Posts tagged “Google Assistant

A Google I/O smothered with Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

Google I/O 2018 has been in the record books for over a week, as it happened on May 8, 2018 — yet people are still talking about the latest in Android P, Google Duplex, Google Assistant, Google News and more — along with a healthy helping of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt, that’s to loudmouths from the Apple community, more on that later).


If you had no idea what Artificial Intelligence (AI) was before this keynote, it was literally said thousands of times — I hope you know what AI is now after this 2 hour dose of Google.  If you’d like the TLDR of Google I/O 2018, you’ll find it below along with my full analysis:

Source: The Verge, YouTube

Google Assistant

Currently able to work with over 5000 smart devices, getting 30 languages in 80 countries by the end of the year, Google Assistant is shaping up to be one of the best, if not best digital assistants when compared to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa offerings.  Additionally, Assistant is working to be more conversational by negating the need for the requesting person to constant say the trigger phrase, “OK Google” to trigger more subsequent actions, Assistant literally will wait for a second or two, while waiting for additional input.  Multiple Actions are introduced, which work with an “and” thrown in between the commands such as, “Turn off the office lights and set a rice timer for 10 minutes“.

Next came the unveiling of Google Duplex, AI at it’s finest.  Google Duplex is a technology that utilizes Google Assistant to call restaurants and other places to book services for you and potentially more.  Imagine the utility that this can have for those with speech difficulties and more.  Additionally, with Assistant sounding so lifelike with implementations of “mmhhmm” and “ummm” — the conversation can be much easier.  See a demo and reaction from MKBHD, here:

Source: MKBHD, YouTube

This where the FUD (translation: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) come in, usually from pundits on the Apple side such as Rene Ritchie (just Google Rene Ritchie biased, if you don’t believe me), who has a tendency to be extremely biased against any company not named Apple.

Let’s lay a couple of things out so that they can be easily understood:

  • For Google to parse through real time communication, the call must be recorded.  With that being said, this will likely be unavailable in certain states due to law.  At the end of the day, as a human, we usually can discern if we are talking to a human or not.
  • Assistant will announce itself when it places a call for you, read more here.

So what does the above mean for privacy?  If you receive one of these calls, as a business, and you do not want to engage — hang up and move on.  Google has been addressing privacy and security in many realms. Let’s note that they have one of the most comprehensive and easy to understand privacy statements of any tech company. However, this tech is coming, whether you like it or not and the usefulness of this will be huge, especially for accessibility — all the while companies like Google and others need to help ensure that privacy and security remain at the forefront.

Google News

With Google, there is constant re-branding among many of it’s products and services.  Remember Nexus?  Remember Google Reader?  Remember the Android Market?  All of these either got axed by Google or renamed.  From Nexus to Pixel, Google Reader is just gone and the Android Market is now called Google Play, with Google even working to remove “Play” from many of the names of it’s apps and services.

With that being said, Google Play Newsstand is no more, in comes Google News and oh, is it great.

IMG_2108

In app screenshot from Google News.

For You is all about your briefing — what topics have you added and are following, such as Apple, Android, NBA — the list goes on.  What’s excellent about it is that it is a timeline of what’s happening in your world, but that isn’t where Google News stops.

Headlines takes you outside of your comfort zone.  Headlines gives you the latest world, business, tech, entertainment, sports, science and health news without any bearings on your preferences, which truly brings you up to date in what is going on around you while removing you from the bubble that you’ve created with your topics.

Favorites lists out all topics and sources that you’ve added into Google News that you follow.  Additionally, saved stories and magazines find their home here.

Newsstand is all about sources, you can add sources by searching or coming here.

Overall, Google News is a major win and I suggest you try it, unless you believe that everything Google does is of the devil.

Android

Android P is coming, folks and it’s going to bring some incremental changes on top of Oreo, let’s break it down!

This update aims to focus on 3 pillars: Intelligence, Simplicity and Digital Well-Being.

First up, Adaptive Battery (Intelligence), focuses on reducing the number of CPU wake-ups for apps — when these become more and more infrequent, this will reduce the amount of battery drain.

