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'Amazon Echo' Articles

Amazon and Google Want to Turn Their Smart Home Speakers Into Telephone Replacements

Both Amazon and Google are working on turning their popular AI-based speaker products into replacements for a home telephone, reports The Wall Street Journal. The Amazon Echo and/or the Google Home could be used to make and receive phone calls, with the two companies planning to add the updated functionality as soon as this year. Smart home products like the Amazon Echo have become a staple in the lives of many people and the ability to make phone calls directly from the device would be a valuable addition. Google and Amazon are said to be working to overcome concerns about privacy, telecom regulations, and emergency services, plus the "inherent awkwardness" of making phone conversations via a speaker. The two companies are worried consumers won't want to speak on a device that is able to record conversations. Both the Echo and the Home continuously record audio to enable AI responses. One source that spoke to The Wall Street Journal said that Amazon would only collect metadata from phone calls rather than conversations themselves, and while it's unclear what Google would retain, a Home-based call service would likely resemble Google Voice, which does not record phone calls.Amazon is considering multiple options for how the phone feature could work, the people said. The Echo could get its own phone number. Call forwarding could enable calls to that number to be answered remotely on a cellphone, and vice versa. Another option is to sync a user's existing phone number and contacts with the Echo. Incoming calls would ring on the user's cellphone. Amazon and

Amazon's Alexa Gets Expanded Calendar Support and Tap Speaker Hands-Free Mode

Amazon has silently updated its Alexa assistant to include Outlook.com calendar support, reports The Verge. Amazon's Echo family of connected smart speakers have always supported Google calendars, but now Outlook users can ask Alexa to add or review upcoming events in their schedule using voice commands like "What's on my calendar?" or "Add an event to my calendar." Outlook.com calendars can be added via the iOS Alexa app under Settings -> Calendar, which will activate the support on any connected Alexa-powered devices. Alexa still doesn't officially offer support for Apple Calendar, but a basic skill has recently been developed and made available on Github that allows the assistant to read upcoming events from the native Apple app. In related news, Amazon has added hands-free Alexa support to its Tap portable speakers via an over-the-air software update. Originally, Amazon Tap users wishing to activate Alexa had to press a physical button on the Bluetooth speakers, but the latest update means Alexa can now be invoked via voice alone. Amazon says that even with the hands-free function, Tap speakers should retain about eight hours of battery life, while the "listening" mode of the devices can be put to sleep with a press of the power button. Tap speakers now also support Amazon's "echo spatial perception", which enables the closest Alexa device to respond to commands when two or more are in

Apple and Amazon Adopt Opposing Strategies as Smart Home War Heats Up

Apple has been in the smart home market for over two years, having introduced its HomeKit framework in the fall of 2014 alongside iOS 8, but HomeKit has been slow to get off the ground because of the company's strict requirements. Amazon, meanwhile, entered the smart home market somewhat later with its Alexa-enabled Echo in-home speaker officially launching in the summer of 2015, but Amazon's Echo already supports a wider range of products. The difference between the two? Open and closed development, as explored by Reuters in a new article that details the different approaches that Amazon and Apple have taken when developing their smart home offerings. Apple maintains strict control over its HomeKit platform, with a heavy focus on security and simplicity. Manufacturers who want to create a HomeKit product are required to use special HomeKit chips priced up to $2, along with specific WiFi and Bluetooth chips. Bluetooth-enabled HomeKit products from Elgato HomeKit devices have to be made in factories certified by Apple, and then have to be sent to Cupertino for rigorous testing, a process that can take three to five months and must be conducted in secret. Amazon's process for smart home products that work with Alexa is much simpler, taking a matter of days to complete. Smart home companies simply need to write code and send it for Amazon to review -- that's it. No special chips, no secure factories, and no specific oversight. Companies can send a product to a third-party lab for testing to earn a specific "Works with Alexa" label, a process that is completed

CES 2017: Ford to Integrate Alexa Virtual Assistant into its Cars From Next Month

