Complex Made Simple

Think you’re tech savvy? If you don’t own one of these, you’re not

Cue the drum roll for the three giant Internet of things (IoT) players: Google, Amazon, and Apple.

These companies have each released a smart speaker for your home.

First, Amazon’s Echo, then Google’s Home, lastly Apple’s HomePod.

All of which have their own built-in personal assistant that can answer questions, turn the lights on, or even let you play music anywhere at breakneck speeds.

AMEinfo got the chance to try the Amazon Echo Dot, a $50 device that has Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, built-in. Courtesy from a local e-commerce website, just in time for Gitex; when you might be eyeing a smart speaker at a discount.

This device and the Google Home are standalone speakers instead of the HomPod which require your iPhone to be connected to the speakers at most times.

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Isn’t it a little expensive?

Entering the smart home speaker assistant ecosystem is not as costly as many would think.

You need very few things to get started:

1- $50 to $500 to throw at tech.

2- Amazon account, Google account, or Apple account.

That’s it.

You can, however, connect to a better speaker (Bluetooth or AUX) if you opt for the cheaper $50 speakers (Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home mini).

Either way, the built-in speaker is not terrible.

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What can you do?

Amazon’s Alexa lets you have the ability to add extensions called skills.

These vary from games to morning briefs and other apps that allow you to have other various things done.

For example, the Anghami Music extension lets you play music; your likes, playlists you have created, or tune in to any song you like.

The Skyrim skill lets you take on an interactive audiobook adventure in the Elder Scrolls universe.

Alexa can also connect to any IoT device you already have or are planning to buy in the future, that includes: Home alarm systems, thermostats, lights such as Phillips Hue lights.

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Which one is best for me?

Depends on two things: First, what is the majority of smartphones in your house? Second, how much are you willing to spend?

If you have Android phones, the Google Home mini is excellent; coming at just $50 with Google’s AI. The device itself is a great buy to enter the smart home ecosystem.

If you have an iPhone, you are faced with two choices:

Amazon, which has a few products from Sonos speakers to the company’s Echo ($99), Echo Dot ($50), Echo View ($200), and more…

Alternatively, the HomePod, another excellent speaker, comes with a $500 price tag, which might dissuade some consumers from buying it, but Apple is currently running short on the device since they estimated that the speaker would have less demand, according to GSMarena, a tech site.

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What are the issues?

These devices are still relatively new, and from that, you can guess that they can’t do many things yet.

Specifically, one reoccurring problem was from the Anghami skill, sometimes outright telling us that an artist wasn’t found (wasn’t listed on the app, even  after stating that artist’s name back to us) and then the next time we asked the device to play the same song, it would find it with no problems.

Adding in your daily commute address is not available in the Middle East. So, we were a little disappointed even after contacting Amazon.

Fixes to some issues

We tried subscribing to Amazon Music (or Amazon Prime), and it worked like magic each time we wanted to hear this or that song from any artist (0% fail rate).

What we can conclude is that although the speakers, AI, and ecosystem are reasonably new and underdeveloped, it is by far one futuristic experience that can take anyone’s breath away. It doesn’t cease to surprise us every time we try a phrase, and the device fulfills it.

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What’s coming?

Facebook may be planning to launch its rumored smart speakers internationally before bringing them to the US due to the increased concerns over user privacy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, according to a report from CNBC.

Facebook has been rumored to be working on a smart speaker since August when Bloomberg first reported on the project.

The company is said to have two smart devices planned — a more substantial, $499 Echo Show device called “Portal” with a laptop-sized 15.6-inch touchscreen, and a smaller one that would offer a speaker (similar to the regular Amazon Echo.)

The new speakers were supposedly planned to be unveiled at F8 this year, but the company’s ongoing PR problems and increased scrutiny in the public eye over privacy concerns meant that it probably wasn’t a good time to try to sell Facebook users on the idea of having an always-listening Facebook speaker in their homes.

According to CNBC’s report, an international rollout would help avoid some of that scrutiny in the US while still letting Facebook start to play catch up to companies like Google and Amazon, who have years of a head launch in the smart assistant market.

Also included in the report are some additional details on the two smart speakers, confirming earlier speculation that the speakers will use Facebook’s M assistant, which was briefly featured in the Messenger app before getting shut down earlier this year, although it will presumably function differently than its text-based incarnation there.