Voice assistants weigh in on Super Bowl LII

Today marks the 52nd Super Bowl, and quite a bit has changed since that first big game. Then, it was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. In 1967, the cost of a movie ticket was $1.25, and color TV was just starting to become popular.

Today, more than fifty years later, we can now stream the big game to our pocket computers and have artificially intelligent assistants sitting around in our homes to keep us up to date on predictions.

That said, the three big voice assistants seem to have a different approach on predicting who will win the Super Bowl today.

Apple’s Siri is playing it straight. When asked who will win the Super Bowl, she simply responds with data:

“I’m hearing that the Patriots are favored to beat the Eagles by 4.5 points.”

Google Assistant, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to want to plant a flag in the sand. The voice-powered AI has a few different responses to the question of who will win the big game, each less informative than the last.

  • “Both teams are hungry for victory, which is important. While the players will be leaving everything on the field, I want you to leave nothing in the chip bowl.”
  • “All I can say is it’s going to be fierce. At some point, both quarterbacks will yell ‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’ and call an audible, but don’t be afraid. You’re not in any danger.”
  • “I don’t have any answers but I can confidently say this: I predict a touchdown within the first sixty minutes.”

In each of these three responses, the voice of Google Assistant is accompanied by roaring crowds. Which, let’s be honest, makes these responses even more ridiculous.

This brings us, finally, to Amazon Echo. When asking Alexa who will win the Super Bowl, Amazon has decided to take their voice assistant in a more human direction. Pats fans, brace yourselves!

“The team favored to win is the (cough). Is the (cough). Excuse me. Is the Patriots. (Clears throat.) That was tough to get out. But I’m flying with the Eagles on this one because of their relentless defense and the momentum they’ve been riding off their underdog status. E-A-G-L-E-S! Eagles!”

Funny enough, Amazon is anything but an underdog and more aptly represented by the Patriots than by the Eagles.

But, in any case, you should have some fun chatting it up with your favorite AI before the game. Unless it’s Siri. That’s just boring.

Featured Image: Getty Images

Google Assistant had a good CES

I started writing about Google Assistant before I’d even fully unpacked. The company had posted up a week-long residency with a profile to rival any in Vegas that first week of January.

Celine Dion at Caesar’s, David Copperfield at the MGM Grand, Google at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The company wallpapered the Vegas monorail and plastered the words “Hey Google” on every rentable screen in town. Take that, Donny and Marie. 

That crazy booth in the Convention Center parking lot seemed like a terrible idea on Tuesday when the rains opened up and swallowed it whole — but a day later, when the lights went out on CES for a few hours, everyone came running to Google and its free donuts. Our own booth at the Sands, meanwhile, where a number of us were posted up for much of the week, was way too close to the giant Google gumball machine.

Every ten or so minutes, cheers erupted from the crowd as another eager tech industry type won a Home Mini, after dutifully waiting in line for an hour or so. And then, on my last night, when I thought I’d escaped the company’s presence for long enough to enjoy that Run The Jewels corporate gig, I walked out on the balcony of Brooklyn Bowl and spotted the same machine down below. The damn thing was everywhere.

Google’s CES 2018 presence was an act of sheer brute force — a consumer electronics blitzkrieg that some how managed to standout among the bright lights of America’s most stupidly garish city. The fact of the matter is that, even if the company hadn’t followed through on that promise, it would still have managed to capture plenty of headlines.

But Google delivered. After having virtually no presence at the show in past years, the company went from zero to 60. Practically no press conference or news release went by without some mention of Assistant. The company played its hand well at the show. There was no big Google press conference, and it didn’t release a single piece of its own hardware.

Instead, it harnessed the platforms of its highest profile tech partners — Sony, LG, Lenovo, Huawei and the like. At the latter’s press conference, an executive even came out on stage to run down the specifics of Assistant — though to be fair, perhaps Huawei was simply filling time in the wake of some last minute adjustments.

