Google Home Mini was the best-selling smart speaker in Q2

Google Home Mini was the best-selling smart speaker in Q2
Amazon’s Echo Dot may have been a bestseller on Prime Day, but Google’s Home Mini device is now the top-selling smart speaker worldwide, according to a new report out this morning from Strategy Analytics. The analyst firm says Google’s small speaker accounted for 1 in 5 smart speaker shipments in Q2 2018, edging out the Echo Dot with its 2.3 million global shipments compared to Echo Dot’s 2.2 million.
Combined, these two entry-level smart speakers – the Echo Dot and Home Mini – accounted for 38% of global shipments, the firm found.

In total, 11.7 million smart speaker devices were shipped during Q2, with 4 out of the top 5 devices coming from either Amazon or Google.
Following the Dot, was Amazon’s flagship Echo device with 1.4 million shipments, then Alibaba’s Tmail Genie (0.8m), and Google Home (0.8m).
Apple’s HomePod wasn’t ranked in the top five, but took a 6% share of the shipments in Q2.
However, HomePod’s premium focus and higher price tag allowed it to take a sizable chunk of smart speaker revenue during this period.
While the Home Mini and Echo Dot combined accounted for 17% of smart speaker revenues, Apple’s HomePod alone took a 16% share of wholesale revenues. And in terms of devices above the $200 price point, the HomePod had a 70% revenue share.
Strategy Analytics’s report also indicated this growing market is still in flux, thanks to expected new arrivals which could impact the shares held today by existing players.
“The number of smart speaker models available worldwide has grown significantly over the last twelve months as vendors look to capitalize on the explosive market growth,” said David Mercer, Vice President at Strategy Analytics, in a statement. “Heavyweight brands such as Samsung and Bose are in the process of launching their first models, adding further credibility to the segment and giving consumers more options at the premium-end of the marker,” he added.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Committed to privacy, Snips founder wants to take on Alexa and Google, with blockchain

Committed to privacy, Snips founder wants to take on Alexa and Google, with blockchain
Earlier this year we saw the headlines of how the users of popular voice assistants like Alexa and Siri and continue to face issues when their private data is compromised, or even sent to random people. In May it was reported that Amazon’s Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent it to a random contact. Amazon insists its Echo devices aren’t always recording, but it did confirm the audio was sent.
The story could be a harbinger of things to come when voice becomes more and more ubiquitous. After all, Amazon announced the launch of Alexa for Hospitality, its Alexa system for hotels, in June. News stories like this simply reinforce the idea that voice control is seeping into our daily lives.
The French startup Snips thinks it might have an answer to the issue of security and data privacy. Its built its software to run 100% on-device, independently from the cloud. As a result, user data is processed on the device itself, acting as a potentially stronger guarantor of privacy. Unlike centralized assistants like Alexa and Google, Snips knows nothing about its users.
Its approach is convincing investors. To date, Snips has raised €22 million in funding from investors like Korelya Capital, MAIF Avenir, BPI France and Eniac Ventures. Created in 2013 by 3 PhDs, and now employing more than 60 people in Paris and New York, Snips offers its voice assistant technology as a white-labelled solution for enterprise device manufacturers.
It’s tested its theories about voice by releasing the result of a consumer poll. The survey of 410 people found that 66% of respondents said they would be apprehensive of using a voice assistant in a hotel room, because of concerns over privacy, 90% said they would like to control the ways corporations use their data, even if it meant sacrificing convenience.
“Сonsumers are increasingly aware of the privacy concerns with voice assistants that rely on cloud storage — and that these concerns will actually impact their usage,” says Dr Rand Hindi, co-founder and CEO at Snips. “However, emerging technologies like blockchain are helping us to create safer and fairer alternatives for voice assistants.”
Indeed, blockchain is very much part of Snip’s future. As Hindi told TechCrunch in May, the company will release a new set of consumer devices independent of its enterprise business. The idea is to create a consumer business that will prompt further enterprise development. At the same time, they will issue a cryptographic token via an ICO to incentivize developers to improve the Snips platform, as an alternative to using data from consumers. The theory goes that this will put it at odds with the approach used by Google and Amazon, who are constantly criticised for invading our private lives merely to improve their platforms.
As a result Hindi believes that as voice-controlled devices become an increasingly common sight in public spaces, there could be a significant shift in public opinion about how their privacy is being protected.
In an interview conducted last month with TechCrunch, Hindi told me the company’s plans for its new consumer product are well advanced, and will be designed from the beginning to be improved over time using a combination of decentralized machine learning and cryptography.
By using blockchain technology to share data, they will be able to train the network “without ever anybody sending unencrypted data anywhere,” he told me.
And ‘training the network” is where it gets interesting. By issuing a cryptographic token for developers to use, Hindi says they will incentivize devs to work on their platform and process data in a decentralized fashion. They are starting from a good place. He claims they already have 14,000 developers on the platform who will be further incentivized by a token economy.
“Otherwise people have no incentive to process that data in a decentralized fashion, right?” he says.
“We got into blockchain because we’re trying to find a way to get people to participate in decentralized machine learning. We’ve been wanting to get into consumer [devices] for a couple of years but didn’t really figure out the end goal because we had always had this missing element which was: how do you keep making it better over time.”
“This is the main argument for Google and Amazon to pretend that you need to send your data to them, to make the service better. If we can fix this [by using blockchain] then we can offer a real alternative to Alexa that guarantees Privacy by Design,” he says.
“We now have over 14000 developers building for us and that’s really completely organic growth, zero marketing, purely word of mouth, which is really nice because it shows that there’s a very big demand for decentralized voice assistance, effectively.”
It could be a high-risk strategy. Launching a voice-controlled device is one thing. Layering it with applications produced by developed supposedly incentivized by tokens, especially when crypto prices have crashed, is quite another.
It does definitely feel like a moonshot idea, however, and we’ll really only know if Snips can live up to such lofty ideals after the launch.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Answering its critics, Google loosens reins on AMP project