Ford has announced it is teaming up with Amazon to integrate Alexa virtual assistant into its cars, allowing vehicle owners to access shop, search, and control smart home features on the road. The partnership means owners of Ford cars equipped with the SYNC 3 AppLink system will be able to access Amazon's Alexa voice-activated virtual assistant from the driver's seat, enabling them to check the weather, add items to shopping lists, play audiobooks, and control Alexa-compatible smart home devices, like lights and thermostats. "Ford and Amazon are aligned around a vision that your voice should be the primary way to interface with your favorite devices and services," said Don Butler, executive director, Ford Connected Vehicle and Services. "Customers will be able to start their vehicles from home, and manage smart home features while on the road – making life easier."Ford said that beginning next month, some owners of its vehicles will be able to use Alexa voice commands to access certain car functions and even check the range of their car. Specifically, owners of the Ford Focus Electric, Fusion Energy, and the C-MAX Energy will be able to use their Amazon Echo or Echo Dot smart speaker in the home to lock their car or start the engine remotely. Ford said it plans to offer the Alexa commands in more of its SYNC Connect cars at a later date. The second phase of the rollout, expected this summer, allows Ford owners to tap into a broad set of Alexa skills using their voice while driving – helping them keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. "We're excited

CES 2017: Lenovo Announces Amazon Alexa-Powered Connected Smart Speaker

PC maker Lenovo today announced its first smart speaker with Amazon's voice-activated virtual assistant built in. Called the Lenovo Smart Assistant, the connected speaker integrates Amazon's Alexa Voice Services and offers the same speech-activated features as the Echo family of devices, but housed in a slightly redesigned unit. The speaker keeps the same cylindrical profile as Amazon's Echo, but with the microphone portion of the device in a slightly raised position, which Lenovo says offers better ventilation to cool the internal components. Lenovo's unit also has eight far-field microphones versus Echo's seven, with noise suppression and acoustic echo cancellation included for picking up voice commands from up to 16 feet away. The Lenovo Smart Assistant comes in a range of color schemes including green, gray, and orange fabric. The speakers will ship in May for a price of $130 (less than Amazon's Echo at $180). Lenovo is also offering a Harman Kardon edition of the Smart Assistant featuring better sound quality for $180. Amazon's Alexa Voice Services API is expected to crop up in a number of new third-party products at this year's CES. Microsoft has previously teased third-party devices using its own Cortana virtual assistant

Microsoft Opens Cortana Virtual Assistant to Third-Party Hardware Makers

Microsoft has announced it is making its Cortana voice assistant AI available to third-party device makers, with third-party developers also set to get access to the platform for integrating into their services on Cortana-powered devices. The company's approach is based on two software kits currently available for preview: A Skills Kit that allows developers to build apps that can be called up and controlled via Cortana using voice commands, and a Cortana Devices SDK, which enables third-party hardware manufacturers to bake in the voice-activated AI to new devices. Premium audio company Harman Kardon is set to become one of the first device makers to make use of the SDK in a new wireless speaker, set to debut early next year. In a short video released by Microsoft, the speaker looks vaguely similar to an Amazon Echo, but appears to feature a display at the top that lights up when Cortana is summoned. Given its long history of working with OEMs, Microsoft's decision to license out its Cortana AI to third party device makers could prove an adroit move in a smart speaker space currently dominated by Google and Amazon, both of which have released own-branded devices. Just last week, Microsoft unveiled plans to compete with smart devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo by developing a HomeHub feature for Windows 10 PCs that enables Cortana to be summoned from the lock screen and provide useful information on request. The Redmond-based company is also planning to enable Cortana integration with fridges, toasters, thermostats, and other Internet of Things (IoT)

Amazon Discounts its Echo Smart Speaker Range Yet Again

As part of its Black Friday Deals Week, Amazon lowered the price of its Echo family of smart speakers, before returning them to their regular prices. Now Amazon has discounted the devices again for a limited time in the U.S. as part of a "Holiday Deals" promotion. The full-size Echo speaker is $40 cheaper at $139.99, while the smaller Echo dot is available for $39.99 instead of its regular price of $49.99. Amazon Tap, the company's portable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled speaker, has also seen its price reduced from $129.99 to $89.99. The Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Amazon Tap all have voice-activated assistant Alexa built in. MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon and may sometimes get paid if you click one of the above links.

