpstart the service, Amazon has reportedly offered to pay some record labels per stream for music licenses, separate from ad sales. The catalog is limited, but listeners can access some of Amazon Music’s “top playlists.” Google also announced that YouTube Music will be free on Google Home smart speakers and Google Assistant devices in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and parts of Europe. Continue reading Amazon and Google Offering Ad-Supported Music Services

Audible, Chooseco Team on Interactive Tales via Alexa Skill

Amazon’s Audible and Chooseco have collaborated on two new “choose your own adventure” children’s audiobooks. Available on Amazon Alexa-enabled devices via Chooseco’s Choose skill, “The Abominable Snowman” and “Journey Under the Sea,” designed by the two teams, feature professional voice actors and can be navigated by voice commands. The two stories together offer 65 different endings and, on Alexa devices with screens, show illustrations for story beats. Decision-making points in the story are signaled by a sound. Continue reading Audible, Chooseco Team on Interactive Tales via Alexa Skill

CES: Voice Assistants Are No Longer Just for Smart Speakers

If CES is any indication, 2019 may be the year that voice assistants become more integrated into our daily lives. Amazon and Google went head-to-head in Las Vegas last week with a flood of partnerships touting smart home and CE devices that now support Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Among the products featuring voice support included LG’s much-hyped rollable OLED TV; Panasonic’s new 4K OLED TV; Samsung’s 2019 TV lineup; Vuzix Blade AR glasses; an array of speakers, soundbars and headphones; new smart displays from Lenovo, Archos and KitchenAid; and a collection of home security devices, kitchen and bathroom appliances — even toilets. Continue reading CES: Voice Assistants Are No Longer Just for Smart Speakers