A layperson’s exploration of all things voice

Category Archives: Home Use

June 9, 2020

Smart Speakers: Bedrooms are the Most Popular Location

Here’s the stats from this Voicebot.ai article:

– Smart speakers are most likely to be found in bedrooms, leading other locations in the home at 45.5% of device owners
– The popularity of the bedroom rose about eight percent over 2019 when it was the choice of 37.6% of smart speaker owners
– Consumers with smart speakers in the bedroom are more active users of smart speakers across a number of use cases
– Data suggests smart speakers are becoming more integrated into morning and evening routines for consumers and that privacy concerns are no more prevalent based on location within the home

May 21, 2020

How Consumers Are Using Voice During the Pandemic

In this 11-page report, RAIN and PulseLabs looked into the how over 1400 people are using voice assistants during the pandemic. Here’s the highlights:

More People are Looking to Voice for News & Info – Voice requests for updates about the coronavirus increased by 250% in the month of March, indicating that people are increasingly looking to their voice assistants for news and a variety of facts about current events.

Voice Searches Carry Rich Emotional Valence – Spoken searches and commands can carry more emotion and sentiment, valuable for brands in any industry. For example, we found that people ​confide​ in Alexa, asking questions like “Alexa, what are the chances I’ll be infected?,” “Alexa, I’m scared,” and “Alexa, am I going to die?”

Spikes in At-Home Voice Use Presents Big Potential Value for Brands – The conversation on voice can yield valuable insights across industries. As one key example, we found a 50% increase on voice apps related to ordering and delivering food. And questions about recipes have gone up by 41%. Analysis of these utterances confirms the intuition that people are cooking and ordering food more than before, while also providing clues about which brands and experiences they prefer.

Accuracy is Paramount for Trust – Over recent months, both Alexa and Google Assistant have taken pains to ensure that reputable, recognized sources provide answers to coronavirus-related queries through a strong emphasis on 1st party experience. The volume, variety, and seriousness of the queries seen in this report validate the importance of those efforts.

May 19, 2020

Smart Speakers Can Be Smart

This NY Times article describes the many uses of smart speakers that often aren’t taken advantage of – here’s an excerpt:

All the major smart speakers can connect to your phone and be used as a speakerphone. Even in the most well-wired offices, it’s often hard to be heard and understood on conference calls, and your smart speaker may be able to help. Using a HomePod, Google Home speaker, or Echo device as a speakerphone has two main advantages: It likely has a louder speaker than your smartphone and, often, an array of multiple microphones designed to pick up hard-to-hear speech from different angles of a room.

Each manufacturer has instructions on how to turn its smart speaker into a speakerphone (here they are for Apple’s HomePod, Google Home and Amazon’s Echo devices). Each device has its own way of connecting to your phone and contacts. Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers connect through their apps, while Apple iPhones can connect to HomePods over AirPlay or automatically just by holding it near the top of the speaker.

This might not be ideal in a large corporate setting, but for smaller offices or remote settings, having a multipurpose speaker that can be used for music and other tasks, as well as a conference call speakerphone other times might be just the ticket to beat the bad call quality that comes with other speakerphones.

April 30, 2020

How to Use Google Assistant Around the House

I definitely cover more Amazon Alexa items on this blog than ones pertaining to Google Assistant. So I thought I’d share this article with some basic tips about how you can leverage the Google Assistant with your tasks at home. Nothing earth-shattering, but I’m emboldened to start trying to take notes more often by voice. Here’s the excerpt related to that:

Jot down notes – Use the Google Assistant to quickly jot down notes when you are in the middle of other tasks. With a change to the app settings at the end of 2019, you can now not only use your voice to make notes, but you can also choose between a few different note-taking apps. You can choose from Google Keep, Any.do, AnyList, and Bring. Just say, “Hey Google, make a new note called video idea.”

