Hey, smart speaker!

07th June 2017
Hey, smart speaker!
Amazon's new version of the smart speaker -- Echo Show -- has a display

A speaker that responds to your voice and controls your appliances could be in your home this year.
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, June 7 2017: The robot butler or machine major domo, remains the stuff of movies -- and AI conferences.  But other developments,  might soon take the rest of us, half way there  and  create in our home  an all-seeing, all-knowing  command centre -- with the gift of the gab, to boot!
This giant step towards the smart home has come  from unlikely quarters -- the speaker.  Amazon was the first, in 2014, to unveil a  voice-activated speaker, called Echo,  a  20 cms tall cylinder, that  incorporated a voice assistant, Alexa.   You could speak  your music choice-- song, artiste, genre -- to her and she would play it.  But this was one smart lady -- with her eye on your purse.  If the track you wanted was not in your collection, she could go to the Amazon shopping site, buy it and download it ( paying with your credit card)!  She could also access a huge library of 10,000 'skills' and guide you  orally as you baked a cake or  serviced your bike.
Echo also served as the nerve centre of home appliances -- showing you who was the door or how your baby was doing -- via a  video camera, controlling your lights or  A/C, if those devices were compatible.  It also redirected your telephone calls. You could talk to Alexa, from anywhere in the room, because she  was backed by 8 microphones and special noise-cancelling technology.  Echo has been available in the US and Europe  for 2 years now, for $ 180 (Rs 12,000)   and  while Amazon  is not saying anything officially, there are  indications that Echo might be launched in India later this year -- after the company  has put in place enough local applications. Meanwhile   you can import it at ebay.in for Rs 20,000.
Google played catch-up last year  to launch its  own smart speaker called Home,  powered by  Google Voice Assistant. It was smaller ( about half as tall) and cheaper at $ 129 ( Rs 8400) and did  pretty much what  Amazon Echo did. It had the advantage of the huge Google search engine to back it, so you could ask  Home almost anything and get an answer.  At the Google I/O developer conference last month, Google previewed extensions  which allowed you to send text messages to Home. If you can't wait, for the India launch, ebay   sellers are offering  Google Home for Rs 17,000 - Rs 19,000.
The other voice assistant in the market is Microsoft's Cortana  which you can use with Windows 1. Last month, Harmon, a lifestyle audio company   owned by Samsung,  launched  its own voice-activated speaker, Harmon Kardon Invoke, fueled by Cortana.  It claims a slight edge, being able to  tell different voices apart, so that members of a family will get personalized service. It is  only available in the US, for now.
Ironically, the  world's first smart voice assistant was Apple's Siri. In a case of 'better late than never' Apple this week has unveiled its   Siri-controlled smart speaker  at itsWorldwide Developer Conference in San Jose (CA, USA). It's called Home Pod|
Meanwhile  Amazon which  has previewed a version of Echo, called Echo Show, that comes with a 7-inch  touch screen and a video camera.   It is due  to be launched in  the US  by end-June for $ 230 (Rs 15000).  Meanwhile there are good chances that Apple will preview its Siri smart speaker this week, at  its .
All these smart home centres  have gone way beyond basic speakers.  Korean electronics giant LG decided to enter the arena with a product that  even looks like a humanoid robot,  complete with 2 blue eyes. It uses Amazon's Alexa as the voice assistant  and moves, swivels and expresses a range of emotions.  The  LG Hub Robot was previewed at CES  in January this year but is yet to hit the market.
We don't know the India launch dates of these competing domestic smart guys -- but it looks  like we can plan on making space for at least one of them by year end.