Today, Amazon released new versions of its tablets, as well as a new Fire TV. The latter is generating interest in part because Alexa has been added to it. This means you can use the new Fire TV in a manner similar to the Echo, and be able to play favorite TV shows, too.

The new device supports the new 4K Ultra HD in addition to 1080p, promises to eliminate buffering, supports all the popular streaming apps, and has voice search enabled on the remote. I hope Amazon has improved the remote, because I've found that Echo's remote is no where near as sensitive as the Echo device is, itself.

I like the video support, but I have a Roku and I don't have a 4K Ultra HD TV, yet. What I'm more interested in, is the Alexa integration. Watching the demo video at Amazon, Alexa will display an answer to the TV rather than verbally.  (Engadget notes this, also.) If you have it play music, it uses your TV's speakers.

Of course, this is a double-edged sword. If you have an Echo and the new Fire TV in the same room, you're going to have contention over which device answers when you call out, "Alexa...". While watching the Amazon demonstration video, my Echo responded when the voice in the video asked, "Alexa, what's the weather?" I'm rather hoping that Amazon gets away from only allowing one to use Alexa, or Amazon, as the device voice indicator.

I'm also assuming you do have to have the TV on for the device to work. Currently I use Echo's timer functionality, as well as have it play music while I'm working. I wouldn't want to turn my TV on for both. In this regard, Echo wins. Echo also has smart home integration, which the Fire TV currently lacks.

From a developer perspective, the Fire TV demonstrates Amazon's new Alexa Voice Service Developer Preview. If you're a developer, and you have a device with a microphone, a speaker, and an internet connection, you can interface with Alex as a service. First thing that comes to my mind is this opens up some interesting possibilities if you like to tinker around with microcomputers, such as Raspberry Pi. However, I'm not sure how open Amazon is to people tinkering with the service. The sign-up for the developer kit seems to assume you're a developer for a company with a product to sell.

Like Roku.

This new developer kit joins with the existing Alexa  Skills Kit, where you can create an app that can be installed on an Echo (and possibly other Alexa devices, eventually), such as my favorite, Cat Facts.

Node.js developers, note that Node.js figures heavily with both kits. See? Your mad  programming skills just found a new outlet to explore.

Amazon made, what I feel, is a very smart move with its recent innovations. Rather than compete directly with device companies who control marketplaces, such as Roku, it's taking the same type of functionality (video streaming), and integrating it into the smart home controller environment. It's similar to Google's new OnHub, which takes Wi-Fi routing into the same environment.

Exciting times. Let's just hope security is considered first, rather than last, with all this cross-line innovation.

 

I admire C/Net for taking the next long step in Internet of Things coverage. The company actually bought an entire house to use as a test case for all things smart.  Not just any home, either, but a large behemoth, which should end up being an effective test for signal range and device conflict.

I'm also in the process of updating my newly purchased home into a smart home. But my home and budget are considerably smaller than C/Net's. It's going to be interesting seeing which of the modifications C/Net makes I can afford to apply to my house.

I already have one advantage: since my home is so much smaller, I have decent wireless range all throughout the home. As I recently wrote, I'm trying out the new Google OnHub, though I have an excellent TP-Link router backup. Both provide good, overall coverage.

Speaking of coverage, C/Net's first smart home article is on ensuring sufficient Wi-Fi coverage. I do have two routers I'm not currently using, so may convert one to a repeater in order to extend the range into the back yard. I'd like to put up a wireless weather station, and I don't think my current setup is sufficient to cover the necessity of installing the station far enough away from my house to get accurate readings.

In the meantime, C/Net's newest enterprise should be interesting reading.

Google's OnHub

Google is known for many things, including being wildly successful and a major cultural impact. But its path is also littered by the skeletal remains of failed projects.

Search, Maps, GMail, Chrome, Android, and some of the Nexus devices—not to mention its acquisition of the ubiquitous YouTube, as well as a successful set of hardware with recent purchases of Nest and Dropcam—are decided hits. But they're matched by the misses, including Dodgeball, Notebook, Wave, Lively, Nexus Q, and Google Glasses. Reader was successful software that Google abandoned, and Google+ never has achieved the reach of Facebook.

Now we have a new entry into the Google sphere of products in which to dominate the world: OnHub. The question becomes, will it be a hit? Or another miss?

...continue reading "OnHub: Google’s Newest Miss/Hit?"