April 7, 2020

Alexa Improves List-Making

Hat tip to the “Rain” agency for pointing out this c-net article about how Amazon has improved how Alexa can help you be a taskmaster. Here’s the intro:

Adjusting to a new schedule during quarantine is tough. You’re now at home, except for trips to the grocery store and other essential errands, you’re missing friends and family who you usually see weekly, and your days seem to run together. To help you better adjust, Amazon has released new features for its Echo speaker to help you maintain a balance.

For example, Amazon has created two new routines specifically for staying at home that can help you schedule the day. I’m looking forward to using this one because I personally lose track of time when working from home and forget that I need to stand up and stretch.

February 25, 2020

Most Mobile Apps Will Be Voice Activated Within a Few Years

This Voicebot.ai podcast provides ten short interviews from the CES conference. At the 28:30 mark, Bret talks to WillowTree’s Tobias Dengel who discusses how voice’s big area of growth will be multimodal (typically meaning a combination of visual – think screen or text – and audio). Among Tobias’ comments were these:

– Most mobile apps will be voice activated in a year or two
– Distinguish speaking & listening: humans want to speak to machines but receive information visually, by screen, text, etc. Note that in Star Trek, the ship’s computer doesn’t talk back to someone who gives a command
– We want transactional convenience. At CES, there was a demo of someone ordering pizza. For starters, it’s better to order on an app than website because the functionality is better. With an app, it takes 45 seconds to place an order. With voice, it drops to less than 10 seconds. But if the voice app repeats back our order by audio, we lose benefit of that speed – but if instead it shows our order for confirmation by text or a screen, we can keep the transaction to 15 seconds. That’s a significant time savings.
– Another example at CES was discussed by the Mayo Clinic – right now, doctors take notes as they talk to you. It’s distracting and a waste of time. What if instead, your commentary to your doctor was recorded – relieving the doctor of the legal obligation to take notes.
– Another example is deciding to go to a movie – it’s much faster to review showtimes visually than hear them (who can forget Kramer in Seinfeld reading movie showtimes over the phone!), but then complete the purchase of tickets with a voice command.
– Bret notes that this is somewhat of a contrarian view, the view held by Tobias that we don’t need more immersive experiences – we need better transactions. Tobias notes that Google says this is year of screens paired with voice. The explosion of multimodal.
– Tobias opened with the psychological perception of voice. Right now, the problem with voice is people still don’t trust it – with the reason for the problem is that people are evaluating voice apps as humans and not as machines, and they need to change that view because voice apps aren’t humans.

February 24, 2020

My First Week-Long Silent Meditation Retreat

Just back from my first weeklong silent meditation retreat, something I’ve been heading towards after five years of engaging in a variety of mindfulness practices. It was good timing given I’m not working right now and had just spent two weeks at the beach in Florida. So I was sort of unplugged already.

The retreat was part of Jonathan Foust’s fabulous “Year of Living Mindfully” (you must check out Jonathan’s dharma talks available in podcast form). The retreat’s schedule was more structured than you might imagine. After the 5:30 am wakeup bell, we participated in ten different “sits” before we went to bed at 9:30 pm. Between the sits, we had ample time to mindfully walk or eat a meal. Being silent meant no reading or writing – and of course, no electronics – and we even had to avert the eyes of our fellow yogis as we moved about. We were focusing inwards.

Here’s a few items that might help give you the feel of the retreat – I went in fairly blind and had no idea this is how the experience would be:

1. Escape Fantasies – I understand how most would roll their eyes at the notion of a weeklong silent retreat. I was one of those for years. But it was a condition to being accepted to the “Year of Living Mindfully” program that I’m enrolled in. And I was totally game anyway because I’m in a state of ‘Just Say Yes’ to most things these days.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t apprehensive. I felt scared the entire drive down. What if I had a transformative experience and wasn’t the same? How could I bear being silent? What excuse could I find to leave early? Little did I know that those escape fantasies would never really dissipate. In my mind, I was looking for ways to leave during most of the week.

