All posts in “virtual assistant”

Over a quarter of US adults now own a smart speaker, typically an Amazon Echo

U.S. smart speaker owners grew 40 percent over 2018 to now reach 66.4 million — or 26.2 percent of the U.S. adult population — according to a new report from Voicebot.ai and Voicify released this week, which detailed adoption patterns and device market share. The report also reconfirmed Amazon Echo’s lead, noting the Alexa-powered smart speaker grew to a 61 percent market share by the end of last year — well above Google Home’s 24 percent share.

These findings fall roughly in line with other analysts’ reports on smart speaker market share in the U.S. However, because of varying methodology, they don’t all come back with the exact same numbers.

For example, in December 2018, eMarketer reported the Echo had accounted for nearly 67 percent of all U.S. smart speaker sales in 2018. Meanwhile, CIRP last month put Echo further ahead, with a 70 percent share of the installed base in the U.S.

Though the percentages differ, the overall trend is that Amazon Echo remains the smart speaker to beat.

While on the face of things this appears to be great news for Amazon, Voicebot’s report did note that Google Home has been closing the gap with Echo in recent months.

Amazon Echo’s share dropped nearly 11 percent over 2018, while Google Home made up for just over half that decline with a 5.5 percent gain, and “other” devices making up the rest. This latter category, which includes devices like Apple’s HomePod and Sonos One, grew last year to now account for 15 percent of the market.

That said, the Sonos One has Alexa built-in, so it may not be as bad for Amazon as the numbers alone seem to indicate. After all, Amazon is selling its Echo devices at cost or even a loss to snag more market share. The real value over time will be in controlling the ecosystem.

The growth in smart speakers is part of a larger trend toward voice computing and smart voice assistants — like Siri, Bixby and Google Assistant — which are often accessed on smartphones.

A related report from Juniper Research last month estimated there will be 8 billion digital voice assistants in use by 2023, up from the 2.5 billion in use at the end of 2018. This is due to the increased use of smartphone assistants as well as the smart speaker trend, the firm said.

Voicebot’s report also saw how being able to access voice assistance on multiple platforms was helping to boost usage numbers.

It found that smart speaker owners used their smartphone’s voice assistant more than those who didn’t have a smart speaker in their home. It seems consumers get used to being able to access their voice assistants across platforms — now that Siri has made the jump to speakers and Alexa to phones, for instance.

The full report is available on Voicebot.ai’s website here.

You can now ask Alexa to control your Roku devices

Roku this morning announced its devices will now be compatible with Amazon’s Alexa. Through a new Roku skill for Alexa, Roku owners will be able to control their devices in order to do things like launch a channel, play or pause a show, search for entertainment options and more. Roku TV owners will additionally be able to control various functions related to their television, like adjusting the volume, turning on and off the TV, switching inputs and changing channels if there is an over-the-air antenna attached.

The added support for Amazon Alexa will be available to devices running Roku OS 8.1 or higher, and will require that customers enable the new Roku skill, which will link their account to Amazon.

Roku has developed its own voice assistant designed specifically for its platform, which is available with a touch of a button on its voice remote as well as through optional accessories like its voice-powered wireless speakers, tabletop Roku Touch remote or TCL’s Roku-branded Smart Soundbar. However, it hasn’t ignored the needs of those who have invested in other voice platforms.

Already, Roku devices work with Google Assistant-powered devices, like Google Home and Google Home Mini, through a similar voice app launched last fall.

Support for the dominant streaming media platform — Amazon Alexa — was bound to be next. EMarketer said Amazon took two-thirds of smart speaker sales last year, and CIRP said Echo has a 70 percent U.S. market share.

The Roku app will work with any Alexa-enabled device, including the Amazon Echo, Echo Show, Echo Dot, Echo Spot and Echo Plus, as well as those powered by Alexa from third parties, the company confirmed to TechCrunch.

Once enabled, you’ll be able to say things like “Alexa, pause Roku,” or “Alexa, open Hulu on Roku,” or “Alexa, find comedies on Roku,” and more. The key will be starting the command with “Alexa,” as usual, then specify “Roku” is where the action should take place (e.g. “on Roku”).

One change with the launch of voice support via Alexa is that the commands are a bit more natural, in some cases. Whereas Google Assistant required users to say “Hey Google, pause on Roku,” the company today says the same command for Alexa users is “Alexa, pause Roku.” That’s a lot easier to remember and say. However, most of the other commands are fairly consistent between the two platforms.

“Consumers often have multiple voice ecosystems in their homes,” said Ilya Asnis, senior vice president of Roku OS at Roku, in a statement about the launch. “By allowing our customers to choose Alexa, in addition to Roku voice search and controls, and other popular voice assistants, we are strengthening the value Roku offers as a neutral platform in home entertainment.”

Here’s everything announced at Samsung’s Galaxy S10/Galaxy Fold event

Missed today’s Samsung Unpacked event in San Francisco? In all, we have five new phones — one of them a foldable, some new earbuds, a virtual assistant and a watch. Here’s everything you need to know.

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, presented at Unpacked in San Francisco. (Source: Samsung)

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold launches April 26, starting at $1,980

The last time we saw Samsung’s foldable onstage, it was, quite literally, shrouded in darkness. The company debuted a prototype of the upcoming device at a developer conference, showing its folding method and little else.

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 lineup arrives with four new models

For the 10th anniversary of the flagship line, Samsung is going all in on this thing. And with more information expected on Samsung’s upcoming foldable, well, that’s a lot of Samsungs.

Samsung’s ‘budget flagship’ the Galaxy S10e starts at $750

The S10e is the most interesting of the bunch — or at least the most interesting one that doesn’t sport 5G.

The Samsung S10 gets a 5G model

Never mind the fact that 5G is still a ways away in just about every market — Samsung’s taking an educated gamble that some percentage of its early adopting/cost is no object approach will get in early on the next generation of cellular technology.

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 has a built-in Instagram mode

A new partnership with Instagram will bring Stories directly to the camera app, without leaving Samsung’s default camera software.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 can wirelessly charge other phones

The feature relies on the S10’s large battery to charge of other device. The new feature should be compatible with all phones that charge via the Qi standard.

Samsung S10’s cameras get ultra-wide-angle lenses and more AI smarts

Unsurprisingly, one of the features that differentiates these models is the camera system. Gone are the days, after all, where one camera would suffice.

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Here’s how all of Samsung’s new Galaxy S10’s compare

Want a quick at-a-glance breakdown of how they all compare? Here’s a handy chart so you know what to look out for.

Samsung just announced a phone with 1TB of built-in storage

Three different storage options: 128GB, 512GB, and 1 terabyte.

Samsung’s new Galaxy Watch Active tracks blood pressure

In the watch front, Samsung is embracing user health, much like the rest of the industry, including blood pressure tracking.

These are Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds

Wireless all the way. Samsung says the Galaxy Buds should be able to pull around five hours of talk time, or six hours of music listening time.

Samsung’s Bixby-powered Galaxy Home speaker will arrive ‘by April’

The product — as well as a rumored cheaper version — are a core part of Samsung’s push to make Bixby a key player in the smart home raise.

Samsung has sold 2 billion Galaxy phones

That’s a whole lot of Galaxy smartphones.

Want more? You can always watch a recording of today’s live stream.

Ecobee’s new voice-powered light switch moves closer to whole-home Alexa


Alexa is already everywhere in a lot of homes, thanks to the affordability and ease of installation/setup of the Echo Dot. But Alexa could become even more seamlessly integrated into your home, if you think about it. And Canadian smart home tech maker ecobee did think about it, which is how they came up with the ecobee Switch+.

Ecobee is probably most known for their connected thermostats, which are one of the strongest competitors out there for Nest. The company’s been building other products, too, however, and developing closer ties with Amazon and its Alexa virtual assistant. The Switch+ has the closest ties yet, since it includes Alexa Voice Service and far-field voice detection microphone arrays to essential put an Echo in your wall wherever you have a light switch handy.

The ecobee Switch+ is still a connected light switch that works like similar offerings from Belkin’s Wemo, too, and offers full compatibility with Alexa, HomeKit and Assistant for remote voice control. But it goes a step further with Alexa, acting not only as the connected home smart device, but also the command center, too.

The Switch+ is now available for pre-order from ecobee and select retail partners including, unsurprisingly, Amazon, in both the U.S. and Canada for a retail price of $99 U.S. or $119 Canadian. It should work with most standard light switches, although not 2-way switches where multiple switches control the same light or lights. In-store availability and shipping starts on March 26.

AI voice assistant developer Rokid raises $100M Series B extension to build its US presence

Rokid founder and CEO Mingming Zhu

Rokid, a Chinese startup that makes an AI voice assistant and smart devices, just raised a Series B extension round led by Temasek Holdings, with participation from Credit Suisse, IDG Capital and CDIB Capital. The size of the round was not released, but a source familiar with the deal told TechCrunch that it is $100 million.

The company’s previous funding was its Series B round, which was announced in November 2016. Founder and chief executive officer Mingming Zhu says Rokid raised a Series B+ instead of a C round because the company, which is based in Hangzhou, China with research centers in Beijing and San Francisco that develop its proprietary natural language processing, image processing, face recognition and robotics technology, is still in its early stages. Rokid wants to focus on gathering more resources and bringing in strategic investors like Temasek Holdings before moving on to a Series C. An investment holding company owned by the Singaporean government, Temasek Holdings counts artificial intelligence and robotics among its main investment areas and its other portfolio companies include Magic Leap.

Rokid Glass

The company’s product lineup already includes smart speakers called Rokid Pebble and Alien, which are currently sold in China. During CES, Rokid debuted its newest offering, Rokid Glass, augmented glasses created specifically for consumer use, as well as an open-source platform, called the Rokid Full Stack Open Platform. Created in partnership with Alibaba, the platform gives third-party hardware developers who use Rokid’s voice assistant access to free resources, including software blueprints and content for IoT devices. Rokid hopes that both will help build its name recognition and presence in the United States.

Reynold Wu, Rokid’s director of product management, describes the Full Stack Open Platform as a turnkey solution that not only gives developers access to Rokid’s AI technology, but also hardware solutions and services. Released with Aliyun, Alibaba’s cloud computing business, the cloud platform opened to third-party developers in China earlier this year, and will launch in the U.S. soon.

Rokid wants the platform to serve as a bridge between the two countries by giving U.S. developers an easy way to enter the Chinese market and also encouraging the development of more content for devices running Rokid’s technology, which founder and chief executive officer Mingming Zhu says is vital to attracting consumers.

“AI products are born to be global, not just for local market,” explains Zhu. “The only issue for Rokid is that we’re not ready for the U.S. market because the most important thing is content and we are not ready if there is only local content or services.”

The Pebble and Alien will be up against Google Home and Amazon Echo, which have become almost synonymous with “smart speaker” in the minds of many consumers, while Rokid Glass will inevitably be compared to Google Glass. The success of the Pebble and Alien hinge not only on how well users think Rokid’s voice assistant compares to Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, but also the library of content and apps that the startup is able to build for its smart speakers.

While Google Glass flopped among consumers, but saw more success as an enterprise device. Rokid hopes its smart glasses, which run on its proprietary AI voice and imaging algorithms, will be able to succeed where Google Glass wasn’t because it was designed specifically for consumer applications. Early reviews from CES say the Rokid Glass is promising and praised features like face recognition, but said it still needs work to become more responsive. Once it goes on sale, the Rokid Glass will compete with smart glasses from Vuxiz, Sony and Epson. Its price hasn’t been revealed yet, but Zhu says it will be sold at a consumer-friendlier price point than its competitors (many augmented reality smart glasses from Rokid’s rivals are currently priced in the range of $600 to $1,500).

“I think we are the only product that is really consumer-centric in not only design and weight, but also energy use,” says Wu. “A lot of players design for the enterprise market first and then try consumer opportunities, but we have developed consumer products over the past three years. All of them have entered the market successfully and we have users because of that, so we have confidence in our consumer products.”

Featured Image: Rokid