Amazon Developing Echo Speaker With 7-Inch Touchscreen to 'Fend Off Competition' From Apple and Google

Amazon's next iteration of the Echo speaker will be a "premium" model that includes a touchscreen measuring around seven inches, marking "a major departure" from the tall, cylindrical design of the Echo currently on sale. The company is said to be upgrading Echo for two reasons: to capitalize on the device's success, and as early preparation to "fend off competition" from Google Home and Apple's rumored entry into the smart home speaker market (via Bloomberg). The logic behind adding a touchscreen to Echo is reasoned as a way "to make it easier to access content," like the weather and upcoming calendar events. Currently, Echo is a voice-activated device with limited volume and mute buttons on its topside. While the exact design of the speaker wasn't pinned down, people familiar with the plans said it will be larger and "tilt upwards" so users can read the screen when the Echo sits on a kitchen counter or desk. The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon’s existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company’s voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter. This will make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments, and news, the people said. They asked not to be identified speaking about a product that has yet to be announced. Amazon’s planned expansion of the Alexa-powered line coincides with growing competition from Alphabet Inc.’s Google Home speaker and Apple Inc.’s interest in building

Amazon Slashes Prices Across its Echo Smart Speaker Range for Black Friday

Amazon today began offering devices in its Echo smart speaker range at discounted prices for the first time in the products' short history, as part of its Black Friday Deals Week. For those unfamiliar with the devices, the connected speakers' array of microphones lets users query voice-based assistant Alexa, who can be asked to do things like play music, read the news, use apps, check the weather, turn on the lights, set timers, and more. The full-size Echo speaker is being offered at $140 (usually $180), while the second-generation Echo Dot – a smaller variant with the same features – has had $10 lopped off the price and is going for $40. Elsewhere, Amazon has slashed $40 off its Alexa-enabled portable Bluetooth speaker, now selling for $90 instead of $130. Apple is also offering its own Black Friday deals this year. For all the discounts on Apple products offered on Amazon, Apple, and elsewhere, be sure to check out the MacRumors Black Friday Holiday Roundup, continually updated throughout the week. MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon and may sometimes get paid if you click one of the above links and purchase a product or service.

Amazon Music Unlimited Launches With $3.99 Echo-Only Subscription Option

Amazon today launched Amazon Music Unlimited, its new standalone, on-demand streaming service. Amazon Music Unlimited is distinct from the company's Prime-only music library, which offers access to "over a million songs." By contrast, the new service promises access to "tens of millions" of songs from all the major labels. Prices start at $7.99 per month for Prime members and $9.99 per month for non-members, the latter of which puts it in the same cost bracket as Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play Music, and Tidal's standard price plans. A similar free 30-day trial is also being offered. In addition, Amazon is offering a separate $3.99 subscription plan for owners of connected speakers from the company's popular Echo range. The plan lets them stream music to Amazon's devices, but only those devices. A $14.99 per month (or $149 per year) family subscription plan for up to six people is currently in the works, and should become live later this year. Amazon says its library includes music from Sony, Universal, and Warner, as well as hundreds of indie labels, with thousands of curated playlists and personalized stations also accessible via the company's recently revamped mobile app. However, the service enters a crowded market already commanding millions of subscribers, which makes it increasingly difficult for newcomers to differentiate their service. In this respect, Amazon is likely betting on enticing existing Prime subscribers, and perhaps more significantly, those eligible for its Echo-only option, which could prove popular with a user base already familiar

Apple 'Pressing Ahead' Into Prototype Testing for Echo-Like Smart Home Device Powered by Siri

Apple is said to be "stepping up plans" for its connected smart home device powered by Siri, which would rival the technology that Amazon has made popular in its Alexa-enabled Echo speaker system (via Bloomberg). After two years of research and development, the Apple device is said to be in prototype testing, but because Apple hasn't officially finalized any plans it "could still scrap the project." Similar to Echo, the Siri device is said to be able to control smart home accessories like lights, locks, and curtains all through voice activation, and would most notably be the first new piece of Apple hardware introduced since the Apple Watch, and the iPad before that. To compete with Amazon -- and Google's own similar device called "Google Home" -- Apple will introduce "more advanced microphone and speaker technology," according to people close to the project. This could potentially include an ecosystem-wide upgrade to Siri's current functionality. Beyond the home device, Apple is researching new ways to improve Siri on iPhones and iPads, two people said. With an initiative code-named “Invisible Hand,” Apple hopes to give users the ability to fully control their devices through a Siri command system within three years, one of the people added. Currently, the voice assistant is able to respond to commands within its application, but Apple’s goal is for Siri to be able to control the entire system without having to open an app or reactivate Siri. For example, a user would be able to ask their iPhone to open a web page and then share it with a friend without the

Amazon Taking Pre-Orders For its Echo Smart Speaker in U.K. and Germany

Amazon yesterday announced its Echo connected smart speaker is now available to pre-order in the U.K. and Germany, signaling the end of a 14-month wait for the device to become available outside of the U.S. For those unfamiliar with the device, the Echo's array of microphones lets users query voice-based assistant Alexa, who can be asked to do things like play music, read the news, use apps, check the weather, turn on the lights, set timers, and more. The Amazon Echo costs £150 in the UK and 180 Euros in Germany, while Amazon Prime members get a £50 or 50 Euros discount off the sale price if they pre-order today. The Echo ships on September 28 and October 26, respectively, and the device is available in black or white. The company also made good on Tuesday's deleted tweet and announced an "all-new" version of the Echo Dot, a smaller $49.99 speaker that allows existing Echo owners to extend the smart system around the house. The Echo Dot, originally launched in March of this year at the price of $89.99, also lets existing Echo owners connect up their entertainment system and use Alexa to control streaming music services. The new Dot includes a faster speech processor than the old one and feeds into its Echo Spatial Perception feature, which enables the device to identify which speaker is closest to the user when a query is put to it. Otherwise, design differences between the first- and second-generation Echo Dot are subtle: the new Dot is marginally smaller and lighter, with an identical diameter but a height of 1.3-inches, compared to 1.5-inches, and

Deleted Amazon Tweet Leaks 'All New' $50 Echo Dot Smart Speaker

Amazon appears to be readying a cheaper version of its popular Echo Dot speaker, if a tweet that showed up briefly on the company's Twitter account this morning is anything to go by. The voice-controlled smart speaker that houses Amazon's personal assistant Alexa was announced back in March, costing $89.99, and is a smaller, palm-sized expansion to the company's flagship Echo product that lets users expand the capabilities of the latter device to different rooms of their house. Now it seems Amazon is almost set to offer a cheaper "all-new" version of the Dot at $49.99. The tweet, which was quickly deleted from the company's Twitter account but picked up by some users, linked to Amazon's existing page for the Echo Dot, which is currently sold out. Apparently not? @amazonecho: Introducing the all-new Echo Dot. Add Alexa to any room - now for just $49.99. https://t.co/AQkwY5xbHh/s/Z-sj— Darrin (@Indypodcaster) September 12, 2016 Recode queried the deleted tweet with Amazon spokespeople but they declined to comment, suggesting the pre-emptive tweet was a genuine accident. It's not the first social media announcement blunder we've seen this month. Last week, during Apple's "See You on the 7th" event in San Francisco, Apple's re-animated Twitter account began posting video clips of the new iPhone 7 complete with pre-order links before the phone had even been mentioned on stage. Amazon was also guilty of briefly taking its iPhone 7 accessories landing page live before the event had

Amazon Working on Echo $5-a-Month Music Streaming Service

Amazon is working on a $5-a-month music subscription service that will be exclusive to owners of the company's internet-connected Echo speaker. According to Recode, Amazon is planning to introduce the service in September alongside another music streaming service that costs $10 a month, to compete more directly with the likes of Apple Music and Spotify. Industry sources say the company has yet to finalize deals with major music labels and publishers. One sticking point is reported to be whether Amazon sells the cheaper Echo-only service for $4 or $5 a month. The $10-a-month service is said to replicate features common to the streaming market, such as unlimited, ad-free playback and an option to download music for offline listening. The company already offers Amazon Music as part of its Amazon Prime subscription package, but the music catalog is limited compared to streaming services like Tidal and Google Play Music. The $5-a-month service would be different to discounted subscription models that other companies have tried in the past. Not only will the $5 service be restricted to Echo owners, it won't be available to use on smartphones, which is what most users of existing streaming services sign up for. Amazon started shipping the Echo last year and reportedly sold a million units. The company is aiming to sell three million more this year and 10 million in 2017, according to The Information.

Google's Echo Rival is a 'Dressed-up' Version of Chromecast

Last month, Google announced plans for its upcoming Amazon Echo rival, Google Home, a Wi-Fi enabled personal assistant that enables people to ask Google search queries, manage everyday tasks, enjoy music and entertainment, and more using hands-free "OK Google" voice commands. Yesterday, a few more details emerged about Google Home, which will potentially go directly up against the smart device Apple is rumored to be working on. According to technology news site The Information, Google Home will share many of the hardware components of the company's popular internet-connected TV streaming device, Chromecast, relying on the same dual-core ARM-based microprocessor, 4GB of RAM, and a dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi chip. The similarities are apparently so close between the two devices because the same team responsible for the Chromecast headed up development of the Google Home. As a result, it is being described as "dressed-up version" of the company's existing device, with the addition of a microphone, speaker, plastic top with LED lights, and a fabric or metal bottom.  The Home is also expected to run the same Linux-based OS used on the Chromecast, though Google has discussed powering future versions with its Android mobile platform.  The upshot of all this is that the device could be extremely inexpensive to produce, given that the Chromecast currently sells at $35. That would mean Google being able to significantly undercut the $179 Amazon Echo. Notably, the Chromecast is also one of Google's most successful hardware products, selling 3 million units in the

Apple May Introduce Next-Gen Natural Language API in its Amazon Echo Competitor

Last week we reported that Apple is said to be readying an Amazon Echo competitor that could be used in the home for features like listening to music, asking for information and getting news headlines. The product is thought to include a camera with facial recognition capabilities and said to learn over time about its users, which interact with the device via an enhanced version of Siri. Meanwhile, Apple's virtual assistant is expected to be opened up to outside developers via a soon-to-be-released software development kit in order to facilitate this integration. Now, Tech Insider claims that a natural language outfit bought by Apple late last year could play a central part in the company's plans for the upcoming smart home device. In October 2015, Apple acquired VocalIQ, a UK-based startup that had spent the last 10 years researching natural language, belief tracking, decision making, and message generation, in an attempt to develop a next-generation natural language API. Speculation at the time suggested Apple hoped to use the technology in its car project, codenamed "Titan". However, according to a source familiar with VocalIQ's technology who spoke to Tech Insider, Apple is likely to introduce the API in its Echo competitor because of its ability to go beyond the "session-based" contextual responses touted by the likes of Viv. VocalIQ achieves this feat by retaining semantic context between conversations and permanently remembering the preferences of its users. Apparently the company had been testing VocalIQ against Siri, Google Now, and Cortana,

Apple's Amazon Echo Competitor Could Feature Camera, Facial Recognition

Apple's rumored product designed to compete with the Amazon Echo could come equipped with a camera and facial recognition capabilities, reports CNET. Citing sources with knowledge of Apple's plans, CNET says the device would be "self aware," able to detect the people in the room through facial recognition technology. Once the device determines who is in the room, that information could be used to pull up each person's preferences, "such as the music and lighting they like," allowing for a customized interactive experience for each member of the home. Facial recognition is something Apple has previously expressed interest in, both through patent filings and acquisitions. News of Apple's work on an Amazon Echo competitor first surfaced earlier this week, when The Information reported such a device was under development. The Amazon Echo is an in-home personal assistant device that features a built-in speaker and a robust artificial intelligence system, and a product from Apple would likely be similar, with AI capabilities based on Siri along with its own speaker and microphone. It is not clear what form Apple's in-home hub will take. While The Information's report suggested it was a standalone hardware product, a second report from VentureBeat has said Apple will built the Echo-like features into a next-generation Apple TV. Apple is laying the groundwork for a robust in-home AI-powered product through its work on Siri, and major Siri improvements could come in iOS 10. Apple is said to be preparing to release a Siri SDK, which would make the personal assistant

Apple's Rumored Amazon Echo Competitor Could Be a Next-Generation Apple TV

Earlier this week, The Information said Apple was actively developing an in-home hub that would compete with the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, and now VentureBeat has shared new details on the product and its prospective features. Citing an unnamed source, VentureBeat says rather than developing a new product, Apple could add Echo-like features to a revamped version of the Apple TV. The Amazon Echo, for those unfamiliar, is an in-home personal assistant device with a built-in speaker and a robust AI system. The Echo is able to perform a wide range of functions, from giving weather reports and answering queries to controlling smart home devices. A future version of the Apple TV may gain a dedicated microphone and speaker, along with deeper Siri integration to allow it to function like the Echo. Processing queries and serving up results is said to require additional computing infrastructure, which Apple is working on. It is not clear what extra computing infrastructure is needed as the fourth-generation Apple TV includes the same A8 processor that was used in the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, two devices more than capable of processing Siri inquiries.The company will build on its enhancements to the Apple TV announced last year, which brought the Siri virtual assistant to the set-top box. A new version of the Apple TV will solve problems with the existing box and remote control, a source familiar with the matter claims. "They want Apple TV to be just the hub of everything," the source told VentureBeat.Apple reportedly considered several options, ranging from a

Apple Working on Amazon Echo Competitor, Opening Siri Up to Developers

Apple is actively developing a product that would compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home, reports The Information. Citing a source with direct knowledge of Apple's plans, the report suggests Apple is working on a Siri-based device that would include a speaker and microphone that could be used for features like listening to music, getting news headlines, and more. In addition to developing such a device, Apple is planning to improve Siri by opening the voice assistant up to outside developers. Apple is said to be preparing to release a Siri software development kit that would allow developers to make their apps and their app content accessible through Siri voice commands. Apple plans to require developers to use the tool responsibly. Opening Siri up to third-party developers will go a long way towards expanding the capabilities of Apple's virtual assistant. Right now, Siri only works with a handful of apps like OpenTable and Yelp, and Apple has been hesitant to develop a Siri API and improve Siri's functionality because of privacy concerns. According to The Information, a Siri SDK could be introduced as soon as WWDC, meaning third-party Siri access would be built into iOS 10 and perhaps OS X 10.12, which is also rumored to be gaining Siri support. Both Amazon and Google have developed robust in-home personal assistant devices built around their respective AI platforms, which Apple hopes to compete with. The products are able to perform a wide range of features, from giving weather reports and answering queries to controlling smart home devices like light

Google Set to Announce Amazon Echo Rival, Codenamed 'Chirp'

Google is working on a standalone hardware device that will integrate the company's search and voice assistant technology, reports Recode. According to sources, the product is said to be similar to Google's smart home enabled OnHub wireless router and is set to compete against the likes of Amazon's Echo. OnHub wireless router (Image: Google) Google declined to comment on the rumor, but the project, said to be known internally as 'Chirp', is expected to be officially announced at next week's Google I/O developer conference, where voice search and intelligent personal assistance are to take center stage alongside the company's latest forays into virtual reality. In 2014, Google acquired connected device company Nest, which reportedly had its own designs for an Echo competitor running Google's search technology, but scrapped the plans because of concerns over consumer privacy. After launching the Echo over a year ago, Amazon announced in March two new additions to its lineup of voice-controlled smart hubs that house the company's personal assistant, Alexa.