2. Sleeping with Others in Silence – As almost always happens in life, the things you spend time worrying about never come to fruition. Going in, I was worried about the sleeping arrangements. One of my biggest challenges these days is sleeping soundly. I’m often up before 5 am. And can’t get back.

I arrived to find that I would be sleeping in close quarters with three other guys, with six more upstairs in two small bedrooms. But I slept like a baby. Never even knew the name of a few of my roommates. And of course, I didn’t speak to any of them. The house only had two bathrooms – but getting into a bathroom was never an issue. Once we were awake, we were rarely there and folks took showers throughout the day.

3. Feeling the Power of Nature – In silence, your senses are heightened. They’re magnified even more if you’re meditating much of the day. Really hearing the sounds of nature. The hum of a bee swarm. The calls from a flock of geese. The breeze rustling on your cheeks. The crunch of your feet on the path.

Ah, the sights. The bright stars hanging in the nighttime sky. The sun pouring in at the break of dawn. The small ripples of waves folding over in the river. And then there’s the bodily feeling of it all. The trees calling to you, feeling their vitality as they become one with you.

4. The First Sit of the Day – Each sit felt different than any other. We are in a constant state of change. And on this retreat, I was definitely unsure what each day would bring. You were intensely aware of that. But having said that, the first sit of the day always felt a little special. Your legs feeling fresh (I would often sit in lotus position – many sat in chairs). Feeling your present. A little excited about what that day might bring.

5. The “Unplugged” Maelstrom – The first few days of a retreat can be particularly challenging. Your mind – and body – becoming accustomed to being unplugged. Letting all that stimulation – all that stress – go. I experienced a loud hum by the afternoon of the second day, followed by a migraine, some paranoia, as my reality emerged. By the third day, that type of tumult had faded away.

6. The Pleasures of Mindful Eating – Our diet consisted of simple plant-based meals. Luckily, my diet going in was fairly healthy – so my body didn’t experience much of an adjustment on that front. The huge adjustment for me was the pace of eating.

We weren’t instructed to do so – but the group quickly fell lockstep into a habit of eating quite deliberately. Placing a small forkful of food in your mouth. Perhaps just a solitary bean. Setting the fork down to slowly chew. Taking a few long breaths before feeling the urge to do it again. Eating a salad could easily take over 20 minutes. Nowhere to be. Nothing to do. Just enjoy.

7. The Intensity of (Not) Eating Alone – I’d say the biggest surprise was the power of sitting with 60 people for a meal. All of us not looking at each other. Not talking. Each of us being so intentional in our actions. It would get emotional at times. It was wonderful.

8. Oh Yeah, The Silence – Noble silence. Another surprise was how easy it was not to talk. Not talking is much easier than giving up the cell phone. The newspaper. The TV. And we did talk some. We met in small groups with a teacher every other day to discuss our experiences so far. We chanted at the end of the last sit of the day. And we were offered the opportunity to ask questions after the nightly dharma talk.

9. The Sangha – A big part of the experience is that you’re not doing it alone. You’re part of a like-minded community, the sangha. So even though you’re not communicating, you really feel connected. More & more as the week progresses. Interconnected energy. I’m lucky because this group will see each other again since we’re all in the same year-long program – it will be interesting to finally meet the people that I silently observed for a week.

10. The Profound Shift Towards The Real You – I’m purposefully not writing too much about the details of my actual experience because each person will have their own. And if I attend another retreat, I’m sure it will be far different than what transpired this time.

I can tell you that after the narrator – the stories – in my head became fainter, I could more clearly see my reality. I felt lucid in a way that I don’t remember feeling before. I not only could access long-forgotten memories, I could access the feelings associated with them with a rich texture. Almost see the colors of them. The ‘feel’ of them.

It was a beautiful experience. A brutal experience. I cried more in a week than I have in decades. Given that this retreat’s type of meditation practice was body-focused (ie. vipassana), I was acutely aware of how my feelings would manifest themselves in my body. Facing my reality, I was able to uncover answers to questions that I didn’t realize that I should have been asking. More importantly, I became aware of a host of inquiries that I will be unpacking for the foreseeable future.

