The Rise and Rise of Virtual Assistants


Recently we have seen the incredible rise (read as “marketing push”) of Virtual Assistants.

What started with Siri on the Apple iPhone 4S has grown exponentially.  Not only in the number of assistants but also in their abilities.
 
Just focusing on the major players there is; The previously mentioned Siri from Apple, Alexa from Amazon, Google have The Google Assistant (they allegedly didn’t want to “humanise” the assistant by giving it a name); Microsoft keep pushing Cortana both on their Windows Phones, and their operating systems) and coming in a little, some would say fashionably, late is Samsung with Bixby.
 
Originally these assistants where locked in your phone and could help answer simple questions:
  • Ok Google how far away is the moon?
  • Siri, where is the nearest IGA?
Then they were given their own bodies.  Alexa was put in to the Amazon Echo products, Google Assistant into the Google Home Range, and recently Siri has found her way into the Apple Home Pod.  There have even been recent rumours that Samsung will announce their version of the “Home Pod” with Bixby inside at the up-coming “Galaxy Unplugged” event.
This transformation came with an increase in abilities; they could now control your music library and function as a speaker for playback.  With the combination of like branded products (Amazon Firestick and Echo, ChromeCast and Google Home) they could even be used to control your TV viewing.
 
It was at this stage that other companies started to realise the power of these Virtual Assistants and decided to get in on the act with their network controllable products, such as Lights, Fans, Air Conditioners and Security Systems being able to be controlled by these assistants.
 
A few months back Google created an online stir by releasing audio of their assistant conducting a phone call with a real human and in the process booking a hairdresser appointment, seemingly without the human realising they were talking with a computer.  Whilst this is still a long way from being common place, it is a glimpse into the distant future for them.
 
However we can see the large step these assistants are about to take that will (possibly) change the way we interact with all of our home entertainment equipment.
 
A few months back Bose released a simple Alexa “skill” (Amazon’s name for the application required for Alexa to control things) to allow Alexa to interact with their SoundTouch products, due to this skill being new it’s control is limited but you will notice improvements via firmware and software updates over the coming months.
Sonos have already released the Sonos One and the Beam which both have Alexa built-in.  These products with the assistant built-in can be used to control older Sonos equipment as can any of the Echo units.
 
Possibly the largest step with these assistants comes from Yamaha in conjunction with the release of the 2018 Aventage range.  Over the next few months Yamaha will be releasing the RX-A**80 range of AVR’s and these will be shipped with an Amazon Echo Dot in the box!  Once the relevant firmware updates are installed (expected release late July, early August) on the AVR you will be able to control it via Alexa.  But this is not all, this firmware update will be rolled out to the older Aventage and MusicCast products.  This means that you will be able to control any of the MusicCast products with your voice via Alexa.  In traditional Demtel fashion, but wait there’s still more, the steak knives in this deal come in the form of a persistent rumour that by the end of the year these systems will also respond to the Google Assistant.

As with the Bose Skill, we predict that there will be some teething issues with these systems and the assistants, (some of which will be us learning how to use the Assistants themselves), but rightly or wrongly voice control with these virtual assistants will be the way of the future, so we will learn it and we will be able to help our clients into the future.

 

 

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