Assistant made it onto virtually every manner of hardware at the show, from TVs to refrigerators to electric bike wheels. And while the company went into the last holiday season with no direct competitor to the Echo Show, suddenly it had several, letting its hardware partners do all of the heavy lifting. From the looks of it, Amazon’s got something to be concerned about on that front — especially given the fact that the company went with the nuclear option a few months back, pulling YouTube from Amazon’s offering.

Amazon had a good show, too, albeit with a decidedly more subdued presence. There was no giant gumball machine or armies of employees in matching outfits screaming until the voices went hoarse, but the company handily sent along a list of Alexa announcements at the end of each show day. And the list is a solid one, particularly with the planned launch of Alexa on several Windows 10 PC — effectively eating into Cortana’s one stronghold.

Both companies’ respective assistants had a successful CES, but Google’s list of devices go a long way toward shrinking the gap between the two players — and take it even closer to its dream of device ubiquity. That positioning, coupled with the years of backend development that have coalesced behind Assistant should leave Amazon more than a little concerned about holding onto its place at the top of the heap.

A tour of Google’s reopened CES booth

For the first time ever, Google has a big presence at CES. You can’t look out of a window and not see a Google logo somewhere. But the one thing that didn’t work out so well for the company was its massive booth on the parking lot in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Yesterday, it rained a bit more than usual in Las Vegas and the booth leaked, so Google had to shut it down for the day. Today, however, the booth is open again, so we sent Tito to check it out, slide down the Google slide, eat a doughnut and take a nap.

It’s hard to underestimate how big a deal CES is for Google this time around. The company announced a number of new partnerships, including its new smart displays with the likes of Lenovo, LG, Sony and JBL. It also announced updates to Android Auto and dozens of new Assistant partnerships with headphone and TV manufacturers.

Kate Spade gets into the smart watch game

As it stands right now, Apple is absolutely dominating the smart watch market. But that hasn’t stopped other entrants from trying their hand, or wrist, in the space.

Most recently, Kate Spade New York has introduced a new line of smart watches in collaboration with Fossil. This is part of a larger push by Fossil Group to launch smart watches across as many brands as possible, as announced in August.

The Kate Spade models were announced today at CES, and all share the same name: the Kate Spade New York Scallop Touchscreen Smartwatch. It just rolls off the tongue, right?

All of the watches are powered by Android Wear 2.0 and have 1.2-inch, circular OLED displays as well as an ambient light sensor. Styles include a rose gold watch case with a bracelet, a rose gold watch case with a leather strap, and a yellow gold colored watch case with a black strap. That said, all three models are made of stainless steal.

The Kate Spade scallop, a distinctive feature across a number of Kate Spade products from bags to clothing to iPhone cases, is featured on the face of the watch.

But this isn’t just an aesthetic play. The new models will come with exclusive watch faces, including an NYC taxi speeding off and an eyelash blink if you have a new notification.

The watches also come with an app that asks you what color you’re wearing and automatically changes the watch face color to match your outfit. As expected with Android Wear 2.0, the new Kate Spade watches are equipped with a microphone to let you chat it up with Google Assistant.

On the other hand, these are not built for fitness junkies, with no heart-rate sensor or built-in GPS. Also missing is an NFC chip for mobile payments.

These new models start at $295, with the bracelet version going for $325, and the watches should ship in mid-February.

Google launches a new directory to help you discover Assistant actions

Google says that you can now perform more than a million actions with the Google Assistant. Those range from looking up photos with Google Photos to starting a meditation session from Headspace. But one problem with voice assistants is that it’s very hard to discover what actions you can actually perform. For many users, that means they use their Google Home or Alexa to set a few timers and maybe play music, without ever realizing what else they can do.

To help its users a bit, Google is launching a new directory page for the Google Assistant today. This is part of a slew of Assistant-related announcements at CES today and while it’s probably not the most important (those smart displays sure look nice, after all), it’s nevertheless a useful new tool, especially for new users.

It’s been almost exactly a year since Google enabled third-party actions, and while Google can’t boast the same numbers of third-party support as Amazon, there’s clearly a lot of developer interest in building these actions. And to make talking about them a bit easier, Google is also now calling its first-party actions… wait for it… “actions.”

