Towards Voice- activated Homes

Towards Voice- activated Homes
Jul 2018 , by , in Technology

Virtual voice-controlled assistants are now replacing smartphones in controlling the intelligent homes and appliances. With the advent of platforms like Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, the smart home technology is on the cusp of another potential breakthrough.

The technology leaders Amazon, Google, and Apple have now set their sights on the smart homes segment with the ambitious plans of integrating their respective smart devices with home technology systems. But of each of these tools have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Amazon’s smart assistant Alexa is easily compatible with most smart home applications and appliances, while Apple Siriis closed source system and apt for those who are concerned about privacy. On the other hand, Google Home is powered by its robust search engine.

Amazon Devices
A huge advantage of the Amazon Echo family is the number of available apps and skills. Alexa is compatible with a ton of things like robot vacuums, essential oil diffusers, and pet feeders. If you’re in the smart home hub game for extreme hands-free control of devices and for a wealth of hands-free skills, something from the Amazon Echo family is probably best for you.

Though each device has a different number of skills, there are a few features that are the same across the board. Each of the six devices is part of the Echo’s “second generation,” meaning they’ve all been updated with better tech. Other than the Dot and the Spot, the devices are each fully equipped Dolby Atmos speakers, which create a three dimensional sound effect Each device also has a feature called “drop-in,” which allows each Echo device in the house to act as an intercom for quick communication.

Amazon Echosupports a massive number of smart home devices, including brands like Philips Hue, Nest, and Wemo. Not only does the 2nd generation’s updated speaker sport impressive, higher-quality sound powered by Dolby, it also incorporates seven far-field microphones so that Alexa can hear your voice commands from longer distances.
Amazon Tap is the portable, Bluetooth speaker version of the Echo, making it perfect for music on the patio, during a picnic, or at the beach.While it was originally named the Tap because it required a tap of the finger to launch functions, it is now a hands-free but does not support voice calling, and Alexa only works when connected to Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot.

Amazon Echo Dotalso has the far-field microphones. Plus, it’s tiny — so if you’re not into super high-tech decor, your Dot will blend in seamlessly. The Dot is ideal for rooms in the house where big sound isn’t necessary (like the bedroom) but where you still want to be able to ask questions and control devices. The new Echo Dot will get a new feature called Echo Spatial Perception for multiple Echos or Dots set up in your home. ESP prevents all of them from going off at once when you say the Alexa command and the only one closest gets activated.

Amazon Echo Spot is the first of the Echo family to have a touch screen display in addition to all of the same voice commands. The Spot’s built-in camera affords some super convenient visual features, like hands-free video calling to anyone who has the Alexa app on their smartphone.

Amazon Echo Plus has a built-in Zigbee smart home hub, which basically means super easy setup of Zigbee smart devices.

Finally, the Amazon Echo Showincludes eight microphones to catch your commands, plus Dolby-powered speakers. Like the Spot, you can see flash news briefings and schedules, monitor security cameras, and enjoy video calling. With the Echo Show you’ll also get access to Prime Video and movies, and it can also be used as a digital picture frame.

Google Devices
Google Home is available in three levels and sizes: The Google Home, the Google Home Mini, and the Google Home Max. None of them have a screen, so video calling is a no-go as of now. One advantage that Google Home has over the Amazon Echo family is in the name: Google. While the Echo’s claim to fame is Alexa’s extensive number of skills, a robust search engine powers the Google Home. As such, it’s been said that Google Assistant answers questions significantly more often and more accurately than Alexa.

Another main draw of Google Home is its ability to understand questions of different structures: meaning that conversation is more natural with Google Home and doesn’t require such specific requests like Alexa. Google Home is also ace in recognizing different voices, so if your home is full of people running around in different directions, Voice Match comes in handy to provide each user’s personal schedule, playlists, and Netflix account.

Google Home is super minimalist and aesthetically pleasing, with a modular base that can be swapped for alternate color options. Group any combination of Google Home devices, Chromecast, or Chromecast speakers together for synchronous music all over the house and control smart plugs, lights, or any other smart home devices. It can also make hands-free calls, help with online shopping, and more.

Google Home Mini is shaped like a pebble and while it does not host a 360-degree speaker and is not ideal for crisp, quality music playback, voice commands via the two far-field microphones are still a go, and an external Bluetooth speaker can easily be connected if you’re in need of higher-quality sound. It is ideal for rooms in the house where big sound isn’t necessary (like the bedroom or laundry room) but where you still want to be able to ask questions and control devices.

Google Home Max is a seriously powerful home Bluetooth speaker with the power of AI. It’s meant to stay in place and it’s rather hefty (12 pounds, to be exact). Its six internal microphones are said to measure the acoustics of the room using machine learning, so the speaker can use that info to adjust the equalizer and give more balanced sound. Google has named this Smart Sound, and according to the reviews, the clarity and bass quality lives up to the name and then some.

Though the Home Max doesn’t have a screen, it does have a camera — and, when connected to Chromecast, your live security camera feed can be streamed on any TV. Of course, voice commands and smart home controls are also available, and Google Assistant is apparently superb at detecting “OK Google” commands even with music blasting.

Apple Devices
The diehard Apple fans had been waiting for a Siri version of the Echo or Google Home. The Apple HomePod gets activated by saying “Hey, Siri”. Six internal microphones allow Siri to hear your commands or questions, even from a distance.Apple’s HomePod comes with a long list of fine print. If you own an iOS device, subscribe to Apple Music then can live with Siri’s limited capabilities. The HomePod is not a Bluetooth speaker, but Siri can play almost any song imaginable through Apple Music.

One unique feature of the HomePod is that it uses spatial awareness to sense its own location and will adjust and tune the music to sound awesome wherever you are in the room. Sound is just as strong, if not stronger than that of the Google Home Max, and comes in a much less hefty device.

Siri can control smart devices like lights, thermostats, and your Apple TV, or make hands-free calls. As of now, the HomePod does not yet support food or Uber ordering and cannot recognize different voices, but we’re sure those updates aren’t too far off. Basically, the HomePod is the best smart home hub for those who want super quality sound and ultra-compatibility with other Apple devices, since an iPhone or iPad is required for operation.

Amazon Alexa
Pros
– Amazon’s Echo products are easy to set up and plug in anywhere that you need to summon Alexa.
– Echo Dot, the smaller speaker, is one of the cheapest smart home controllers in the market.
– Alexa has more than 10,000 Skills, or third-party capabilities, making it the most broadly supported smart home hub.
– The smartphone apps for setting up Echo products work with Apple and Android devices.
Cons
– Amazon’s Alexa app sometimes has difficulty responding to what you are asking it to do.
– The speakers on Echo products are generally mediocre.
– You can’t trigger Alexa by speaking to a smartphone; you have to talk to the speaker itself.
– In its privacy policy, Amazon says it takes no responsibility for third-party products that work with Alexa.

Google Assistant
Pros
– Google’s Home costs lesser than Amazon’s standard Echo speaker.
– In terms of artificial intelligence, Assistant is generally smarter than Alexa and Siri
– Google Home is powered by Google search enabling it to answer a broader array of questions and offer more likely a correct response.
Cons
– Summoning by saying “O.K., Google,” may get annoying.
– There are more smart home products supporting Alexa than Google’s Assistant.
– Google Home’s audio quality is just mediocre.
– While Assistant is smarter, it still has trouble responding to some requests appropriately.
– Google’s privacy policy on the data it collects with Google Home is vague.

Apple Siri
Pros
– With privacy in mind, Apple worked directly with home accessory makers to ensure that the data transferred between accessories and Apple devices is secure and encrypted.
– The integration of Apple’s HomeKit into its mobile devices makes it much easier to set up Siri with home accessories.
Cons
– Because of Apple’s stringent privacy requirements, smart home accessories supporting Siri are fewer
– Siri sometimes has trouble understanding what you are asking it to do.
– Siri is exclusive to Apple products.

Source: Mashable& NY Times

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