So to sum it up, I felt like I lived more in a week than I might in a year. I felt ‘woke.’ Which truly wasn’t easy. For me, things got harder as the week wore on. Not easier. But that was this particular retreat for me. It easily could be different next time. Knowing that you’re going to die, how do you want to live?

Broc Romanek

January 28, 2020

The Rise of “Intentless” Voice Apps

In this podcast, Voicebot.ai’s Bret Kinsella talks with Voiceflow’s Braden Ream and his theory about the rise of “intentless” voice apps. Here are some of the points made:

– Discoverability remains the big obstacle to voice commerce exploding. Not likely to be solved this year.

– There are two ways to discover: explicit thru skill directory or implicit through a type of audio search, which means that the creator of that content will some of the value (eg. the audience might not even know who created that voice content).

– When approving skills for its directory, Amazon does more of a functional than real quality control assessment. [My own experience bears that out.]

– There’s a small group that are making a living by creating skills for Amazon’s directory. The number of people doing is low, below Amazon’s expectations.

– At a high level, it can be said that Amazon’s current voice strategy is building an ecosystem; whereas Google’s strategy is screens.

– Siri shortcuts is underrated in some ways but few people are using it. It’s real AI as it provides recommendations.

January 24, 2020

Several New Amazon Smart Home Products Faring Well…

As this Voicebot.ai article notes, several of Amazon’s 14 new voice products appear to be faring well in the smart home category. Here’s an excerpt:

Information on Amazon.com also offers us some indication about what the hits of the 2019 product launch are so far. Amazon Smart Oven with Alexa (with a caveat) and the Echo Dot with Clock are out-of-stock in the U.S. until February 5th and 24th respectively. These items have both been on backorder for weeks now and selling through your inventory is typically an indicator of stronger than expected consumer demand. Interestingly, searches on Amazon.com for the Smart Oven brings up other products still in stock first while searches for the Echo Dot with Clock generally direct consumers to the standard Echo Dot product pages.

Here is the caveat. The Amazon Smart Oven may be outselling its forecast given the attractive price point relative to the Tovala, Breville, and June Ovens, but has a materially lower customer star-rating than its competitors. Tovala is slightly ahead with a 3.8-star average compared to 3.5 stars for the Amazon Smart Oven. Breville has four offerings in the category with ratings ranging from 4.3 – 4.5 stars. June Oven has a 4.9-star rating with 87% of consumers giving the product the coveted 5-star rating.

Amazon’s Rausch pointed out to Voicebot the success of the Amazon Basics Microwave can be clearly seen in 4-star rating with 60% or more reviewers giving a 5-star rating. For the Alexa Smart Plug, those figures are a 4.5-star rating average with more than 80% giving a 5-star rating. At 3.5 stars and only 40% of reviewers offering a 5-star rating, the long-term prospects for the Amazon Smart Oven may not be strong. There is demand for the product at the current price point, but it is not clear whether consumers will overlook its reported deficiencies.

January 16, 2020

How to Make Your Apartment/House Smart

In this recode article, Rani Molla describes what it’s like to have a “smart” apartment. Here’s an excerpt:

In choosing which of these devices to use I did a bunch of my own research, then consulted professionals’ opinions and Wirecutter reviews. I wasn’t interested in testing the relative quality of devices, but rather wanted to choose the best of what was out there (within a reasonable price range) to see if the smartest smart devices could make my life better. With all that in mind, here’s the list of smart devices I installed in my house:

– A smart lock
– Smart speakers (and their assistants)
– A dog camera/treat dispenser
– A robovac
– A smart smoke/carbon monoxide detector
– Smart lights
– Smart plugs

Rani goes on to describe the details for each of these devices – including the challenges in setting them up, the benefits of having them and more. If you’re looking to make your home smarter, this is a good article to start with…