Sony launches a bunch of new headphones and adds Google Assistant functionality to the line

Sony is really Sonying it up at CES this year, announcing a deluge of devices at the show this week. CES has always been a big show for the company’s TV and audio lines, and this year’s no different. The company’s got a bunch of announcements on the headphone front, including, most notably, the addition of Google Assistant functionality to a bunch of different models.

The list features seven new models, including a couple announced at the show today: WH-1000XM2, WI-1000X, WF-1000X, WF-SP700N, WI-SP600N, WH-CH700N, WH-H900N. You get pretty much what you’d expect from the smart assistant — taking calls, requesting music and the like. It’s just the latest sign of Google’s completely unavoidable presence at this year’s show.

The MDR-1AM a new premium pair of cans from the company — essentially the successor the similarly named MDR-Z1R. The headphones deliver the companies favorite audio buzz term “Hi-Res Audio.” In this case, that means that the headphones are capable of playing back music at up to 100 kHz frequencies.

The headphones have a new 40mm HD driver from the company on-board for fuller sound reproduction. Those will be available at some point in the spring for $300.

The company’s also launching a trio of Bluetooth earbuds around the same timeframe. There’s not a ton of distinguishing factors between the models. The WF-SP700N is priciest of the bunch at $180. Those are also the only fully wireless models in the group, with no cables tethering the two buds together.

They’re not exactly slim, either — they look to protrude a bit outside of the ear. They do, however, sport active noise cancelling and a splashproof design, which should come in handy when taking thes thing along for a run. The earbuds only get three hours of life on a charge, but like most of their brethren, ship with charging case. That should boost the total up to nine.

The WI-SP600N are a tethered pair with the same noise canceling tech and IP slash proof rating as the pricier pair. They should get around six hours of battery life. At $80, the WI-SP500 are easily the cheapest pair of the bunch and offer the longest standalone battery life at eight hours.

Qualcomm expands its support for Alexa, Cortana and the Google Assistant

Qualcomm, the chip manufacturer that Broadcom really wants to buy, is using this year’s CES to launch a new platform for smart speakers, displays and other devices with built-in support for Google’s Assistant. In addition, the company also announced that its Smart Audio Platform is now certified by Amazon for Alexa Voice Service and that it supports Microsoft’s Cortana assistant, too. All of these platforms, the company hopes, will allow other hardware manufacturers to more easily build devices that support these virtual assistants.

In total, there are quite a few announcements here: the Qualcomm Smart Audio far-field reference platform that is now qualified for Alexa; Smart Audio Platform support for Android Things; the Google Assistant and Google Cast for audio; and the new Qualcomm Home Hub platforms (which comes in two different flavors) with support for Android Things; and Microsoft Cortana support.

The Home Hub platform is the most powerful of these (at least in terms of computational power) and, among other things, forms the basis for the Google Assistant-enabled smart displays that Lenovo and others are announcing today. The Home Hub platform comes in two versions: the more powerful SDA624 system on a chip (SoC) for devices with video cameras and/or displays and the SDA212 SoC for more audio-centric devices.

As for the Smart Audio Platform, Qualcomm stresses that the Alexa version includes six-microphone far-field voice support while on the Google side, the company is stressing that the platform also supports Android Things, Google’s Android-based software platform for IoT devices.

“Our Smart Audio Platform helps allow traditional speaker OEMs to more efficiently join and participate in the growing smart speaker segment,” said Anthony Murray, senior vice president and general manager, voice and music at Qualcomm. “Demand for voice control and assistance in the home is rapidly gaining traction, and this platform is designed to offer great flexibility for manufacturers wanting to deliver highly differentiated user experiences taking advantage of the power of Google cloud-based services.”

Seshu Madavapeddy, Qualcomm’s VP of product management for IoT, told me the company is using a lot of the building blocks it developed for mobile devices to build these home IoT platforms (though the company is obviously also making investments specific to IoT). Madavapeddy stressed that the company always focuses on security, though, no matter the price point of its chipsets.