Next, we learned about Predictive Actions (Intelligence), which is all about understanding how you utilize your device so that it doesn’t take you as long to complete certain tasks.  Before we go forward, all of this user data is stored locally on the device and is encrypted.  Ever open your app drawer to scroll down to your favorite workout app…..everyday….at 5 PM — this is one of the things that Predictive Actions will help with.  Android will learn the apps that you use and under which circumstances and group them together at the top of the drawer so that they will be easier for you to get to.

Source: The Verge, YouTube

Followed up by a beta “Nav bar”, which is eerily similar to the bar on iPhone X, just not as graceful in implementation — note that Android P is in beta and while this first implemtation includes a bit of “jank”, I’m expecting this to grow into a good design choice, hopefully.

We all deal with a bit of device addiction to a certain degree.  Under that sentiment, Google will all you to gray-scale your phone after a certain time so that apps and the UI are not as intriguing to you, thus leading you to put it down (Digital Well-Being).

Maps and Waymo

Google Maps leads the way in digital mapping and updates keep making it get better and better.  This years IO showed us a VPS or Visual Positioning System in which the user can hold up their phone to the world and directions will overlay on the real world.

Source: TWiT, YouTube

Maps is good for us and it’s even more vital for self-driving cars.

In comes Waymo (Google’s self-driving car project).

Waymo has been testing it’s software with an early-rider project and users are loving the tech in its initial city, Phoenix.  With 6 million miles driven on public roads, this technology is only going to get better and better with the data being collected, such as “unusual behavior”, which allows the car to detect bad drivers and avoid accidents.

Source: ExpovistaTV, YouTube

Wrapping Up

Google I/O 2018 was long, fun, unneeded fear-mongering and full of excitement, which has been outlined above .  However, there are some things that I didn’t mention, so feel free to watch this wrap up video, from Google Developers:

Source: Google Developers, YouTube

Apple HomePod Impressions

Easily one of the most aesthetic, beautiful smart speakers on the market.

Enter Apple HomePod.

Let’s start off by saying that Apple is marketing this as a device that is “speaker first”, meaning that they are aiming to provide a device that gives you excellent sound quality with a voice interface, which is controlled by Siri.  That doesn’t necessarily make it a smart speaker right?  Well, it sort of does, especially when you can control HomeKit devices, send iMessages and play music — all tell tale signs of smart speakers. So although Apple doesn’t want the comparisons — there will be and I’d argue that there should be and is, based off of what this device does.

IMG_1669

Apple HomePod (white), pictured in Apple Store.


Background

Apple has noted that HomePod has been in development for 6 years. That being said, this product aims to mesh together the worlds of audio, smart assistants and more in a pint sized package.

Design

As I noted, the design of the Apple HomePod is nothing short of fantastic.  It is a hefty, yet small speaker featuring a soft mesh outer covering housing the many speakers, tweeters and microphones crammed inside.  There are two colors that HomePod comes in, white, which gets dirty quickly and space gray.  When it comes to ports on the device — there are none, with the only thing coming from the HomePod is it’s power cable, which is of exceptionally high quality featuring a woven covering.  Note that are no other ports on the device, no aux in, no USB, which should be fine for most, as we are moving to a predominately wireless world.

Sound

I was able to get in a solid test, standing fairly close and moving my head all around in a local Apple Store and I was thoroughly blown away.  The key thing to remember about how this sounds is “sound separation”, a listener can literally hear all of the sounds coming from the speakers, every instrument, every differentiating aspect of the song is clear and very crisp.  This is one of the biggest differences when comparing to a Google Home, which I currently own, or Amazon Alexa.  Google Home in comparison sounds slightly muffled and sounds mesh together, while HomePod seems to produce the music in a very accurate way. However, when it comes to overall volume, the Google Home Max still takes the cake in this department — that thing is just loud with very good bass.

See a sound test below comparing the HomePod to other smart speakers as well as Sonos Play (which I believe has an edge over HomePod, with Google Home Max being louder but lacking the auidble clarity due to distortion at higher volumes):

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/oImOYg_dSl0

On the other hand, the only sound that you can ask Siri for is for music from Apple Music.  No Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, Tidal (laughs) or others unless you choose to AirPlay them, which somewhat takes the intuitiveness out of it.  If I have to grab my phone, go to an audio source and Air Play that source to the HomePod — then what are we doing? It’s simply too much effort when voice is my supposed interface. In fact, to set the device up, you must have an iOS device running iOS 11.2.5.  So all of the Android users that utilize Apple Music — you cannot setup this device.

Note:  Since this review and hands-on was done in store, I was unable to test “Hey Siri” functionality.

Ecosystem

This device is heavily integrated into the Apple ecosystem and it’s thought process on devices and services you should have.  With that being said, the lock-in here is huge with only Apple Music being at the forefront with no other alternatives even being available to control via voice unless you’re noting for it to move to the next track.

Privacy

Unfortunately, at this time, Siri cannot support multiple users.  An example is that if you ask it to read personal details such as text messages and your notes, it will read those items off to anyone that issues the “Hey Siri” command to it.  This is especially odd, since Apple touts this device as being very private and other Apple-centric analysts on podcasts are quoted as saying, “I’d never have a Google or Amazon speaker in my house due to privacy“.  Siri can differentiate between voices on your iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, but can’t on HomePod.  This is a huge miss and being someone, who is privacy focused and someone who deletes my voice data weekly from Google Home, I understand the need for differentiation of voices on smart devices — yet this goes full circle to Siri not being that smart and the fact that there are multiple versions of Siri spread across Apple’s ecosystem.  You have Siri on iPhone and iPad, which are identical, then you have the gimped versions on Apple Watch, Mac OS, Apple TV and finally HomePod.  So let’s not talk about “privacy” (this is talking to you, Rene Ritchie from Vector) until Siri can stop being so fragmented across devices made by the same company. Additionally, HomePod doesn’t offer a mute switch for the microphone either, which is featured on Google Home and Amazon Echo devices — instead, you must ask Siri to mute the microphone using a command.


Overall

If you are engrossed in the Apple ecosystem and are in the market for a speaker that can deliver excellent sound quality, HomePod may be right for you.  However, no product comes without it’s limitations, as Apple simply isn’t open to many other companies when it comes to HomeKit integrations or third party music platforms and if you’re accepting of that, this could be right for you.  AirPlay 2, stereo pairing with other HomePod devices and other features are slated to be released to the devices later in 2018. Siri capabilities are quite a disappointment as Siri on your iPhone can do more than on the HomePod.

At the end of the day, if an only if you’re committed to everything Apple would I recommend this.

All About Google Home

“Ok Google!  Turn down the lights and make me a sandwich!” — Isn’t this something you’ve been waiting to shout into the depths of your home?  Of course it is, except for maybe the sandwich part.
My friends, the time is here.  Meet Google Home.
We’ve seen and heard the fuss that Amazon’s Echo has made in the digital assistant and smart home world, but it’s time for our friend Google to try it’s hand at it with Google Home, powered by Google Assistant.  That’s right, Google Now and search have been prepping us for this moment and it’s here.  How?  Your voice searches are saved (you didn’t know?) and are used intelligently (not shared) by Google to help power it’s natural language platform that will allow for the Assistant to communicate with you and understand you better.  Doing so simply makes it easier to get the information you need faster based off of the questions you ask.
Google Home will additionally serve as a central automation hub for your home, which will further propel you into the internet of things (IoT).  The device is slated to work with Chromecast, Nest and Philips Hue with certainly more to come.  What does this mean?  While using the Google Home as your hub with you other devices, this will unlock a range of capabilities that will make controlling each of them that much simpler.
The design of the device is simply beautiful and blends in seamlessly with your interior decor.  In the housing are far-field microphone that will help to decipher your voice, in addition to a hi-fi speaker that is designed to deliver crystal-clear highs and rich bass.  On top, there are touch controls that gives the user full control of the device complete with a microphone mute button on the back.
Did I mention that Google Home is hands-free?
Bottom line:  This is what has taken Google 18 years to design, build and create for us.  The future is now and the internet, a recipe, the weather, your to-do list are all literally one keyword away.  Pre-Order yours today, here.