Answering its critics, Google loosens reins on AMP project

Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, has been a controversial project since its debut. The need for the framework has been clear: the payloads of mobile pages can be just insane, what with layers and layers of images, JavaScript, ad networks, and more slowing down page rendering time and costing users serious bandwidth on metered plans.

Yet, the framework has been aggressively foisted on the community by Google, which has backed the project not just with technical talent, but also by making algorithmic changes to its search results that have essentially mandated that pages comply with the AMP project’s terms — or else lose their ranking on mobile searches.

Even more controversially, as part of making pages faster, the AMP project uses caches of pages on CDNs — which are hosted by Google (and also Cloudflare now). That meant that Google’s search results would direct a user to an AMP page hosted by Google, effectively cutting out the owner of the content in the process.

The project has been led by Malte Ubl, a senior staff engineer working on Google’s Javascript infrastructure projects, who has until now held effective unilateral control over the project.

In the wake of all of this criticism, the AMP project announced today that it would reform its governance, replacing Ubl as the exclusive tech lead with a technical steering committee comprised of companies invested in the success in the project. Notably, the project’s intention has an “…end goal of not having any company sit on more than a third of the seats.” In addition, the project will create an advisory board and working groups to shepherd the project’s work.

The project is also expected to move to a foundation in the future. These days, there are a number of places such a project could potentially reside, including the Apache Software Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation.

While the project has clearly had its detractors, the performance improvements that AMP has been fighting for are certainly meritorious. With this more open governance model, the project may get deeper support from other browser makers like Apple, Mozilla, and Microsoft, as well as the broader open source community.

And while Google has certainly been the major force behind the project, it has also been popular among open source software developers. Since the project’s launch, there have been 710 contributors to the project according to its statistics, and the project (attempting to empathize its non-Google monopoly) notes that more than three-quarters of those contributors don’t work at Google.

Nonetheless, more transparency and community involvement should help to accelerate Accelerated Mobile Pages. The project will host its contributor summit next week at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, where these governance changes as well as the technical and design roadmaps for the project will be top of mind for attendees.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

The Google Assistant is now bilingual 

The Google Assistant is now bilingual 
The Google Assistant just got more useful for multilingual families. Starting today, you’ll be able to set up two languages in the Google Home app and the Assistant on your phone and Google Home will then happily react to your commands in both English and Spanish, for example.
Today’s announcement doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, given that Google announced at its I/O developer conference earlier this year that it was working on this feature. It’s nice to see that this year, Google is rolling out its I/O announcements well before next year’s event. That hasn’t always been the case in the past.
Currently, the Assistant is only bilingual and it still has a few languages to learn. But for the time being, you’ll be able to set up any language pair that includes English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. More pairs are coming in the future and Google also says it is working on trilingual support, too.
Google tells me this feature will work with all Assistant surfaces that support the languages you have selected. That’s basically all phones and smart speakers with the Assistant, but not the new smart displays, as they only support English right now.

While this may sound like an easy feature to implement, Google notes this was a multi-year effort. To build a system like this, you have to be able to identify multiple languages, understand them and then make sure you present the right experience to the user. And you have to do all of this within a few seconds.
Google says its language identification model (LangID) can now distinguish between 2,000 language pairs. With that in place, the company’s researchers then had to build a system that could turn spoken queries into actionable results in all supported languages. “When the user stops speaking, the model has not only determined what language was being spoken, but also what was said,” Google’s VP Johan Schalkwyk and Google Speech engineer Lopez Moreno write in today’s announcement. “Of course, this process requires a sophisticated architecture that comes with an increased processing cost and the possibility of introducing unnecessary latency.”

If you are in Germany, France or the U.K., you’ll now also be able to use the bilingual assistant on a Google Home Max. That high-end version of the Google Home family is going on sale in those countries today.
In addition, Google also today announced that a number of new devices will soon support the Assistant, including the tado° thermostats, a number of new security and smart home hubs (though not, of course, Amazon’s own Ring Alarm), smart bulbs and appliances, including the iRobot Roomba 980, 896 and 676 vacuums. Who wants to have to push a button on a vacuum, after all.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Google’s Wear OS gets a new look

Google’s Wear OS gets a new look
Wear OS, Google’s smartwatch operating system that was once called Android Wear, is getting a new look today. Google says the overall idea here is to give you quicker access to information and more proactive help. In line with the Google Fit redesign, Wear OS now also provides you with the same kind of health coaching as the Android app.
In practice, this means you can now swipe through multiple notifications at once, for example. Previously, you had to go from one notifications card to the next, which sound minor but was indeed a bit of a hassle. Like before, you bring up the new notifications feed by swiping up. If you want to reply or take any other action, you tap the notification to bring up those options.

Wear OS is also getting a bit of a Google Now replacement. Simply swipe right and the Google Assistant will bring up the weather, your flight status, hotel notifications or other imminent events. Like in most other Assistant-driven interfaces, Google will also use this area to help you discover other Assistant features like setting timers (though I think everybody knows how to use the Assistant to set a time given that I’m sure that’s 90% of Assistant usage right there).

As for Google Fit, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Wear OS is adapting the same circle design with Hear Points and Move Minutes as the Android app. On a round Wear OS watch, that design actually looks quite well.
While this obviously isn’t a major break from previous versions, we’re definitely talking about quality-of-life improvements here that do make using Wear OS just that little bit easier.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Google launches Cameos, a video Q&A app aimed at celebs and public figures

Google launches Cameos, a video Q&A app aimed at celebs and public figures

Google has launched a new video-based Q&A app called Cameos on the App Store, which allows people to answer questions about themselves, then share those answers directly on Google. The app is aimed at celebrities and other public figures, who are often the subject of people’s Google searches. With the Cameos app, they can address fans’ questions in their own voice, instead of leaving the answers up to other websites.

The feature is an extension of the company’s “Posts on Google” platform which has been slowly rolling out over the past couple of years, giving some people and organizations the ability to post directly to Google’s search result pages.

Initially, “Posts on Google” was open only to a small number of celebrities, sports teams and leagues, movie studios and museums. But last year, it expanded to local businesses who could then publish their events, products and services. This spring, it opened up to musicians. And it had been earlier experimenting with a feature that inserted celebs’ video answers into search, as well.

Those invited to use the service have been able to post updates to Google which include text, images, video, GIFs, events, and links to other sites. In a way, it’s like Google’s version of Twitter – but with the goal of helping web searchers find answers to questions.

The new Cameos app is focused specifically on video posts.

As the App Store description explains: “Record video answers to the most asked questions on Google and then post them right to Google. Now, when people search for you, they’ll get answers directly from you.”

The app also allows celebrities using Cameos to see the top questions the internet wants answers to, so they can pick and choose which of those they want to answer. Their answers, recorded with their iPhone’s camera, will be published directly to Google search and in the Google app.

The service brings to mind Instagram’s new Q&A feature, launched this July. Via a Questions widget that’s added to an Instagram Story, users can solicit questions from their followers. The recipient can then select the questions they want to respond to, and post their replies publicly to their Instagram Story.

The feature become so popular, so quickly, that it began to dominate people’s Stories feed. There was even a bit of backlash.

Google’s Cameo video answers could be more useful, as they’d only appear when that question was searched on Google. It would also give Google a social platform of sorts – a market it has tried to compete in for years, and is now littered with failures like Orkut, Dodgeball, Latitude, Lively, Google Wave, Google Buzz, and of course, Google+. At least with Posts, Google is focusing on what it does best: Search.

Google confirmed the feature is part of its earlier efforts around Posts on Google using video. The Cameos app is part of a pilot that makes it possible for celebrities and other prominent figures to participate, a spokesperson said.

The Cameos app description also notes that it will add more questions for celebs to answer on a regular basis.

Access to use Cameos is only available upon invitation. Those interested can download the iOS app to request access.

Updated 8/9/18, 11:20 AM with Google comment

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Fossil announces new update to Android Wear watches with HR tracking, GPS

Fossil announces new update to Android Wear watches with HR tracking, GPS
Fossil’s Q watch line is an interesting foray by a traditional fashion watchmaker into the wearable world. Their latest additions to the line, the Fossil Q Venture HR and Fossil Q Explorist HR, add a great deal of Android Wear functionality to a watch that is reminiscent of Fossil’s earlier, simpler watches. In other words, these are some nice, low-cost smartwatches for the fitness fan.
The original Q watches included a clever hybrid model with analog face and step counter. As the company expanded into wearables, however, they went the Android Wear route and created a number of lower-powered touchscreen watches. Now, thanks to a new chipset, Fossil is able to add a great deal more functionality in a nice package. The Venture and the Explorist adds untethered GPS, NFC, heart rate and 24-hour battery life. It also includes an altimeter and gyroscope sensor.
The new watches start at $255 and run the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip, an optimized chipset for fitness watches.
The watch comes in multiple styles and with multiple bands and features 36 faces, including health and fitness-focused faces for the physically ambitious. The watch also allows you to pay with Google Pay — Apple Pay isn’t supported — and you can store content on the watch for runs or walks. It also tracks swims and is waterproof. The Venture and Explorist are 40mm and 45mm, respectively, and the straps are interchangeable. While they’re no $10,000 Swiss masterpiece, these things look — and work — pretty good.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Magic Leap One AR headset for devs costs more than 2x the iPhone X

Magic Leap One AR headset for devs costs more than 2x the iPhone X
It’s been a long and trip-filled wait but mixed reality headgear maker Magic Leap will finally, finally be shipping its first piece of hardware this summer.
We were still waiting on the price-tag — but it’s just been officially revealed: The developer-focused Magic Leap One ‘creator edition’ headset will set you back at least $2,295.
So a considerable chunk of change — albeit this bit of kit is not intended as a mass market consumer device (although Magic Leap’s founder frothed about it being “at the border of practical for everybody” in an interview with the Verge) but rather an AR headset for developers to create content that could excite future consumers.

Here we go. Magic Leap One Creator Edition is now available to purchase. So if you’re a #developer, creator or explorer, join us as we venture deeper into the world of #spatialcomputing. Take the leap at https://t.co/8HbsM1yNQo #FreeYourMind pic.twitter.com/mpEqNFltlo
— Magic Leap (@magicleap) August 8, 2018

A ‘Pro’ version of the kit — with an extra hub cable and some kind of rapid replacement service if the kit breaks — costs an additional $495, according to CNET. While certain (possibly necessary) extras such as prescription lenses also cost more. So it’s pushing towards 3x iPhone Xes at that point.
The augmented reality startup, which has raised at least $2.3 billion, according to Crunchbase, attracting a string of high profile investors including Google, Alibaba, Andreessen Horowitz and others, is only offering its first piece of reality bending eyewear to “creators in cities across the contiguous U.S.”.
Potential buyers are asked to input their zip code via its website to check if it will agree to take their money but it adds that “the list is growing daily”.
We tried the TC SF office zip and — unsurprisingly — got an affirmative of delivery there. But any folks in, for example, Hawaii wanting to spend big to space out are out of luck for now…

CNET reports that the headset is only available in six U.S. cities at this stage: Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco (Bay Area), and Seattle — with Magic Leap saying that “many” more will be added in fall.
The company specifies it will “hand deliver” the package to buyers — and “personally get you set up”. So evidently it wants to try to make sure its first flush of expensive hardware doesn’t get sucked down the toilet of dashed developer expectations.
It describes the computing paradigm it’s seeking to shift, i.e. with the help of enthused developers and content creators, as “spatial computing” — but it really needs a whole crowd of technically and creatively minded people to step with it if it’s going to successfully deliver that.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Google plans to roll out digital wellness features in Pie but Apple’s already got ’em

Google plans to roll out digital wellness features in Pie but Apple’s already got ’em
Google hopes to add a few digital wellness features to its latest desserted update, Pie (out today) but Apple is already on this health track with its latest update for iOS 12.
Digital wellness allows users to keep track of time spent on and unplug from your digital device when needed. Google announced the new wellness features coming to Android at I/O in May, including a dashboard for digital wellness, or the ability to track just how much time you spend on your device, an app timer that lets you set time limits on apps, a new Do Not Disturb feature that silences pop-up notifications and Wind Down, a feature to help you switch on Night Light and Do Not Disturb when it’s time to hit the hay.
Apple is also making digital wellness a focus. New features in this space were announced during its WWDC conference earlier this summer and the company has included an updated “Do Not Disturb” feature in the iOS 12 update, also out today.
Several studies have suggested the importance of unplugging and breaking our addictions to our smartphones for our sanity’s sake, and it seems Google would like to help us do just that with these new features. However, the new digital wellness features aren’t quite available in the latest Pie update, out today. We’ve asked Google why not and will update you when and if we hear back on that.
Meanwhile, Apple continues to roll ahead, adding its own controls to help iPhone owners curb their app and screen time usage. Similar to Android’s future offerings, iOS 12 includes a dash with a weekly report on how you spend time on your device. A feature called Downtime helps you schedule time away from your screen (versus just leaving your phone somewhere, seeing a notification and being tempted to pick it up), a feature to set time limits on apps and a way to block inappropriate content from reaching your screen as well.
Apple beats Android in this department for now, but those features will supposedly be made available to everyone with a Google phone eventually. For those wanting to check out the new digital wellness features for Android, you can still do that today, but only if you happen to have a Google Pixel — and only if you’ve signed up for the beta version.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

15 names that would have been better than Android Pie

15 names that would have been better than Android Pie

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you make a mobile operating system, and somewhere along the line, you decided whimsically to name major updates after alphabetical dessert foods. What a fun idea!

Sure, some letters will prove harder than others. “K” and “O” are admittedly tough, but that’s nothing that little bit of clever cross-branding can’t fix. Who doesn’t love a good Kit-Kat or Oreo? (Don’t @ me.) Others, however, will be simple. In fact, some letters will be such an embarrassment of riches. “P” is one such letter. There are a ridiculous number of options for the consonant.

So, naturally, Google went with the most boring one possible.

Pie. Freaking Android Pie. It sounds more like a rejected Philip K. Dick manuscript than mobile operating system. If this was Android 3.14, maybe, sure. The nerd jokes are just way to strong not to go all-in. But Slices jokes aside, Android 9.0 Pie feels like a missed opportunity. It seems possible that a licensing deal fell through last minute, leaving the company to settle on cake’s lesser cousin.

Sure, it’s too late to make suggestions, and honestly, Google never really listens to us in the first place, but here are a few belated replacements for the half-baked Pie.

Popsicle: This one seemed to be the front runner. In fact, the company appeared to tease in an early release of wallpaper. Popsicle would have been the perfect, colorful name for a summer OS release. Of course, there are two issues here. First, believe it or not, the name is still a trademark. Second, the name is hardly universal outside of North America. Those cold things on a stick are alternately (and incredibly delightfully) known as ice pops, freezer pops, ice lollies, ice blocks, icy poles ands ice drops, according to the always-correct editors of Wikipedia.

Pez: Another trademarked name, of course, holy moly, imagine the marketing on this one.

Pop Rocks: Ditto, but totally worth is for all the free packets of Pop Rocks we’d be getting from Google events for the next year.

Popcorn: Okay, kind of boring and a borderline dessert food at best, but still more fun than Pie.

Pecan, Pumpkin Pie: A little alliteration goes a long way.

Parfait: A delicious, refreshing summer treat, Also, everyone loves France! (Again, don’t @ me.) 

Pop-Tart: Or, if you prefer to keep it in the States, nothing says “America” quite like a mass produced, foil wrapped frosted breakfast pastry from Kellogg’s.

Peppermint Patty: A delicious treat and an iconic supporting Peanuts cast member? Yes, please.

Pudding: Sweet, gelatinous, sometimes found in pop-form. If that doesn’t say mobile operating system, what does?

Poundcake: Cake is better than Pie. I’m not backing down on this one.

Pancake: Okay, more of a breakfast food, but crepes count, right?

Phish Food: Google’s been taking jam band enthusiasts for granted for far too long. And besides, Ben & Jerry never met a cross promotion they didn’t like.

Pastry: Simple, elegant, slightly better than Pie.

Peanut Brittle: Okay, fine, maybe Pie’s better than this one. You win this round, Google. 

There’s also Petit Four, though these bite-sized French cakes actually served as the internal code name for Android 1.1.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch