Chinese Echo rival also features an AI voice assistant.
The sci-fi vision of a connected home is quickly becoming a reality: both Amazon and Google have launched smart assistants, with an Apple offering based on the company’s HomeKit system is rumoured to be on the way.
These products are designed to act as standalone hubs for your digital life. Voice activation systems allow users to ask questions, perform tasks control their IoT appliances, without even having to touch their phones.
We look at how the three major smart assistant products compare to each other, based on the information we’ve currently got. We’ll be updating this article as and when we know more so please stay tuned…
A Chinese firm has made a move onto the digital home assistant market with a device to rival Amazon Echo and Google Home.
The DingDong A3, from Chinese manufacturer LingLong, is a cylindrical speaker allowing users to ask questions about the weather or play music, much like the Amazon Echo. However unlike its western equivalent, the DingDong understands Mandarin, Cantonese and basic English, meaning around 95% of the Chinese population will be able to use the device.
The device will be competitively priced at the equivalent of $118, providing news, stock updates, and schedule management apps, and home lighting controls. The device is to be released onto a Chinese market considered to be worth $22.8 billion by 2018, according to a study by Juniper Research.
Three wake up commands have been confirmed: Xiaowei Xiaowei (a girl’s nickname), BaiLing BaiLing (skylark), and DingDongDingDong, which will surely be the most popular.
The device is the result of a $25 million joint venture between Beijing’s LingLong, China’s largest online retailer, JD.com, and voice recognition firm iFlytek. LingLong claimed that the DingDong was already in development before the Echo made it onto the market,
although the Chinese firm was “influenced a lot” by Amazon’s digital assistant, according to Wired. Right now the device can only provide one response per question, but there are plans to integrate AI much in the same way as it is in Amazon’s Alexa.
To improve the skills of DingDong’s digital assistant, the company hopes to work alongside other smart speaker manufacturers, including a partnership with Amazon to bring the Echo to China.
Amazon has launched its new music streaming service, Music Unlimited, in the UK as a competitor to rivals like Apple Music and Spotify.
It offers around 40 million songs and over 1,000 playlists on demand to subscribers in the UK, Germany and Austria, after also launching in the US last month.
Prime customers can use the service for £7.99 a month, while nonPrime members will pay the full price of £9.99. However, a second, cheaper tier, is also available. Tied to the Echo and Echo Dot, users can choose to pay a £3.99 monthly subscription, but they would have to upgrade to listen to music on more devices.
“We’ve been thrilled with customer reaction to the launch of Amazon Music Unlimited in the US last month and we’re excited to quickly bring the service to customers in the UK,” said Steve Boom, vice president of Amazon Music. “Starting today, Amazon Music
Unlimited offers our UK customers playlists and stations curated by our music experts in the UK, featuring British and international artists.”
Although Amazon Echo users may already be using Spotify, Amazon claims its own music service offers far more integration with the Alexa voice assistant. In one example Amazon gave, voice commands like “Alexa, play the song that goes, ‘I was doing just fine before I met you’”, Alexa will play ‘Closer’ by The Chainsmokers.
Users can of course play specific genres of music, artists, music from certain time periods and tell Alexa to put on a random shuffle of songs. Amazon has not yet allowed other streaming services to “teach” these functions to Alexa, and will hope its more sophisticated user experience can draw customers to the service.
Amazon Music Unlimited, the company’s challenge to Spotify and Apple Music, has a cheaper tier specifically designed for its Echo speaker.
Unlimited will include tens of millions of songs and let users search for a song by its lyrics, and will cost $9.99.
But Amazon also promised a second tier of pricing for those who own its Wi-Fi speaker, Echo.
Echo users will be able to download a cheaper $3.99 version of the service that works exclusively on Amazon’s speaker. This music service will be perfectly integrated into Echo, enabling users to ask Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa to play a particular artist or song.
Amazon started investing in music services in 2008, launching MP3, an alternative to iTunes, where users could purchase the songs of artists they liked. However, the service never appeared to reach the peak of iTunes, and Amazon now seems to be following the most recent music streaming service trend.
The Telegraph reported that in 2015 the number of people using streaming services rose from 41 million to 68 million.
Amazon Music Unlimited could arrive in Europe later this year and should be first introduced in the UK, Germany and Austria.
First announced at the company’s developer conference earlier in the year, Google has finally taken the wraps off Google Home, its answer to the Amazon Echo.
Built around the company’s new Google Assistant, Google Home is designed to answer questions and perform tasks based on verbal interactions. As expected, it performs all the usual smart assistant functions, such as streaming music, telling you about traffic and the weather and controlling all of your smart home stuff.
Unlike rivals, however, it also interfaces with the whole suite of Google apps, meaning it can tell you what you’ve got in your Google Calendar, give you directions and cue up videos on your Chromecast. It can even play music from YouTube and stream to Chromecast Audio.
On top of that, it does anything you’d expect Google search to do, which includes providing information about local businesses, answers to questions culled from Google’s store of over 70 billion facts and featured snippets of content from other websites.
Design-wise, it looks like a plug-in air freshener more than anything else. It’s got a wide, rounded base, tapering slightly to end in a flat, sloping top. The top acts as a capacative touchpad through which users can play and pause content, activate the Assistant and control the unit’s volume.
Just like the Amazon Echo, it’s also got a mute button to ensure it won’t be listening to you unless you want it to be. Like Alexa’s ‘flash briefing’ service, it will give you a summary of everything you need to know in the morning, but alongside the latest headlines it will also give you the current weather, traffic updates and your schedule all in one go.
Both base and top are available in a selection of materials and colours designed to match your home or office décor, including mango, marine and violet options for the fabric base, and metal
bases in copper, snow and slate. You can also have multiple interlinked Google Home units in the same house.
Here’s the rub, though – it might not be coming out in the UK. Apparently, the company “hopes” to bring it to non-US territories, but there’s no guarantee that it ever will – which is a shame, because it actually looks really rather good. It costs $129 in America, so if it ever does make it to these shores, expect the price to be around £100.
The Amazon Echo family has officially been launched in the UK, with the smart home devices set to ship to customers this Autumn.
The Amazon Echo is a connected speaker that uses an AI core powered by AWS’s cloud, called Alexa. Alexa can control smart home equipment, play music, answer questions and tell jokes.
A number of key partners have already developed integrations for Alexa – known as ‘skills’ – including Spotify, Hive, The Guardian, Just Eat and National Rail. Amazon has also released an SDK for Alexa, letting developer freely create new skills and integrations.
Some have voiced concerns about the privacy implications of having an always-on microphone connected to AWS in your home, but Amazon was quick to placate those fears.
The company assured critics that the microphone only listened for the ‘wake word’ that triggers Alexa, and will only begin streaming audio to the cloud once that word is detected. The Echo also features a mute button that physically prevents the microphone being activated while it is turned on, and Amazon lets users delete anything heard by Alexa.
As well as the existing Amazon Echo, the company unveiled a redesigned version of the Amazon Echo Dot, the smaller formfactor model that eschews the Echo’s inbuilt speakers.
The redesigned Dot now features an updated language processor and is better at recognising user commands. It also features the full range of Alexa-powered voice control functionality.
The Echo is priced at £150, with a £50 discount for Amazon Prime members for the first two days, and the Echo Dot will be available for £50. Both will be available in black or white and can be preordered immediately.
The Echo Dot is also available in packs of six and twelve, with Amazon offering one and two units for free, respectively.
The Amazon Echo is set to launch in the UK tomorrow, according to a report.
The company has sent out invitations for a special event in London, bearing a design scheme remarkably reminiscent of the Echo’s blue LED-highlighted body. The Financial Times also cited “industry sources” who confirmed the release date.
The company sent out a now-deleted tweet (apparently accidentally) indicating that the sold out Echo Dot model was back in stock, with the price knocked down to $50 (£37.93) – a price cut of almost half.
This could indicate that Amazon is gearing up for some kind of large-scale Echo-based announcement on both sides of the pond. The company could even be preparing to launch an entirely new version of its connected speaker.
Amazon hopes to launch two music streaming services next month, one to rival Spotify and Apple Music and another that will work exclusively with its Echo speaker.
The retailer’s main streaming service would be similar to other players in the market, costing around $10 a month and allowing people to stream unlimited amounts of music anywhere they like, according to Recode, citing anonymous industry sources.
This tier would also let people download music to play offline, and cut out adverts entirely.
Its other tier may prove more daring, however, costing between $4 and $5 per month and being tied exclusively to Amazon Echo, its home speaker controlled via its own Alexa voice assistant.
This means it would not work on smartphones or other mobile devices, so people would be confined to their homes when using it.
The Echo speaker has sold one million units since Amazon launched the device last year, but TechCrunch reports that it discontinued the Amazon Echo Dot – a device that turns home theatre systems into an Echo speaker – after a limited pilot run.
Still, the company expects to sell 10 million Echo speakers by 2017, according to The Information.
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