JBL’s $250 Google Assistant smart display is now available for pre-order

JBL’s 0 Google Assistant smart display is now available for pre-order
It’s been a week since Lenovo’s Google Assistant-powered smart display went on sale. Slowly but surely, its competitors are launching their versions, too. Today, JBL announced that its $249.95 JBL Link View is now available for pre-order, with an expected ship date of September 3, 2018.
JBL went for a slightly different design than Lenovo (and the upcoming LG WK9), but in terms of functionality, these devices are pretty much the same. The Link View features an 8-inch HD screen; unlike Lenovo’s Smart Display, JBL is not making a larger 10-inch version. It’s got two 10W speakers and the usual support for Bluetooth, as well as Google’s Chromecast protocol.
JBL says the unit is splash proof (IPX4), so you can safely use it to watch YouTube recipe videos in your kitchen. It also offers a 5MP front-facing camera for your video chats and a privacy switch that lets you shut off the camera and microphone.
JBL, Lenovo and LG all announced their Google Assistant smart displays at CES earlier this. Lenovo was the first to actually ship a product, and both the hardware as well as Google’s software received a positive reception. There’s no word on when LG’s WK9 will hit the market.

Review: Lenovo’s Google Smart Display is pretty and intelligent

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Google Assistant can now do things automatically at a scheduled time

Google Assistant can now do things automatically at a scheduled time
Back at Google I/O, Google announced two new features for Google Assistant: custom routines and schedules — both focusing on automating things you do regularly, but in different ways.
The first lets you trigger multiple commands with a single custom phrase — like saying “Hey Google, I’m awake” to unsilence your phone, turn on the lights and read the news. Schedules, meanwhile, could trigger a series of commands at a specific time on specific days, without you needing to say a thing.
While custom routines launched almost immediately after I/O, scheduling has been curiously absent. It’s starting to roll out today.
As first noticed by DroidLife, it looks like scheduling has started rolling out to users by way of the Google Home app.
To make a schedule:

Open the Google Home app
Go to Settings>Routines
Create a new routine with the + button
Scroll to the “Set a time and day” option to schedule things ahead of time

If you don’t see the “time and day” option yet, check back in a day or two. Google is rolling it out over the next few days (generally done in case there’s some bug it missed), so it might pop up without much fanfare.
Want your bedroom lights to turn on every morning at 7 am on workdays? You can do that. Want that song from the Six Flags commercials to play every day at noon to get you over the hump and/or drive your roommates up a wall? Sure! Want to double-check the door lock, dim the downstairs lights and make sure your entertainment center is off at 2 am? If you’ve got all the smart home hardware required, it should be able to handle it.
While a lot of things you might use Google Assistant for can already be scheduled through their respective third-party apps (most smart lights, for example, have apps with built-in scheduling options), this moves to bring everything under one roof while letting you fire off more complicated sequences all at once. And if something breaks? You’ll know where to look.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Digging deeper into smart speakers reveals two clear paths

Digging deeper into smart speakers reveals two clear paths
In a truly fascinating exploration into two smart speakers – the Sonos One and the Amazon Echo – BoltVC’s Ben Einstein has found some interesting differences in the way a traditional speaker company and an infrastructure juggernaut look at their flagship devices.
The post is well worth a full read but the gist is this: Sonos, a very traditional speaker company, has produced a good speaker and modified its current hardware to support smart home features like Alexa and Google Assistant. The Sonos One, notes Einstein, is a speaker first and smart hardware second.
“Digging a bit deeper, we see traditional design and manufacturing processes for pretty much everything. As an example, the speaker grill is a flat sheet of steel that’s stamped, rolled into a rounded square, welded, seams ground smooth, and then powder coated black. While the part does look nice, there’s no innovation going on here,” he writes.
The Amazon Echo, on the other hand, looks like what would happen if an engineer was given an unlimited budget and told to build something that people could talk to. The design decisions are odd and intriguing and it is ultimately less a speaker than a home conversation machine. Plus it is very expensive to make.
Pulling off the sleek speaker grille, there’s a shocking secret here: this is an extruded plastic tube with a secondary rotational drilling operation. In my many years of tearing apart consumer electronics products, I’ve never seen a high-volume plastic part with this kind of process. After some quick math on the production timelines, my guess is there’s a multi-headed drill and a rotational axis to create all those holes. CNC drilling each hole individually would take an extremely long time. If anyone has more insight into how a part like this is made, I’d love to see it! Bottom line: this is another surprisingly expensive part.

