Amazon Alexa Already Winning Virtual Assistant Showdown

Amazon’s Alexa, the personal in-home assistant, has been ranked as the best digital virtual assistant of 2016 by both industry experts and sales.

Amazon’s Alexa, the personal in-home assistant launched with the Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Echo, completely obliterated its competition in the smart home market last year, and is poised to make an even bigger impact in 2017.

Alexa Ranked Best Digital Virtual Assistant of 2016

Sitting atop CNET’s list for the best smart home devices for 2016 was Amazon’s Echo, edging out competitors like Nest, Phillips, and other top producers. Alexa even took home the top-spot at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, leading major tech website Wired to run the headline: “Alexa Just Conquered CES. The World Is Next.” Alexa’s praise isn’t solely relegated to techies and those within the industry, companies like Ford and LG unveiled new products with Alexa integration last year.

While the market for smart home devices are still comparatively smaller than the one for smartphones, Amazon has quickly asserted itself as the dominant player. Google, Microsoft, and Apple are coming out with their own voice-activated speaker technologies, but Amazon remains the company to beat.

Experts say that Amazon was able to maneuver itself into the top spot by not overselling its Alexa, as Apple repeatedly did with Siri, Business Insider reports. Instead of selling the Echo as a device that was more than just a speaker, Amazon marketed the Echo as a speaker with a few smart voice commands built in. Overtime, as Siri let consumers down and positive press spread about Amazon’s alternative, the online retailer carefully added new sets of capabilities to Alexa. Today, Alexa boasts thousands of commands that allow it to: order its owner an Uber, order products from Amazon.com, or even read the day’s news.

Amazon’s Echo is the now the central device in the market for smart home technology. It has the capacity to interact with nearly every aspect of a user’s home, including: lights, thermostats, and door locks.

The central part of Echo that helps to make Amazon more successful is that it is built to make it easier for the consumer to give more of their money to Amazon. From playing music to making a purchase, the device defaults to Amazon.com. Essentially, the interface always insures that the user is connecting with Amazon, especially when spending money.

Looking at Amazon’s holiday sales of its smart home devices, it is easy to see that consumers are jiving with Amazon’s Alexa.

The company had its best holiday sales season this past Christmas. The firm said it outpaced sales goals for its flagship Amazon Echo family this December, with sales up over nine times what they were compared to last year’s holiday season.  The online vendor sold millions of Alexa devices worldwide. Amazon Fire TV Stick and Fire tablet were also top-sellers this year.

Echo and Echo Dot were the best-selling products across Amazon this year, and we’re thrilled that millions of new customers will be introduced to Alexa as a result,” CEO Worldwide Consumer, Amazon, Jeff Wilke said in a Tuesday press release. “We couldn’t have made this holiday season possible for customers without the dedication and hard work of our customer service, transportation, and fulfillment associates along with our carrier partners.”

The online vendor was so successful in selling its Amazon Echo this holiday season, that it had to halt shipping of the product because it ran out of inventory.

As sales of Alexa devices are on the rise, the clock is ticking for Amazon’s competitors to find a viable option to compete.

Amazon Alexa Photo via Shutterstock

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Microsoft’s First Digital Assistant, Cortana, Is Here

Sometime ago buzz began about a new digital assistant that would be available with the unveiling of Windows Phone 8.1.

Now, Microsoft’s first assistant, Cortana, is here. Microsoft has made the new Windows Phone 8.1 available to developers which means your carrier will have the phone available very soon.

The name Cortana apparently comes from a holographic character in Microsoft’s video game franchise, Halo.

Whatever the inspiration, the Cortana assistant acts much like Apple’s digital assistant Siri and Google Now. It’s designed to be your personal assistant keeping track of things that are important to you and searching for information on your Windows Phone. Cortana will be able to set your alarms and even reserve a table at a restaurant. She will remind you of meetings in your calendar and even tell you how long it will take you to travel to your next business meeting.

Cortana works inside just about every other app on Windows Phone 8.1, too. Tapping on a magnifying glass inside the app you’re running allows you to multitask. So, if you’re listening to music while on the road, you can tap to activate Cortana to also set a reminder or alarm, schedule a meeting, or run a Bing search.

Here’s a look at how Cortana works, from Windows Phone Central:

Outside of Cortana, Windows Phone 8.1 features new live tiles that you can customize with a unique skin. The Verge also notes that the update improves support for dual SIM cards, calendar views, and app updates.

“On one hand, Windows Phone 8.1 is a push toward the future, full of new things and new ways to do old things. But it’s also simply Microsoft’s biggest effort yet to bring its mobile platform closer in line with iOS and Android, to make it seem less alien to those who might switch.”

There is actually a way to get access to the updated mobile operating system. But be aware, this process will void the warranty on your device until your carrier releases the operating system update, according to The Verge in a different post.

If you’re not an app developer and are too anxious to wait for your mobile carrier to release the update, here’s how you can get Windows Phone 8.1 now.

First, go to the Windows Phone App Studio and sign in with your Microsoft account. The next step is to create a project. If you already have Windows Phone 8, you can download a free preview app. When you sign in to the app, your phone will detect the Windows Phone 8.1 update.

Image: Xbox

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Google Assistant on Pixel Phones Could Soon Get Keyboard Input

Google Assistant on Pixel Phones Could Soon Get Keyboard InputGoogle Assistant on Pixel Phones Could Soon Get Keyboard Input
HIGHLIGHTS
The keyboard based input was discovered in a teardown of Google app APK
A new keyboard icon will appear on the Google Assistant screen
There are no details when this feature will roll out
With Google Assistant, the Internet giant Google took AI-based digital assistance to another level. Last year, Google released versions of Google Assistant on three different products – the Pixel smartphones, Google Allo, and Google Home. Until now, the only way to interact with the Assistant outside the Allo app has been to use voice, but that may soon change.

In its teardown session of APK file for a new beta version of Google app for Android, Android Police discovered that the keyboard-based input could be coming to the Google Assistant for the Pixel and Pixel XL. Presently, you can only communicate with Google Assistant through voice on Pixel smartphones. When this keyboard input feature finally arrives, a keyboard icon will start showing up while you interact with Google Assistant, and tapping on it will allow you to type your query. However, it still remains to be seen if there would be a difference between the sort of replies you get from Google Assistant with and without the keyboard input, though we’d be surprised if there was any difference.

The APK file teardown also revealed Assistant could add support for Android Wear, but it’s still not clear if this would only be for wearables paired with Pixel smartphones, or a wider range of phones. In addition, there’s another feature that has been discovered in the teardown. It’s a bare mention of ‘search gestures’ in the APK file, which suggests Google might be testing some gesture input feature in the Pixel launcher or Google Now launcher.
It’s not clear when these features will ship to all users.

This week at the CES trade show, Google said that Assistant will now be making its way to supported Android TV devices in the US. Google’s artificial intelligence-based digital assistant will be released for Nvidia’s new Shield, as well as other Android TVs running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow or higher, which includes AirTV Player, Sharp Aquos, Sony Bravia, and Xiaomi Mi Box.

For the latest coverage from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, visit our CES 2017 hub.
Tags: Google Assistant, Google, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Assistants, Apps, Android

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Amazon’s Alexa Voice Assistant Arrives on Fire Tablets

Amazon's Alexa Voice Assistant Arrives on Fire Tablets

Amazon’s Alexa Voice Assistant Arrives on Fire Tablets

Amazon’s Fire tablets are getting the Alexa voice assistant.

The previously announced feature will start rolling out to customers Wednesday. It’s meant to complement what users get on other Alexa devices, such as the Echo speaker. Through voice commands, users can get the news read out to them or listen to music from services such as Amazon Music or Pandora.

The Fire tablets will go beyond Echo by offering full-screen cards with additional details. For instance, when you ask for the weather, Alexa will speak out the current temperature and offer the day’s forecast, just as she does on Echo. But the visual card will also display the week’s forecast. For news and music, the card offers playback control such as pausing and skipping.

For those with both Fire and Echo, making a request on Echo will trigger the Fire’s screen to turn on and present the detailed cards, as long as a Voicecast feature is enabled through the Alexa app.

Amazon says Alexa will differ from Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant in being designed for tablets first, rather than phones. That means focusing on tasks typically done at home, such as entertainment, recipes and timers. For tasks on the go, such as finding nearby restaurants, Alexa performs a standard web search or directs you to the Alexa app. Apple and Google have special interfaces with restaurant ratings, price ranges and more, and both integrate that information into their chat apps, too.Although the overall tablet market has been slumping, Amazon.com Inc. has managed to stay strong by slashing prices and encouraging people to buy more than one. Its bare-bones base model costs just $49. Last month, Amazon introduced a new 8-inch tablet for $90, down from $150 for similar models in the past.

So far, Amazon is avoiding business-oriented tablets such as Apple’s iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface. Aaron Bromberg, a senior product manager for Fire tablets, said that while such devices work well as laptop replacements, “we also see an awful lot of people that want tablets to use around the house for entertainment.”

“We see the market kind of dividing a bit,” he said.

Tags: Amazon, Amazon Fire HD Specifications, Tablets, Alexa, Apps
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