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10 Ways Your Alexa or Google Home Can Make Holiday Cooking Way Less Stressful

10 Ways Your Alexa or Google Home Can Make Holiday Cooking Way Less Stressful

“Hey Google, how many tablespoons are in a cup?"

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My husband and I are borderline obsessed with our Amazon Alexa smart speaker—we play Jeopardy with her, ask her to play music, and drive our dog nuts by having her play cat noises (I promise, we have friends).

But it turns out your Amazon Alexa or Google Home can also make your life a lot easier when it comes to cooking for a crowd this holiday season. We asked our editors how they use their smart home devices in the kitchen. Here’s what they said.

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Add groceries to your shopping list.

If you’re like me and jot down your grocery list, only to leave it at home, you need this hack. Just ask Alexa or Google add things like eggs, milk, or whole-wheat bread to your shopping list, and access your list on your app when you’re at the store. Now, if your child adds 3 gallons of chocolate ice cream, that’s not our (or Alexa’s) fault.

Set timers.

Set as many timers as you need with your Google Home or Alexa—you can even name them. Translation? No more guessing how long the pumpkin pie has left, because you accidentally only set a timer for the mashed potatoes.

Set the mood.

Holiday cooking is a marathon, not a sprint. Ask your smart home device to crank up the music (you can create playlists, ask them to play a single artist, or shout out song requests as you go—turns out, our editors all like to DJ in the kitchen differently). Music helps the time pass quickly. Plus, it helps cooking feel fun, not like a chore. Not into music? Ask your device to recommend a podcast, or get a Flash Briefing of daily news.

Distract your family.

Keep kids or relatives busy (read: out of the kitchen) with games like Jeopardy, “Name That Song”, or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Browse your app for plenty of other game options—if you have younger kids, Amazon's "The Magic Door" is a big hit among 8-year-olds.

Convert measurements.

We’ve all had to Google, “how many tablespoons are in a cup?” with flour-covered fingers at some point. Thankfully, your smart home device can convert measurements in no time—all you have to do is ask.

Save your turkey.

Butterball has an app available for most smart home devices. You can ask it questions like: How much turkey should I buy? How long will it take to thaw my turkey? How do I roast my turkey? Or even: How do I know when my turkey is done? Even seasoned pros need help with their holiday bird, and this app is truly a life—and meal—saver.

Make coffee.

It’s truly amazing what smart home devices can do. You can do everything from make coffee to start your slow cooker or sous vide machine—all you need to do is program your smart plug (you can do this through a command phrase, or synching it through If This, Then That).

Ask for calorie counts and recipes.

Want to know how to make chicken noodle soup, or many calories are in your Greek yogurt? Ask Alexa or Google Home. They’re not programmed to know every single recipe or calorie count, but they’ve got the basics covered.

Announce that dinner is ready.

This is a newer feature, and one that’s super silly and fun to try. Just say, “Hey Alexa/Google, tell everyone dinner’s ready,” and see what happens next.

Meditate or relax.

Holiday cooking can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Just ask Alexa or Google to help you relax. They can play white noise, ocean sounds, fireplace crackles, sleep sounds, etc. Plus, there are meditation apps you can download for an extra boost of zen


62 Great Ideas for Celebrating Work Anniversaries

Work anniversaries are a big deal in today’s job market, where half of all employees are leaving their jobs before they hit the five-year mark.

In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and their most recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, 3.5 million people in the US quit their jobs every month. That’s about 2.3 percent of the entire labor force.

HR Dive estimates that, annually, turnover costs a company a third of an employee’s annual salary, or $15,000 per employee, assuming a median salary of $45,000 per year. That’s for one employee. How many people does it take to get to 2.3 percent of your workforce? Let’s say you hold onto just five of them for another year—that’s $75,000 off of your expense sheet.

Celebrating service anniversaries can be a cost-efficient way to achieve this goal. Data shows that the most common spending level for an anniversary incentive is between $50 and $100—less than one percent of the cost of replacing the employee.


Amazon Opens Holiday Store with Gift Guides and Savings

Amazon opened a Holiday Store today, along with curated gift guides, deals, and more. A spokesperson told EcommerceBytes, “With early holiday deals kicking off today and new deals all day, every day this season, our biggest-ever selection of curated gift guides, a variety of convenient shopping and delivery options to suit every customer’s needs, new and classic Holiday favorites on Prime Video, and even easy ways to get in the spirit by giving back, Amazon’s got you covered.”

Amazon blog post follows:

The holiday season is almost here. Now’s the time to visit Amazon’s Holiday Store to discover everything you need (and more) to ring in the season. Whether you’re decking the halls with festive décor, winning an ugly sweater contest, or just playing, “All I Want for Christmas is You”—Amazon has you covered, however you choose to celebrate.

We’re offering savings all season long, with new deals all day, every day, this holiday season. For added—and early—savings, customers can shop special deals and deep discounts on top products across fashion, toys and home starting today through Nov. 21 at amazon.com/holidaydeals.

With Amazon’s continued commitment to low prices and savings throughout the season, on top of fast and free delivery options from just a few hours to one day, you can spend less time shopping and more time with the ones you love. Plus, customers can opt for even more convenience and have presents gift wrapped and sent directly to loved ones without hassle, or choose from a variety of festively-designed gift cards to Amazon, other retailers, restaurants, Audible, and more. You can even get a one-time $15 promotional credit when you purchase $50 or more in Amazon Gift cards (limited to first-time gift card customers).

To jump right into holiday shopping and support your favorite charitable organization at the same time, visit AmazonSmile. You’ll find the same Amazon experience, with the added bonus that AmazonSmile will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to a charity of your choice. Thanks to our customers, Amazon has donated more than $140 million to charities through AmazonSmile.

Here’s a peek at what’s new this year and how we’re making holiday giving (and giving back) easier than ever.

Curated gift guides
Customers can browse our biggest-ever selection of curated gift guides from Fashion, Toys, Electronics, Home, Luxury Beauty, Active Lifestyle, and more. Each Amazon gift guide features a variety of the newest and most popular products for kids from one to ninety-two. And, select toys, electronics, books, Amazon Devices and more will be available to shop in person at Amazon Books and Amazon 4-Star locations. Find a store near you at amazon.com/stores.

Fashion Gift Guide
This year’s Fashion Gift Guide is the most stylish yet, with covetable presents for everyone on your list. The guide highlights must-have gifts to give (and to get), including glittering earrings and super-soft sweaters for her rugged boots and flannel essentials for him festive pajamas for the whole family and magical wonders for little ones—like fuzzy Cubcoats and Disney favorites. Our editors curated the ultimate list of our Top 100-ish gifts, including the latest from adidas, Levi’s, Carhartt, Champion, and more, and exclusive new styles from Amazon brands like Daily Ritual, Goodthreads, and Amazon Essentials. We’re also excited to highlight hand-picked gifts from Something Navy’s Arielle Charnas, Pink Peonies’ Rachel Parcell, and Refinery29. And for the first year ever, Amazon produced a holiday look book, “Holiday Together,” which arrives in homes next week and features trending influencers Louise Roe, Ayana Iman Gibbs and Tylynn Nguyen, and their respective families in all of our favorite holiday looks, including weekend getaway essentials, festive party attire, and cozy holiday morning must-haves.

Holiday Toys List
With the Holiday Toy List, you have access to more than 26,000 toys that are new or exclusive this holiday season, with a selection of our favorites. This is our biggest toy list yet, with over 1,700 top products from brands like L.O.L. Surprise!, LEGO, Hasbro Gaming, Hot Wheels and Melissa & Doug. Fans of all ages will find the hottest products of their favorite characters from Star Wars, Frozen 2 and Paw Patrol. Toys available exclusively on Amazon include L.O.L. Surprise! Winter Disco Bigger Surprise, FurReal Plum, Fisher-Price Wonder Makers Starter Kit, Ravensburger Minecraft, and so much more. To get into the holiday spirit, Prime members can watch their favorite B.B.s in the new Amazon Kids Original L.O.L. Surprise! Winter Disco Special, available exclusively on Prime Video, starting today. Finally, get crafty with cardboard – check out amazon.com/boxcostumes and help the kiddos in your life make a wearable polar bear, dinosaur and more costumes with Amazon boxes and a few household items!

Electronics Gift Guide
The Electronics Gift Guide features more than 1,000 of this holiday season’s most sought-after tech products to help you find the perfect gift for everyone in your life, from the passionate photographer to the gadget geek. Discover the hottest tech from brands such as Apple, Bose, Samsung, Sony, and HP along with the latest Echo, Kindle and Fire TV devices. You can filter products by category or shop from 12 interest areas, including Under $100 featuring the Bose SoundLink Micro Bluetooth® Speaker, Gaming featuring the Nintendo Switch, and New & Noteworthy featuring new products and curated tech from emerging brands with Amazon Launchpad. While shopping the Electronics Gift Guide, you can also view deals, live product demonstrations, and more.

The Home Gift Guide
The Home Holiday Guide brings together more than 4,000 thoughtfully-curated items—from holiday décor to the perfect stocking stuffers, cookware to sofas, bedding essentials to espresso makers, and more. Shop exclusive collections found only on Amazon like Rivet and Stone & Beam or discover the perfect gifts for everyone on your list from more than 11 curated themes like Top 100 Home Gifts, Kitchen Gadgets, Smart Home, Stocking Stuffers, Gift Wrapping Essentials, Pets, Amazon Handmade Gifts from local artisans, and more. Additionally, new this year browse five curated pages of holiday prep essentials to help ease the stress of hosting, entertaining, and decorating for the holidays. Shop influencer-inspired picks from Martha Stewart, Chef Dominique Ansel, and Refinery 29.

Mariah’s Must Haves
New this year, Amazon teamed-up with award-winning singer & songwriter Mariah Carey to give fans a sneak peek into how she celebrates the holidays. Customers can now explore Mariah’s Must Haves, a guide filled with items Mariah personally uses, as well as gifts and finds uniquely inspiring during the holidays—from a karaoke machine to the perfect wine glass. Mariah’s hand selected gifts are curated from dozens of brands across Amazon, including new and upcoming selection from Amazon Launchpad. Mariah’s Must Haves celebrates the 25th anniversary of her Christmas classic, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” the most streamed holiday single in the US on Amazon Music in 2017 and 2018.

Books: One size fits all
Later in the month, the Amazon Books Editorial Team will unveil the Best Books of the Year, a great place to discover books for everyone on your list. The annual list features the Top 20 books of the year, as well as the top picks across various categories, including literary fiction, mystery and thriller, biography, cookbooks, children’s and young adult. There’s also a books gift guide to help you do your holiday shopping and Celebrity Picks to get you excited to give the gift of reading this season. Or start shopping immediately from Amazon’s Best Books of the Month lists, or visit any Amazon Books or Amazon 4-star location to pick up your favorites.

Give back and deliver smiles
Amazon is committed to delivering smiles to customers, communities, and charities, and we offer convenient ways for you to join in paying-it-forward, including AmazonSmile and Charity Lists.

You can support your favorite charitable organization when you shop—just start at smile.amazon.com, and shop Amazon’s wide selection of deals and low price items, receive fast and free delivery options, and more, with the added bonus of Amazon donating a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to a charity of your choice. Thanks to our customers, Amazon has donated more than $140 million to charities through AmazonSmile.

Charity Lists—which launched last holiday season—gives charitable organizations an easy way to create lists of needed products while providing customers a convenient way to donate items directly to these charities. Customers can shop thousands of Charity Lists, with new charities joining all the time.

Shipping and delivery made easy
This holiday season, Prime members have ultra-fast and free delivery options from One-Day to Same-Day to just a few hours—with no minimum purchase amount—to receive gifts, festive décor, or must-have grocery items and ingredients, delivered to your door, garage, or even your car—faster than ever. These delivery options are not only convenient for customers—they’re better for the planet because One-Day and Same-Day deliveries ship from local fulfilment centers so they travel shorter distances and generate less carbon emissions. Sign up for a free 30-day trial and learn more about Prime. Prime members and all Amazon customers in 900 cities and towns across the country can also can also take advantage of Amazon Hub Locker or Amazon Hub Locker+ for easy and convenient delivery to a secure, self-service kiosk or secure, staffed pickup and return location. All customers can also shop on Amazon and receive free shipping on more than 100 million items.

Ultra-fast and free grocery
Now Prime members get free and fast grocery delivery from Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market. Selection includes a variety of products for all your holiday needs from meat to, seafood, produce, snacks, and household essentials, with options for fast one- and two-hour delivery windows. Prime members who live in one of the more than 2,000 cities and towns where grocery delivery is available can request an invitation to shop Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods Market delivery. Learn more.

Support Small Businesses
More than half of the items sold in Amazon’s stores worldwide are from small and medium-sized businesses—and last holiday season was the best-ever for these sellers. This holiday season, you can support small businesses by casting your vote in the first-ever Small Business Spotlight Awards. Voting closes on November 8.

Support small businesses throughout the year, by shopping more than 2.5 million products from nearly 30,000 U.S. small and medium-sized businesses.

Convenient shopping
Amazon continues to make customers’ lives easier with even more ways to shop this season, whether online, from the free Amazon App or by asking Alexa. Spanish speakers can browse Amazon.com/Español and—new for this holiday season—shop via Alexa using Spanish language or multi-lingual mode on supported Echo and Alexa Built-in Devices.

All customers can “Watch a Deal” to receive notifications on their mobile device when deals are about to go live—that way, you’ll never miss a deal. Alexa makes it easy to find the top deals every day, simply ask, “Alexa, what are my deals?” Plus, Prime members can take advantage of Prime Early Access and receive 30-minute early access on thousands of Lightning Deals this holiday season, including deals starting today.

Celebrate the holidays with Prime Video
Customers can celebrate the holidays all season long with the Prime Video Holiday Collection and catch up on movies the whole family will enjoy. This collection highlights many movies included with Prime such as the signature holiday classic It’s A Wonderful Life, along with new favorites such as Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You, The Snowy Day and Pete the Cat: A Groovy New Year. Prime Video also has countless holiday movies for rent or purchase including Elf, Home Alone, Love Actually, and Polar Express. Prime members can also subscribe to premium and specialty channels and watch even more holiday favorites.

Prime members can also rent newly released Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story 4 for just $2.99, available through November 7. Prime members save 40% or more on popular movie rentals, with new deals going live every Friday. Learn more.

Alexa, make the holidays easier
From simply saying, “Alexa, turn on the Christmas tree,” to setting a timer for your holiday feast, Alexa can make the holidays more delightful. Start your holiday planning with Alexa by asking her to add items to your shopping list. Once you find the perfect gift, ask Alexa to remind you to order it. Be sure to keep an eye on big holiday deal days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday to get amazing deals. Then, to track your holiday orders with Alexa, just ask, “Alexa, where’s my stuff?”

New this holiday season, customers can even ask Alexa to change the topic when holiday gatherings get stressful. Just say, “Alexa, change the subject,” and she will provide a family-friendly topic to quell any disagreements at the dinner table. Plus, this year, get ready for holiday gatherings and watch episodes of Food Network TV shows on your Echo Show. And, Food Network Kitchen subscribers can take a live or on demand holiday cooking class with Food Network chefs like Bobby Flay—just say “Alexa, show me cooking classes from Bobby Flay” to get started. Customers can also ask Alexa to suggest games to keep guests entertained, recipes that will satisfy your holiday guests, and much more.

As always, Amazon Music is the source for hundreds of holiday playlists, including “Holiday Lights,” “Christmas by the Fireplace,” and activity-based playlists including “Music for Wrapping Gifts,” and “Music for Baking Christmas Cookies.” And of course, the “Holiday Favorites” station on Amazon Music is consistently #1 during the holidays. To get the party started, simply ask “Alexa, play holiday music,” in the Amazon Music mobile app for iOS and Android, and on all Alexa-enabled devices.

Early deals, deep discounts, and more
To jump start the holiday season, we’ll kick off November with special, early holiday deals starting today through Nov. 21 including savings on seasonal styles from Amazon Fashion (Nov. 1-3), followed by a weekend of deals on buzz-worthy toys (Nov. 8-10), and then festive holiday home prep (Nov. 15-17), in addition to new deals all day, every day, throughout the holiday season. Plus customers can look forward to even more ways to save with deep discounts during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Just visit amazon.com/holidaydeals to learn more.

See the full list of “early deals and savings throughout the month of November” on the Amazon blog post:


39 Holiday Gifts for Brothers That Will Earn You Serious Props

Whatever the occasion&mdasha birthday, life milestone, new job, or the holidays&mdashgetting the perfect gift for brothers is important. Finding the best Christmas gifts for your brother is especially important if you&rsquore celebrating with the whole family&mdashyou want everyone to marvel at your gift-giving skills, right? Your brother(s) has been through a lot with you, after all, so coming up with a thoughtful gift idea for him is probably a priority for you, even though it can feel intimidating. (It might even be more challenging than finding gifts for your boyfriend, unfortunately.)

This year, we&rsquove taken some of the pressure off by researching the latest and greatest gifts for brothers with a wide range of tastes and interests. We&rsquove compiled a list of items you can purchase without even getting up off your couch, hopefully making your holiday shopping easier and less stressful this year than ever before.

Whether your brother is an avid reader, a foodie in need of some kitchen appliance upgrades, a music lover, a trendsetter, or a sports enthusiast, here you&rsquoll find a slew of gift ideas&mdashand at least one is bound to adhere to his tastes and preferences. From sophisticated leather goods to 2020&rsquos coolest tech gadgets, this list will help you get the best gift for brothers this year.

Scroll through our top Christmas gifts for brothers or brother-in-laws. Once you&rsquove knocked them off your holiday to-do list, you can focus on gift ideas for women, gifts for dad, and watching all the Christmas movies on Netflix. Happy holidays, indeed.


10 Ways Your Alexa or Google Home Can Make Holiday Cooking Way Less Stressful - Recipes

Actress Sasha Pieterse, known for her infamous role as Alison DiLaurentis in "Pretty Little Liars," is now adding cookbook author to her resume!

This month, the 23-year-old released "Sasha in Good Taste: Recipes for Bites, Feasts, Sips & Celebrations," which guides readers through everything they need when hosting a party, from food recipes to decor ideas. AOL's Julia Webb caught up Pieterse to get the inside scoop on how she tackles holiday hosting. Keep scrolling to read their entire conversation.

AOL: There is a ton of great advice in "Sasha in Good Taste," but what would you say is your No. 1 holiday entertaining tip?

Pieterse: Oh my gosh, there’s so many! I think for me, and this is more so whatever it means to you, but I am always down to personalize things. Obviously, we know our loved ones well and so if there's something that they like, I love to include that and make everything feel special, and the homier the better! Basically, incorporate your family and your friends into your party planning.

What is your favorite piece of party decor that is affordable and easy to pull off, but still makes an impact?

I think for me, when it comes to the holidays, I love to put little gifts on the place settings. That is a tradition that my parents kind of did when I was younger — they did crackers — but I’ve kind of taken that and put my own spin on it. I love little presents and again I personalize them for each person. I think it’s a good way to start off your season and it makes gift giving a lot more fun.

As a pro hostess yourself, what would you say is your favorite hostess gift to give or to receive?

I love to bring baskets! I like filling baskets with things whether that’s a bottle of wine and blanket or a cookbook or something that makes sense for the home, even if that’s just coasters and a cute card. Receiving thought, I will take any blanket. You give me a blanket and I will be a happy camper!

There are a ton of delicious looking recipes in the book, do you have a favorite one?

Ah, that is such a hard question. I don’t know about a favorite, but one of my go-tos are the Jalapeño Bites -- you can change out the fruit for the season. I like peaches, but if peaches aren’t in season, you can use pears. There’s a little bit of that sweetness mixed in with the jalapeños that really makes a difference and they are so easy to do. They’re such a crowd pleaser and you can make a ton of them.

Hosting and cooking for a lot of people can be pretty stressful. Is there anything that you do the day of the party you're hosting that is just for you so you don't feel overwhelmed?

I eat. I know that that sounds silly, but before when I first starting party throwing, if you will, I forgot to eat. I would be stressed and I would be so worried about getting everything done and getting everything right that I’d feel like when the party actually stared I was starving. I think eating really just helps. Get your meals in, maybe some coffee!

And then at the end of day, knowing that everyone is coming to celebrate because they want to see you and see each other and to relax and have a good time. You’re not always going to get everything done. There’s always going to be something that you miss, but at the end of the day your guests don’t know that. They don’t know what you didn’t get done and I think that’s something to remember.

You act, you write, you're a great hostess, what do you want to conquer next?

A lot. I want to produce and direct. I want to obviously continue acting. I’d love to write another book. I think the great thing about cookbook is that you can actually customize them to your life and what your experiences are. I'd love to write a PCOS book actually because that’s what I deal with, and you know kids, that chapter will continue, my life with my friends. There’s a lot I want to accomplish and I will do my best to check all of those boxes.


10 Ways Your Alexa or Google Home Can Make Holiday Cooking Way Less Stressful - Recipes

Voice input is a terrible UX, because as a user, you have no idea what the system can and can't do. Every single Voice UX I've used for input (Siri, Alexa, etc) is a fumbling around experience where inevitably I can find out the weather, turn on some music, and then hear some half-funny replies from the device because it doesn't actually know what to do. It can work 99% of the time, but if that 1% it breaks down and I have to revert to a device with a screen, it kind of ruins the point.

Maybe Amazon is addressing this with their supposed Alexa with a 7" screen in the future.

What I want is improved Voice Output UX. I think Apple is trending towards this with the AirPods, where you can leave them in your ears all day and have Siri just talking to you, which is the only practical use of any of these things unless you're stoked about annoying everyone around you with your robot assistant awkwardly talking out loud all day.

Things said in our home all the time:

"Do you know what the weather is going to be like?"

"Is it going to rain today?"

"We need to buy some milk."

"The roast need one and a half hour."

We speak all the time with each other and there is nothing weird about that.

I bought a Google Home and it's literally transformed our lives in the little details for the better.

Before asking for the weather was something which required one of us to find the phone, open it find the weather app.

It sounds banal but if you have to do it every day because you take your kids to school believe me it's a godsend.

My wife was very sceptic about this and is certainly no tech fanatic, she now loves it because as she said she can now turn listen to radio just like in the old days when all you had to do was turn on the radio.

My kids love talking with it.

And it's basically just a very practical assistant which is revolutionary in the little details not some sci-fi scenario.

It's not disrupting anything it's improving the quality of tech by allowing us to interface with technology in one of the ways which removes yet another layer of abstraction.

You don't need to know what the system can do as long as it can do enough Google Home certainly can and it's just getting started.

Except that humans have an average IQ of 100. They understand context, they get what I'm trying to say. Try getting Siri to turn off all repeating alarms, just for today. Or turn off all alarms until 12pm.

"But that's not how Siri is supposed to work!"

Sure, fine. It's just a ux to a limited api. But then you can't also compare it to how we use the same input for humans. Robots aren't humans. Not by a long shot. They have an api, a very specific and limited set of capabilities. They are not flexible. They don't get context.

Voice interfaces have their place. Because once you know the api, the possibilities, voice may well be most practical. But not because we happen to talk to humans.

Thats like complaining about a commodore 64 not being able to run the same games as a Playstation.

The discussion is not whether Alexa, Siri and Google Home are perfect AI's but whether they are good enough for some very basic things like those I described.

And no it's not because we talk to humans that they are good, it's because we interact with other humans through speech.

Consider a voice operated light switch. Why do I need to tell the switch I want the lights to turn on when I enter I room? The house AI should know the ambient light level, the time of day, my location in the house, and my default lighting preferences, and lighting should "just work" unless I want to change something - which is when I can ask for it.

Alexa can't do any of this yet. I can give Alexa commands to turn lights on or off, but currently there isn't even a context for the current light state. So I can't say "Alexa, lights" and have Alexa work out whether that means "turn the lights on" or "turn the lights off" for the room I'm in.

IFFT may eventually be able to do this, but it's far from transparent and straightforward.

It's about affordances. I have a reasonable idea what a human's affordances are. The current voice UI (vUI?) equivalent is a handful of dots of implemented functionality surrounded by huge areas of not-working-yet space.

Not only is there no map, there's no way to guess what might be on the map.

It's also about cognitive load. I'm typing this in a bedroom with a couple of 433MHz switches controlled by a remote - one for a light, one for a heater.

Using the remote takes no conscious load at all. When I had the switches controlled by Alexa, formulating a command took effort.

That is unless I'm reading a book, in which case I need a light on. But not just any light, Iɽ probably just lamp next to me to shine on my book instead of the one that lights the whole room. I don't need the whole room lit, just my book. So now the contextual system needs to have cameras to see if I'm reading or just watching TV or playing on my phone or napping.

And when I walk into the bathroom in the middle of the night, I'm fine with the nightlight above the toilet. Turning on all the lights will wake me up and ruin my night vision. But my wife likes the light on. So now we need facial recognition to tell who is walking into the room.

Right now I have to get up and turn on a light if I'm on the couch reading. If we're talking effort, that's a hell of a lot more effort than saying "Alexa, turn on my reading lamp". And don't get me started on the effort it takes to try to find the missing remote.

I don't think you are appreciating the things that used to be which got lost with digitalization and now can get back.

It's not just about what the AI can do, it's how it gets expressed.

However, the voice ux projects at big tech companies are inevitably about collecting training data.

Five years down the road that limited API is going to be a lot less limited.

But that's not really an inherent issue with voice. It's just that today's systems are mostly stuck with requiring relatively strict adherence to specific syntax. This will certainly improve over time.

I don't find Alexa as transformational as some people I know do but I find it useful enough.

For example, a while back I was using Assistant to look up showtimes for a movie at a specific theater, and just to see what would happen I said "show me a map" without giving any explicit context. I was expecting Assistant to come back with a search query or maybe pictures of generic maps in response, but to my surprise it actually understood that I was talking about a map of the theater and gave me that.

Of course, that specific response in that exact situation isn't in and of itself all that impressive, and for every time Assistant succeeds in figuring out what I meant in a situation like that there's maybe one or two other times when it has no clue, but the idea of being able to speak 100% naturally to a virtual assistant and having it "just work" is unbelievably cool.

As a parent in New England, you have to choose between 3 jackets and when you are trying to get socks on two kids and can ask "alexa, what's the weather today" and know the answer without having to pause and get a phone and let one of the kids escape, that's really nice.

With modern heating systems (specifically thermostatic radiator valves) we no longer need to ensure that the heating is prepared at the right time, so we don't need to know the weather.

With the prevalence of tumble driers washing doesn't need to hang out, so we don't need to know the weather.

Most modern clothing is suitable for a very large range of temperatures and good waterproofs can be comparatively small and lightweight, allowing them to be brought everywhere without burden, so we don't need to know the weather.

Cars and roads have improved significantly, the impact of the weather on a small or long journey is often negligible, so we don't need to know the weather.

More jobs are performed indoors now and where they aren't special machines and tooling have been made that make the job easier alongside significantly reducing the risk and discomfort that weather can cause, so we don't need to know the weather.

There remain some situations where knowing the weather is very important, but very few of them affect 'the general populace' is a consistent enough manner to cause them to waste time following it.

Then again I'm British, and an American I've recently befriended has shown me how different attitudes to the employer employee relationship can be

Pretty much the story of modern civilization. Just step outside and check the temperature, and look up at the clouds and guess if it's gonna rain later. Wear a sweat shirt or waterproof windbreaker if in doubt. Or you can just not care about getting mildly cold or wet. I say this as someone who spent 25 years in Minnesota.

But sure, you don't need umbrella either and we could all be driving open cars :)

Don't get one if you don't want to, the discussion is whether it's useful and it is. Not just for the weather not just for rain. For many little things in life.

That's one example. Schedules, playing music, guitar tuner, uke tuner, metric conversion when hands are dirty from cooking, and plenty of other examples are abundant in our house

Nothing complicated about it, it's just a reality for many people.

Not sure what you think you are proving here.

I didn't really think of rain in my original comment because when I was growing up we literally just walked in the rain.

Both Alexa and Google home have been great with a kid.

But then again, we live a few hours north of the location where they filmed the Battle of Hoth. Asking anyone, let alone a machine, "what is the weather outside" gives you little information about the weather in six hours.

There is something about the tangibility of information we use a lot. Instead of it being hidden behind login, app launch etc we just access it directly.

For example, I can check the weather for today on my phone with minimal fuzz, clicking 2 or 3 times and getting much richer information (a full graph with short term forecast, a few hours in advance, etc) in a single screen shot. Another example, ordering a pizza. I prefer a GUI over calling and taking to some human. The options are clearer, and I can review easily what I'm ordering.

Not to say that it's impractical, but voice doesnt carry a lot of info for a lot of services. Weɽ prefer a phone call over an specific tactile interface for everything, and that's not the case.

I gave some pretty specific examples of what it's great for.

I am not saying it's great enough yet for much more complex things no disagreement there. But unlike Seamless web or mobile interface I could potentially just with the command, "order the usual from Joe's Pizza" skip a whole suite of interactions needed to order food today.

Telling Alexa "send me some paper towels" only works if you have established a protocol in writing with Amazon (i.e. I want a 8 pack of jumbo bounty).

Your use case "how is the weather" is useful, but is it useful enough to be "the next big thing"? It may be big, but not smartphone big.

My experience with both devices is that there's no one Big Thing, except maybe music. There's a lot of stuff that just works surprisingly well by voice. Quoting my daughter: "Hey, Google, play Puff the Magic Dragon" - "What's the weather today?" - "Turn on/off the lights" - "Set a timer for 5 minutes" - "What's 17 tablespoons in cups?" - "How long does it take light to get to Mars?"

It's probably not smartphone big. But I think that in the long term, we're going to find that some kind of voice-based interactive device like this will become very common.

I cook a lot, timing is important.

I have fun playing games with my kids teaching them trivia, Google Home does that while we are free to do other things.

We listen to a lot of different music. Google at home allow me to stream from Spotify simply by saying the type i want.

My wife likes to listen to radio, she just tell Google at home to start a radio station.

Listening to the news, google does a pretty good job assembling what is most important during the day.

You can ask it to play the latest "Startups for the rest of us" podcast simply by asking it to play that.

You can ask it when you next flight is.

How long it's going to take to get to somewhere.

You can add things to a shopping list which is important when you are family.

And these are just things that it does out of the box. I don't care about switching on lights which it also can do and turn the heat up or down.

What I think most of you realize is that just like the touchscreen removed a layer of abstraction to access technology because it allow for things humans do naturally. So does the voice. It's extremely intuitive as there is nothing to learn. As voice gets better and better it's going to change a lot of things.

The sales numbers of Alexa is pretty telling too and this is from all sorts of people like my parents in law who now have one they use and understand.

I don't care whether it's going to be the next big thing, but to claim as the parent did that voice is a bad interface is simply as wrong as it can be and to claim there is no value in what it can besides a few things, well it turns out at least for my family those few things are pretty useful.

"Ok Google, is it going to rain today?" is something I can (and do) ask at any point. No need to have a new device in every room of my house and no need to learn a different interface when driving in my car etc.

Oh god please. I can't understand how complicated radio is these days. Fuck me, I'm forever returning or rescanning or some bullshit just to listen to something.

Weather and traffic reports are still a staple of radio broadcasts

Hope it was worth the convenience.

As if knowledge of me visiting a public site is comparable to Google having an always-on microphone that probably is riddled with 0days and has constant internet activity that can easily mask a malicious connection?

it only takes approximately 10 minutes of recorded audio to interpret individual keystrokes with a

Google / NSA / foreign state hackers / your next door neighbor could potentially find or pay for an exploit to the device and have all of your passwords down within a few days. All of your children's passwords.

It can reconstruct every message you've typed in range of the microphone. Ergo unless you rely on bookmarks and not the address bar, it can in fact track which websites you visit. Furthermore, it could interact with ultrasonic sounds emitted by your computer speakers to track your ad experience, and if you live in a malevolent state, to locate you. [2]

If your kids are a problem to the police state, they will be identified and marked before they even know they want to be political activists.

This is the world you aren't only allowing, but are defending as well.

And then there are the ISPs you use to access the internet. Or the cellphone tracking your wereabouts or your camera and your microphone on your laptop. Or your router.

I could go on. If that's what you are afraid of that game is already lost.

You're trying to invalidate my legitimate concern over a device's security implications by telling me other devices have security implications as well. No shit.

The Amazon Dot is my favorite kitchen tool, we use it more than we do spoons at this point. The ability to set multiple timers, convert units and measures, and remind you to do things all while playing your favorite tunes is amazing.

"Google Now, Set a timer for..[slight pause]. <How long would>three<you like>minutes<a timer for?> [Pause, pause, pause] Three minutes. Three minutes! Three Fuck<Setting timer for>ing Minutes<three minutes>.

I am now manually inputting timers again.

"I'm sorry, mikestew, I didn't catch that."

Maybe if you waited more than 2.6 milliseconds for me start flapping my pie hole, youɽ have something to catch.

I don't actually care that much for it as a time though. The other timers I can easily set in the kitchen tell me at a glance how much time is left. Alexa I have to ask. These are small things but it means I don't default to using Alexa.

However when you're preparing a meal or making cookies and you're constantly moving and not watching the clock, just responding to it, it becomes handy. It's also nice to not have to stop and wash your hands to set an egg timer.

HN isn't the best sample group for this, because for most people that's a pretty large amount of the time.

Sci-fi got it wrong with their humorous stupid robots providing comic relief while smart robots do the work. All the robots are the same smart, and getting better every day.

Iɽ like it if the knowledge graph was better, for answering questions. Just wikipedia queries is a bit lame. I think Google Home will win on that one.

Oh, and Iɽ really, really like to be able to voice call/skype through it (presuming the array mic + software will be able to isolate my voice/remove reverberation well enough).

IM (with TTS) could be fun too

I was a huge skeptic of voice assistants before the Echo came along, but being able to turn my lights on and off with a single voice command alone has been more than worth the price of entry for the Echo Dot + TP-Link Smart Switch combo I got for $60.

Sure, there is a niche for reordering products easily, but commodity voice tech is going to rapidly hit zero margins. Like those 10$ TV dongles that used to take a full PC.

Google makes 330 million in profit every week.

It's maddening. There's absolutely no way to discover how to use apps like this unless you already know how.

Just consult the nearest "X things you need to know˽idn't know about Snapchat" article /s

It takes all of < 1 second. I get it is obfuscated but we aren't talking about a crazy level of interface hiding.

People expect to be able to swipe on most interfaces these days.

"File, Edit, View" etc model is condensed into 3 horizontal lines. The lines I suspect were modeled on the idea of a row, with one option per row after another. Click "View" in a random app, oh look, one after another. Don't like that notion? Think of it as a Start menu in ever app, and you still have to drill down. It's barely a change, since the idea has existed since Windows 95!

Small screens need less chrome to highlight content. It's about the user having the best view of their content, not peddling a catalog of "me to" features and pretty icons in people's faces. Turns out, people actually enjoy seeing more of their content on desktops too, rather than rows of default icons.

Scrollbars? People still stop what they're doing to look for the scrollbar? I stopped dealing with that once MS shipped the Intellimouse 20 years ago. Tap˽rag on mobile. You know how to tell if you're at the bottom of a document? It won't scroll further.

"It's maddening. There's absolutely no way to discover how to use apps like this unless you already know how."

But you KNOW how to use them already. They're just slightly modified. And these things have existed long enough now, there's no excuse not to just swipe either side or tap the hamburger to see what's up? I mean, how am I going to know what the new app using classic "File, Edit, View" menus does? By using the input options I have, mouse, keyboard, to dig through them. That hasn't changed on these new desktop apps. On mobile, input options are fingers, tap and swipe about.

This falls into a category of "Personally, I don't want to rethink things ever." type arguments.

However, it can't, it can't, and you can't. And when the illusion fails, it's frustrating: Neil Stephenson would call it Metaphor Shear, I (being less fancy) would call it why-didn't-they-give-me-a-better-ui-or-at-least-a-manual-dang-it.

This is ultimately why I prefer unambiguous interfaces over "friendly" ones.

1. It's slow. Apple AirPods are a good example. Siri controls the volume. Talking is slow. The input and response until the volume is changed is slow. Faster would be to use the long side of the AirPod as a touch control and sliding up and down it changes the volume. One finger slide = volume change. Two finger slide = track change. In any case, touch controls are way faster than voice.

2. It's weird in public, and faulty in loud environments. Talking aloud to yourself is going to get strange looks at you. I tend to do things that don't bring me attention, so I don't use Siri. Also, good luck using Siri at a concert or loud train commute.

This is how I thought about search without search operators. Then Google got it right and owned the market.

So I agree with you -- but I also think someone will eventually get it right, and that company will take off.

I don't think your statistics makes any sense.

99% of the time, you save time by speaking your intent, vs interfacing with your phone. That time saved is meaningful and outweighs the 1% of the time you have to fall back to your screen device.

99% of the time, you can use your hands˿ingers for other tasks while speaking your intent. That allows you to multitask more efficiently.

Very true -- our Echo can control the lights, but I can never remember what each light is called, while with a GUI, I can see the list and it's obvious that "Livingroom - TV" is the light near the TV that I want to dim, while "Livingroom - TV table" is the one on the table to the right of the TV and I want to turn that one off.

I also don't like the feeling of having a dedicated microphone set up that records everything, waiting for a command and is completly intransparent about what it sends back to Amazon/Google˺pple.

Also, for the $100 price it frequently goes on sale at, it's a great wireless speaker with Spotify integration built in.

Also you're being very "No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame."

The problem is: The electronic light control modules are expensive, break down after 1-2 years, and then go obsolete.

I'll spend more time rewiring my house than stumbling around in the dark!

When you say 'Hey Google / Siri / Alexa / whatever' a connection is set up to a real human who can control your house automation. Then the system could be self learning because the operator is translating your command into an action.

But it would not be for me. I absolutely never felt the need for home automation (don't think it is going to make my life better). And I care for my privacy.

Talking, while potentially more natural, is also simply slower than most other input types.

This is the same as the command line. Just like the command line, voice may not be completely intuitive initially but for regular use, it's probably much faster than a colorful GUI.

"Hey Siri, set a timer for fifteen minutes". Done.

That's friction, and that's where these frictionless interfaces step in.

People love to misuse that word.

I just tried it with best case scenarios, and it's still a second or so faster using voice (1.5 seconds) vs control center (3 seconds). I mean, voice is literally just yell out "hey siri set a timer for 15 minutes" and that ends the interaction. Done, just like that.

If you're changing the time that is set, it's significantly longer.

I think Voice Input should be an Additional, not as the ONLY input method.

I avoid these devices for the privacy concerns and also the generally poor security of IoT devices. I hate to sound like a luddite, but i really abhor these devices and how hard the tech companies are trying to foist them upon us as "the next big thing".

Either Apple/Google˾tc and granulize the permissions such that things like "boolean: user is in vehicle at speed" are addressable separately (possible but unlikely) or such knowledge comes with a cost - the app knows where you are and have been.

Same applies doubly for "noise it has heard".

Consequently my decision is: no assistant, thankyouverymuch.

How will it learn to compare all these different environments? ML obviously which pretty much entails leveraging the consumer data to provide a better product. The cost of usable, voice-driven assistants is giving up a vast trove of personal data and abandoning the concept of privacy completely, just so I can order some paper towels from an Internet of Shit connected device instead of walking three blocks to a store.

Your position is akin to a Louis CK joke(not offense meant): "Oh boy! I hope he doesn't do what he's going to do!"

Whether you're considering voice interfaces, connection speeds, machine learning, web development, phone battery life, or whatever.. things are trending towards the better. Sometimes it's steady improvement, other times it's punctuated. Either way, the floor on what we can considering is always increasing.

I think security is getting better but what we see now are the consequences of years of poor decisions. It's the post-Christmas credit card bill.

While not quite what you meant, Firefox is frequently bloody awful now and it used to be quite usable :)

One of the exhibits was of a common East Berlin living room. The exhibit explained how the state had hidden microphones here. They were listening for people to express anti-socialist ideas in their own homes. This was a real threat faced by people not more than 30 or 40 years ago. You could have your life turned upside down just for saying the wrong thing at home.

This exhibit drove home for me the inherent abusive powers enabled by some tech. One of these technologies is always on, always connected microphones. Why would I want one in my house? Given the potential downsides, what could possibly be worth it to justify having one?

Sure, the government could force Amazon to let Echo spy on you. But they could force Apple or Google to do the same thing with your phone. Speakerphone isn't as good as far field mikes, but it's pretty good.

The government could also just bug your apartment the old fashioned way.

The big fear would be that echo is storing audio of your house that a future government could use against you. But there is no indication that Amazon does that. It only sends audio after it's triggered by the codeword. Honestly, my google and bing histories are probably a lot more damning.

But if Trump goes all hitler on us, Iɽ throw mine out.

Also, the recent findings show it's not just subversive actors who gets surveiled. There are already massive dragnet operations. That's happening right now. So it's not some hypothetical, that's reality.

I think the better approach, rather than waiting and finding out too late, is just to avoid these altogether. The world has mostly been pretty safe but the security appears to now be threatened and civil liberties are rapidly eroding. So just for that reason I think our position for ourselves and for friends⿺mily should just be to pass altogether on this type of device

This means a future dictator will have a huuuge corpus of data on everyone with the perfect surveillance apparatus to leverage it. And by then it is too late.

I wonder what direction our new Russian-influenced President will take things given Putin's KGB background and savviness in shutting down free speech.

Yet, when everyone has email, that becomes a rather important data source. That draws the interest of those organizations tasked to keep us safe. They certainly wouldn't be doing their jobs very well if they left that trove untrawled, and voilà, soicograms of everybody.

When everyone has a live audio feed from their homes to Google, Amazon and Samsung that becomes an even bigger data source. It would be unthinkable not to mine it and I don't think anyone knows what the effects of that will be.

My standard counter-argument to this is "drugs". Drugs are a sufficient bug-bear to be used by the UK government as justification for invasive surveillance, but there are so many drug users in the UK that if they tried enforcing that law they would bankrupt the nation three times over from each of prosecution, building and staffing sufficient prisons, and the sheer number of people in prison who would then not earn any money or pay any taxes.

And that is just from a thing the government uses as its justification for the surveillance power it now has.

And what happens when failing to have an Alexa or equivalent devices becomes an act of subversion or at least suspicion?

> Sure, the government could force Amazon to let Echo spy on you. But they could force Apple or Google to do the same thing with your phone

I think you'll find this is an argument against Google and Apple handing over data wholesale to the government, not an argument in favour of getting another device that does that same thing too.

> The government could also just bug your apartment the old fashioned way.

You mean with judicial oversight and at some considerable amount of effort and expense that would make dragnet surveillance unpopular both within and without the government meaning its use would be reserved only for the sorts of activities proponents of surveillance say it would be used for? Yes, I'm okay with the old fashioned way.

> The big fear would be that echo is storing audio of your house that a future government could use against you. But there is no indication that Amazon does that.

The big fear is that by inviting these amoral entities into our lives they CAN (not will) perform these immoral activities at the request of other parties. It enables it.

> Honestly, my google and bing histories are probably a lot more damning.

Yet you still submit to the surveillance. Good for you. Not everyone is will to make the same compromises.

I had hoped and frankly expected that thereɽ be a few more privacy oriented choices in this space by now. There was Zoe[1], but that got canned at last minute. I really didn't want a refund.

In short 5 months ago all seemed to be going OK, then they went a tad quiet. Three months ago there was another update including a CEO statement.

"Due to unforeseen delays in the development, we are not going to deliver the ZOE in the current form and all contributors will be refunded." They mention it's a partner having development delays in some critical component, but all very vague with no details.

Supposedly the project is alive and we'll get an update email when they're ready to try again. I infer from refunds all round it's not going to be soon. If it was just a few months I figure theyɽ ask for patience to work around whatever issue.

I don't know enough of IoT specs, protocols etc to know what would be needed other than the broadest terms. Probably yet another use for a Pi 3.

That is the most important distinction. Sure my laptop has a camera but if I keep good security practices I can feel reasonably assured that it is not monitoring me unless I've switched it on for some reason. The Alexas and Google Homes of the world default to "on", and everything you do/say is monitored because "cloud processing".

I will always have a problem with anything that tries to use my actions to build a more predictable model of who I am or what I am/will be doing

Wrt your fear of always on microphones, there is a possibility that this may also happen on your smartphone where some rogue app might be listening to all your conversations. I don't see this to be quite different from that. I guess as more and more people adopt Alexa and you see the benefits, you will reach a tipping point where the pros outweigh the cons..

Resistance to technology that has unbounded risk isn't "fear". It's vigilance against an increasingly dangerous threat. Ignore that risk at your own peril.

> this may also happen on your smartphone

What smartphone? Regular phones still work, and a full size screen and keyboard has much better ergonomics.

Also, the existence of malicious software doesn't mean it's a good idea to voluntarily increase your attack surface. Lockpicks exist, but you probably still lock your house and car.

That will never happen, because voice input isn't ever going to be compatible with my apartment's old walls. Talking loudly at night is rude to the neighbors.

Google's assistant might be striving for more openness, but I don't have high hopes here either at least until a formal development kit is released. Given that Google won't be able to use its same tried and true ad revenue strategy, we can expect them to offload voice requests to the highest bidder or prefer Google services above all else. This is another perverse link into Google's realm of anti-privacy but worse, because they won't be able to do ads along the side. The responses will be the ads.

All of this to say that all of these locked down digital assistants will fail until a company truly approaches it from an open and wholistic perspective, and one that doesn't rely upon troves of private data. These devices may sell well this year, but so did digital picture frames. How many of those are still in use?

I'm under the impression that if it feels Amazon-only it's because of a failure of companies and devs to take advantage of the platform, not a failure of the platform itself. For example the Google services you're asking about, is that Amazon's fault or has Google not taken the time to develop that app because they're focusing on their own product?

I've used my echo dot most often with 3rd party services so far (daily briefing integrations, capital one, yahoo fantasy football).

1. They require you to say "Alexa, tell <app_name> to <do_something>" This pushes all 3rd party services one level deeper.

2. Amazon competes with too many companies and services these days. Instacart devs won't want to work on a skill within a platform that is itself is a competitor.

#2 I agree is an issue. I wonder if with the current environment any independent would be allowed to gain traction, or would the competitors lock them out of services that users find mandatory (amazon shopping lists, google search, apple music, etc).

Alexa is actually not a walled garden at all skills are almost entirely separated from each other, and I think that will be one of the biggest problems though. My gut says that the reason language is convenient is that it allows for things to be implicit rather than explicit and I expect the voice assistants that will be most useful are the ones that can best understand this context, which will require deeper integration.

OFC partner negotiations will need to take place in this this is a new field with massive implications for customer security and caution and oversight _should_ be the watchword. Imagine the open ecosystem model for this and the disasters it could bring.

But the door to the ecosystem is plainly marked now and the rules are posted over the queue. You can do it today.

> The first and most important difference is that Google is not going to create an “Action Store” where users can select which ones they want and “install” them on Google Home. Instead, Google itself is going to approve all the keywords that developers want to use to invoke their actions and make them all available to everybody.

> That effectively means that actions will be curated by Google (like an app store), but users won’t have to install anything before using them (like the web). “It's not a direct analog to any existing ecosystem,” says Jason Douglas, director for actions on Google.

That article does specify that there will be a hand-off to 3rd party systems, rather than Google orchestrating everything, but it still sounds quite tightly constrained and I think that if the plan is to have things all work nicely together and not be silos, then tighter integration with more Google control will be the name of the game.

With Google voice assistant I can't say "look up the New York Giants score then text it to Phil"

I don't recall reading that functionality in the Alexa docs, either.

Seems natural and logical to me.

* I had to specify New York Giants because Google always brings up the SF Giants if I don't

However, I get an email once a week from Amazon with "whats new" on Alexa. Its always a few useless things like holiday trivia and then some garbage you can order from Amazon. It was a ground breaking device, but its clearly meant to just be another gateway to Amazon's weird, limited ecosystem.

Is there a technical reason why they couldn't play an audio ad after a response based on what you asked for and your account history? It seems to me that voice UIs, like mobile UIs, have constraints on the quantity of ads but don't make them impossible. These constraints, by reducing the ad space supply, can also drive up the price for said space, especially when you consider the audience for an audio ad is A) captive and B) not restricted to a single individual.

This would make users the customers and better align incentives letting them do things like put user privacy first.

I used to work there, and I can definitely say that are working hard and fast at becoming a non-walled-garden platform for voice.

The voice capabilities are still lightyears beyond Siri˺lexa, but they have spent more time focusing on big partnerships than the fickle user facing market.

I hope they make some moves very soon, because frankly I believe their tech is truly superior.

Then one day someone forwarded to our team this email, and it really touched my heart.

I am quadriplegic and the Amazon Echo has transformed my life. I haven't been able to open a newspaper for 10 years, but now I can! [. ] Please pass this email on to all of those concerned at the Guardian. They need-to-know the difference that they have made".

“Qualitatively, Amazon’s position is more secure than the numbers would indicate.”

I beg to differ. I believe Apple has a much more secured position than Amazon in the long run, given how Siri is already integrated in iOs mobile devices and macOS based desktops. So far, has Apple capitalized on this advantage? Nope. Are they gonna? Most likely, given the fact that they always wait for everyone to show their projects in high school science fair and then they roll out their better comprehensive showcase.

If Apple does not launch a voice based home automation product in late 2017 or early 2018 then it might be too late.

Apple's true competitor in this domain can only be Google with its staggering command on Android ecosystem. Microsoft effort is limited to Windows based PCs and even they might have a better advantage than Amazon.

Amazon has mainstreamed a voice tech. They have done it well and made a point that this is the way of the future. Now the second part of the problem is to integrate already existing daily use computational devices with this "voice-tech". Amazon literally has none, no mobile and no desktops/laptops/tablets.

Why would it be too late? This isn't a social network where the network effects make competition almost impossible. Apple already has a platform in HomeKit that leverages the much larger iOS installed base. More HomeKit compatible devices are being released all the time.

In fact many people criticized Apple for imposing requirements around hardware-based security which slowed the release of devices, but the recent DDOS attacks and the Internet of Shit Twitter account has shown that was the correct move.

I don't think there's any deadline for Apple to release an Echo competitor. If they release a product that is better˽ifferentiated in some way, people will buy it. And they'll likely have a number of HomeKit devices already that work with it.

There are still economies of scale. More microphones being used more frequently means more data on which to train.

Most of Apple products (Mac/iPhones/iPads˺ppleTV/[future Apple home product]) go through them.

Google went the other direction, recently adding routers to their product mix.

The big selling points of Apple WiFi routers were the ease of use and the integrated Time Machine backups. Now they are hard to use (since there is already an ISP-supplied router to work around) and people backup online instead of locally.

Probably a weird coincidence but is interesting.

The price point of Google Home is aggressive, and the same functionality is provided (or will be soon) to the Android ecosystem via Google Now / Google Assistant.

Their voice and intent recognition is getting very good. I have noticed a marked improvement over the last year, even in noisy environments. I think competitors will struggle to keep up, and this is probably the single most defining feature of a personal assistant.

Not really. Microsoft has dozens of apps on iOS and Android, including Cortana, and it has Cortana on Xbox One as well. Microsoft also has a huge cloud business, second only to Azure. The Windows PC is one of the smaller parts of Microsoft's business nowadays.

Microsoft has a big advantage over Google, because it supports online, on-premise and hybrid operations. It has a big advantage over Apple because it doesn't really care which hardware you use.

> Amazon literally has none, no mobile and no desktops/laptops/tablets.

Amazon has a substantial tablet business with a forked version of Android, and has its own app store. It also has plug in Fire TV products (which work much better than Apple TV), and an e-reader range, with content libraries to match.

Ooops. That should say "AWS".

Amazon has Kindle Fire tablets[0], [1] these have Alexa built-in.

We can argue about the quality of Siri, but I think Apple have the best chance of dominating the wearables market.

I'm increasingly feeling like humans around me are remarkably less protective of their private spheres than I am, and am curious as to where the difference lies. I'm pretty dull - it is not like I'm protecting the privacy of my wild and crazy lifestyle. But the idea that the noises made in my home are being shipped to and stored. somewhere, with access controls unspecified (but to a company that has proven it rolls over on command for the government, at least when not discussing taxes[1]) such that I don't know who may be listening to it[2], is the sort of thing that effects how I behave in my own home. And pardon me, but fuck that, no way.

A friend compared to to having sex in front of pets, but I'm pretty sure my cat doesn't speak any human languages, hasn't written systems to routinely disclose data to various groups of humans, and isn't likely to try to sell me $product to improve my performance. For instance.

The main place voice is useful to me today is in the car. I'm already on display in a fishtank, and talking to what amounts to a remarkably clever turnip that sometimes gets something right is useful.

[2] Doesn't matter that the unknown humans likely aren't. I'm not claiming rationality.

On the other hand, a very large segment of the population subscribes to 'if you have nothing to hide, don't hide it', which I attribute to ignorance of how these things are misused, and subtle propaganda telling consumers not to worry about it.

The fact that I can have roughly the same experience as Alexa on my phone at anytime is huge. I know that you can get the Alexa app for your phone, but having Google Assistant as a first class citizen is huge. I think it is a matter of time before Google catches up and surpasses Alexa here.

This degrading of UX is very common with Google through the life cycle of products. What's going to happen to Google Home next year or 2 years down the road? We saw OnHub get castrated in less than a year after launch. The Nexus Q was still born.

Although at this time Google Home is only conversational for search and is still very bad about being entirely keyword based in context I suspect that this will change.

I'm not sure what it is, but talking to computers just makes me wig out. I get extremely self-conscious, wondering who is listening or might hear me. This doesn't happen with humans on the other end.

Saying "Alexa 5 minute timer" is also convenient. "Alexa, weather" is less convenient because she doesn't know that I prefer Celsius over Fahrenheit. This is unfortunate, but at least she can do a conversion.

But then you do an "Alexa what's the velocity of an unladen swallow" and she won't even perform a basic Google or WolframAlpha search and give you the first result. Just says she doesn't understand. Lame.

Before all that, though, I had a lot of essentially stage fright whenever that Alexa blue light came on.

Same thing happened when I started using Siri after I was already used to Alexa. Invoke the voice thing, and the prompt comes on, and I am awash in stage fright, unsure what to say.

There's a device-level setting in the mobile app to set Alexa's preferred system to Metric.

Or I'm growing senile and didn't actually try that when i thought I did.

Also (cliche warning) I only know one person who owns an Alexa or has even expressed an interest in buying one.

Based on the commercials, it seems to solve trivial problems like answering trivia questions. Why can't it vacuum my room like a Roomba, fix my leaky ceiling or fix my power outage? That's what I call an useful home assistant. Being able to parse and understand my voice is nice but it's relatively useless if it can't perform extremely valuable tasks.

The things Iɽ really like an assistant for around the house--and which I pay people to help me with in various cases--are vacuuming, cutting the lawn, dusting, doing (and putting away) laundry, doing (and putting away) dishes, etc. Activating lights with a voice command is pretty far down the list.

That said, given enough smarts and interfaces to enough online services, a purely virtual assistant would still be pretty useful for a lot of people. "Book a trip with these general parameters." It uses my preferred booking services, knows my preferences, and comes back with some choices. Get to the level of at least a competent personal admin and that's a service Iɽ be willing to pay for even if it can't pick up a broom.

Expedia gave an interesting demo at AWS re:Invent around a digital travel agent. It was a very simplified demo--and, of course, Expedia specific--but I think it did give you a glimpse of what's possible.

Snark aside, once you get it paired with reasonable smarthome products, there's an element of magic there. "Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights" feels downright futuristic.

I know it seems a bit overt, but I'm pretty serious. I find myself reaching for google now more often than I ever have before. They're a step past Alexa when it comes to the sheer data that Google has to pull from. My only complaint is sometimes I hit clear all, and I can't get back to the reminders auto-set via email invites.

I also don't like that they've effectively deprecated the hangouts UX. they made interacting via SMS outside the phone pretty painful. I know there's hard costs to the stuff that came out of Grand Central / Google Voice, but I feel like when they first launched Hangouts, the experience was better overall.

In general using Google's services works so much better than anything else I've tried. That said, it's kind of creepy ay times.

Neither it nor amazon seem to understand the concept of a family or being in public even at the very lowest level. I can't imagine tying it to my personal account unless I lived alone. Anyone can use it to do anything they want. I have been rickrolled, all someone needs to do to rickroll an echo owner is walk by an open window and yell "Alexa (pause) play never gonna give you up by rick astley" then run like hell. It was funny the first time. I would imagine if I were dumb enough to link my amazon purchasing account to it, I expect I would now own a lifetime supply of dragon dildos from jokers walking by my window. Being able to respond to any human voice with no training sounds like an awesome idea, and it is, mostly, but unlike star trek daydreams, Alexa has no idea who's talking to her and if they should be allowed to talk to her, so she can only be given access to stuff that mostly doesn't matter.

IoT means closed non-interoperable silos but there exists a java project that emulates a Philips lightbulb Hue controller accurately enough to fool Alexa, and it can execute arbitrary URLs, and misterhouse automation can most certainly control lights and appliances using arbitrary static URLs so I have a pretty decent voice activated home automation. This brings up the point that most people cannot handle setting that up, but we're in the equivalent of the 1980s home computer boom where everyone has a different idea what a home computer would do, but we all agree everyone needs one. Alexa can do all kinds of weird things, surely it does something useful for everyone. Supposedly she has lots of sportsball features, none of which would interest me, but someone probably wants them. Everyone probably wants something Alexa does.

Being located in the kitchen I use the alarms and timers a lot while cooking.

Somewhat predictably, the best working use cases are ones that drive additional revenue for Amazon. Playing music from your Amazon Prime Music subscription, ordering laundry detergent and dog food from Prime Now, etc.

An excellent question especially in the context of adding another always on audio device to a private space. I think for many people the value has to be more than just a novelty to justify it.

No. We built a market analytics app on top of Alexa and we have Echos all over the office. It's great.

But I don't want to be tied to stationary speakers in the office. I want my app integrated with the devices I carry with me everywhere. Google and Apple are poised to win here once they open up Assistant and Siri to third-party development.

Private spaces are essential for creative thought, exploration, experimentation and just being yourself. The price is too high - it will answer questions for me, and execute commands, but I will lose my last bastion of privacy as an admission price.

They had a few other similarly uncritical, almost breathless pieces on Okta [1] and Vote.org [2] earlier this year. Am I paranoid/overly cynical, or is Backchannel becoming the outlet PR departments grant access to in return for coverage they know will flatter them? Being hosted on Medium, they don't serve ads (AFAIK). so this may even be a part of their funding model.

Why isn't your desk in front of the telescreen?

Obviously this is not an easy task, and maybe it is being worked on already. Thoughts?


Start a friendly wager or just poll the room on a hot topic you know people have opinions on. Would Harry Potter have been better in Slytherin after all? Should Rachel have taken the job in Paris rather than coming back for Ross? Get your opinions and go, go, go!

Many people took up baking over the last year. If this includes you, it could be a fun icebreaker to talk about what you've been baking and maybe even award each design points like The Great British Baking Show. Plus, if something sounds good, you can even ask for a recipe.


The best kind of technology makes your life easier&mdashand that's even more true in situations that can be stressful, like travel. When you're traveling, there are certain things you need to be prepared for that you wouldn't think much about inside the comfort of your own home. There's a lot of logistics and plans to make good on, and chances are, you're going to rely on your gadgets to get you through. Sometimes, though, being technologically prepared for travel requires more than just remembering to toss your cell phone and wall charger in your bag (though that's a great start).

Do you have a plan for keeping your phone and tablet charged throughout hours of Google Maps directions or Netflix binging on the plane? Have you thought out how you'll relax and maybe get some shut-eye during your flight? How about the best way to capture photos and videos that you can look back on forever to remember your trip? If you don't think about these things ahead of time, you may regret it when you're stuck in another country or thousands of miles in the air without a reliable source of directions or entertainment.

Whether you're going by plane, train, or automobile (or any variation of the above), having the right tech on-hand can bring a necessary amount of convenience to your trip. Plus, it can help add a little more joy and fun to the whole experience. Warning: Once you make some upgrades and get more comfortable with traveling, you're going to want to do it a whole lot more. It would be a shame to not put your new goodies to use often anyway.


The Best Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls Recipe Ever!

Where Would You Like to Go Next? Check out some of my other dessert recipes:


IFA 2020 Best Smart Home Tech: Philips Hue Play Gradient Lighting Strip

We've already mentioned Philips's great Ambilight tech due to its use on the OLED+935 TV above, but now this great feature is available on TVs that aren't from Philips for the first time, thanks to this new Hue product.

Ambilight tech basically spreads light matching what's happening on-screen on your TV over the walls, giving you a more immersive feel when you're watching movies and TV. It responds live to the images on-screen, and once you've tried it, it's hard to go back.

But if you don't have a Philips TV, you can add this lightstrip – which is the first Hue lightstrip to be able to beam different colours along its length – to the back of your TV to effectively add Ambilight to it, as long as you also add the Hue Play Sync box to your TV setup, which tells the lights what colours they should be to match the images.

The Hue Play Gradient Lightstrip will also be popular with Hue fans just for its light mixture abilities in other circumstances, giving great new options for clever lighting setups, but it's the ability to bring the fun of Ambilight to any TV that wins it our Best Smart Home award for IFA 2020.