Sonos, which has been making a form of smart speaker for 15 years, is a CE company with cachet. Amazon, on the other hand, sees its devices as a way into living rooms and a delivery system for sales and is fine with licensing its tech before making its own. Therefore to compare the two is a bit disingenuous. Einstein’s thesis that Sonos’ trajectory is troubled by the fact that it depends on linear and closed manufacturing techniques while Amazon spares no expense to make its products is true. But Sonos makes speakers that work together amazingly well. They’ve done this for a decade and a half. If you compare their products – and I have – with competing smart speakers an non-audiophile “dumb” speakers you will find their UI, UX, and sound quality surpass most comers.
Amazon makes things to communicate with Amazon. This is a big difference.
Where Einstein is correct, however, is in his belief that Sonos is at a definite disadvantage. Sonos chases smart technology while Amazon and Google (and Apple, if their HomePod is any indication) lead. That said, there is some value to having a fully-connected set of speakers with add-on smart features vs. having to build an entire ecosystem of speaker products that can take on every aspect of the home theatre.
On the flip side Amazon, Apple, and Google are chasing audio quality while Sonos leads. While we can say that in the future we’ll all be fine with tinny round speakers bleating out Spotify in various corners of our room, there is something to be said for a good set of woofers. Whether this nostalgic love of good sound survives this generation’s tendency to watch and listen to low resolution media is anyone’s bet, but that’s Amazon’s bet to lose.
Ultimately Sonos is strong and fascinating company. An upstart that survived the great CE destruction wrought by Kickstarter and Amazon, it produces some of the best mid-range speakers I’ve used. Amazon makes a nice – almost alien – product, but given that it can be easily copied and stuffed into a hockey puck that probably costs less than the entire bill of materials for the Amazon Echo it’s clear that Amazon’s goal isn’t to make speakers.
Whether the coming Sonos IPO will be successful depends partially on Amazon and Google playing ball with the speaker maker. The rest depends on the quality of product and the dedication of Sonos users. This good will isn’t as valuable as a signed contract with major infrastructure players but Sonos’ good will is far more than Amazon and Google have with their popular but potentially intrusive product lines. Sonos lives in the home while Google and Amazon want to invade it. That is where Sonos wins.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Google Assistant is coming to Google Maps

Google Assistant is coming to Google Maps

Google wants to bundle its voice assistant into every device and app. And it’s true that it makes sense to integrate Google Assistant in Google Maps. It’ll be available on iOS and Android this summer.

At Google I/O, director of Google Assistant Lilian Rincon showed a demo of Google Maps with Google Assistant. Let’s say you’re driving and you’re using Google Maps for directions. You can ask Google Assistant to share your ETA without touching your phone.

You can also control the music with your voice for instance. Rincon even played music on YouTube, but without the video element of course. It lets you access YouTube’s extensive music library while driving.

If you’re using a newer car with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, you’ve already been using voice assistants in your car. But many users rely exclusively on their phone. That’s why it makes sense to integrate Google Assistant in Google Maps directly.

It’s also a great way to promote Google Assistant to users who are not familiar with it yet. That could be an issue as Google Assistant asks for a ton of data when you first set it up. It forces you to share your location history, web history and app activity. Basically you let Google access everything you do with your phone.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

You can now easily buy movie tickets with Google Assistant

You can now easily buy movie tickets with Google Assistant

Google Assistant is gaining some new capabilities thanks to a deal with Fandango that should make ordering movie tickets a quick and easy process. Simply tell Google Assistant that you want to buy some movie tickets and you’ll see what’s playing nearby; you can dial in the specificity to find out just what’s playing at a specific theater or at which theaters a particular flick is going to be.

The deal is going live on May the Fourth™ in honor of the Star Wars™ marketing holiday and the fact that advanced tickets for Solo: A Star Wars Story™ are going on sale today.

This functionality is something that’s been available on Siri, but Google Assistant allows you to make the purchase without downloading the Fandango app, which had pretty much negated most of the utility this feature had on Siri.

For now, this launch is just for Google Assistant on Android phones, but if you’re perplexingly a heavy user of the Google Assistant app on iOS, then you’ll be able to get your movie ticket ordering functionality sometime later this year.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

The NEEO universal remote is a modern Logitech Harmony alternative

The NEEO universal remote is a modern Logitech Harmony alternative
The advanced universal remote market is not a very crowded market. In fact, for a while now, Logitech’s Harmony line has been pretty much the only game in town. Newcomer NEEO wants to upset that monopoly with its new NEEO Remote and NEEO Brain combo ($369), which is a system that can connect to just about any AV system, along with a smorgasbord of connected smart devices including Nest, Philips Hue, Sonos and more.
NEEO’s two-part system includes the Brain, which, true to its name, handles all of the heavy lifting. This is a puck-shaped device with 360-degree IR blasters dotting its outside perimeter, and which has one IR extender out (there’s one in the box) for connecting devices held within a closed AV cabinet, for instance. This central hub also connects to your Wi-Fi network, and setup requires plugging it into your router via Ethernet to get everything squared away, similar to how you initially set up Sonos speakers, if you’re familiar with that process.
Most of the setup work you need to do to get NEEO working happens on your phone, and that’s where it becomes apparent that this smart remote was designed for a modern context. Logitech’s Harmony software has come a long way, and now you can do everything you need to do from the iOS and Android app, but it’s still somewhat apparent that its legacy is as something you initially setup using a desktop and somewhat awkward web-based software. The NEEO feels at home on mobile, and it makes the setup and configuration process much better overall.
The other core component of the NEEO system is the NEEO Remote. This is a fantastic piece of industrial design, first of all. It’s a sleek rectangle crafted from aerospace-grade aluminum that oozes charm, in a way that nothing in the current Logitech Harmony lineup can come close to matching. The minimalist design still doesn’t suffer from the ‘which way is up?’ problem that the Apple Remote faces, because of subtle design cues including bottom weighting and the presence of ample physical buttons.

A NEEO Remote isn’t necessary for the system to work – you can just use the Brain along with the companion app for iPhone or Android, but the remote is a joy to hold and use, thanks to its unique design, and it features a super high density display that’s extremely responsive to touch input and pleasingly responsive to touch. NEEO took a lot of time to get this touchscreen experience right, and it pays off, delivering a clear and simple control interface that shifts to suit the needs of whatever activity you’re running at the time.
The NEEO Remote also has an “SOS” feature so that you can locate it if you happen to misplace it, and it can even be configured to recognize different hands if you want to set profiles for distinct members of the household, or set parental control profiles limiting access to certain content or devices. This kind of thing is where NEEO’s feature set exceeds the competition, and shows a particular attention to modern device use cases.
One NEEO Remote can also control multiple NEEO Brains, which is another limitation of the completion. That means you can set up NEEO Brains in each room where you have devices to control, and carry your remote from place to place instead of having to have multiple. The NEEO Brain is still $200 on its own, however, so it’s definitely still a barrier to entry.
NEEO otherwise does pretty much everything you’d expect a smart remote to do in 2018: You can set recipes on the deice itself, including with triggers like time-based alarms or motion detection (without using IFTTT). You can connect it to Alexa, though that functionality is limited at the moment, with more updates promised in future to make this better.
The bottom line is that NEEO offers a competent, intelligent alternative the big dog on the block, Logitech’s Harmony system. Logitech’s offering is still more robust and mature in terms of delivering Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, as well as rock solid performance, but NEEO has some clever ideas and unique takes that will serve more patient and tech-forward users better over time.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch