Apple, Google and Amazon—three of the biggest smart home and voice assistant providers—are joining forces to make internet-connected homes easier to set up and safer to use.
The rivals announced Wednesday that they’re working with the Zigbee Alliance, a foundation that promotes standards for the Internet of Things, and its members including Samsung, Somfy and IKEA, on a new standard that will ensure their products work with one another.
While an increasing portion of the home can now be controlled by a voice-activated speaker or remote app, from thermostats to lights and even refrigerators, “the lack of an industry-wide connectivity standard leaves people confused and frustrated when trying to understand what devices work with each smart home ecosystem,” Nik Sathe and Grant Erickson, engineers at Google’s Nest unit, wrote in a statement. “It also places a heavy burden on manufacturers to make sure all devices are compatible with each other.”
Amazon and Google have relatively open systems already, which have allowed tens of thousands of third-party devices to link up with their smart speakers. Apple only supports a few hundred via its HomeKit standard. The global smart home market is projected to grow to $174.2 billion by 2025, according to MarketWatch, up from $55.7 billion in 2016.
But the move could also raise privacy and security questions. For years, Amazon and Google collected data every time someone used a smart speaker to turn on a light or lock a door and asked gadget makers like Logitech to send a stream of information whenever someone engaged in such an action. Bringing more devices together in a home raises the prospect of personal data being shared with a higher number of companies, some of which may have more lax security or privacy standards. Google pared back the number of companies its Nest devices connect to earlier this year due to privacy concerns.
Apple said the project is built around “a shared belief that smart home devices should be secure, reliable and seamless to use.” After lagging behind Amazon and Google, Apple is rebooting its smart home efforts, developing new software and devices with a new team, Bloomberg News reported earlier this year.
The Zigbee Alliance is aiming to have its new joint protocol ready by the end of 2020.
Notably absent from the group is Facebook. The social network’s smart home offering, called Portal, doesn’t have a third-party ecosystem like Apple and the others. Facebook’s voice assistant is also the most rudimentary on the market and uses Amazon’s Alexa to power many of the voice operations.
Major Asian smart home companies such as Baidu, Tmall and Xiaomi are also missing. Trade tensions between China and the U.S. could make such partnerships uncomfortable, and Google and Amazon don’t have much of a presence for smart speakers in the region.
Amazon brings Netflix to Echo Show, reveals new Alexa features – MobileSyrup
During the company’s fall hardware event, Amazon revealed several new Alexa features for all of its Echo hardware and more.
One of the more low-key, yet still important announcement was the fact that Amazon is bringing Netflix to the Echo Show. While most people probably don’t watch movies on smart display, official YouTube and Netflix apps were sorely missed when Amazon announced the product, so it’s nice to see at least one of them finally make it to the platform.
Alexa does group calls
Group calls are also coming to Echo devices, allowing you and your whole family to jump on a call together from the comfort of your living room. You can even set up the feature from Alexa to work with the command “Alexa, call my family,” to start a group chat.
Zoom comes to Echo Show
Popular video chat app Zoom is coming to the Echo Show, which should help some people make group calls. A few people I know that keep an Echo Show 5 on their desk will likely be happy with this new feature.
This feature is designed to help the elderly or someone who can’t be left alone at all times. You set it up in the Alexa app, and then can say “Alexa, call for help” to get quick access to a preset emergency contact.
The other part of this feature is kind of creepy. The Echo device then looks for motion, and if it doesn’t detect movement at a pre-set time, it sends an alert to the emergency context so they can call to check-in.
“Alexa, delete everything I’ve ever said”
This command deletes all the voice data that Amazon has gathered from you in an easy way. Amazon also mentioned that in the future, users will be able to set Alexa to never record their conversations in the app.
New sound detectors
Amazon is taking its ‘Guard’ platform to the next level with new sound-based routines. That means Alexa can now listen for things like a dog barking or a baby crying and adjust smart lights automatically.
These seem very simple, but if Amazon rolls out enough sound triggers, people will be able to set up a lot of automatic routines that could streamline their smart home setup considerably.
You can learn more about Alexa’s new features here.
Apple acquires Scout FM app that transforms the podcast experience with smart stations – 9to5Mac
Apple recently acquired the startup Scout FM, according to a Bloomberg report. The company offers an app that creates smart stations for podcast listeners, bringing a similar experience to radio stations.
An Apple spokesman confirmed the acquisition, but no further details were provided. The report mentions that Apple bought Scout FM earlier this year to enhance its own podcast platform amid growing competition from Spotify.
As we covered once here on 9to5Mac, Scout FM brings a different approach to the podcast experience. Instead of offering individual podcasts, the app creates smart podcast stations based on different topics, such as sports or technology.
Scout FM uses artificial intelligence to identify user preferences and suggest new relevant content. Prior to being removed from the App Store, the app was available for Apple devices and it was also compatible with CarPlay and Amazon Alexa.
Apple has been investing in its Podcasts platform with new features and the production of original shows, as Spotify has been increasingly growing with similar efforts. The company didn’t say how Scout FM will be incorporated into its Podcasts app, but we’ll probably see some new related features beginning next year.
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Epic, Spotify and other Apple critics form coalition to take on App Store rules – CNET
More than a dozen app makers and other companies have joined together to form the Coalition for App Fairness, a nonprofit group that’s taking aim at Apple and its App Store rules. Among the founding members are , and Match Group, all of which have been vocal critics of the fees Apple charges developers.
“As enforcers, regulators, and legislators around the world investigate Apple for its anti-competitive behavior, The Coalition for App Fairness will be the voice of app and game developers in the effort to protect consumer choice and create a level playing field for all,” said Horacio Gutierrez, head of global affairs at Spotify, in a release on Thursday.
The coalition comes as Apple is locked in a public battle with Fortnite developer Epic Games. Fortnite was kicked off both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store in August after Epic attempted to bypass the 30% fee Apple and Google charge developers. Epic countered by filing lawsuits against both companies. Apple earlier this month raised the stakes further by if it convinces a judge that it was within its rights to kick Fortnite off its more than 1.5 billion active iPhones and iPads.
Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment on the coalition. On Thursday, the company published several pages on its website highlighting the benefits of the App Store for users and developers. Apple says the pages provide context for its broader work to support its app store, which now counts more than 28 million developers worldwide, and 1.5 billion devices across 175 countries.
The App Store helps developers “from start to finish — to build, test, market, and distribute your products and grow your business,” says Apple’s site.
The Coalition for App Fairness also released a set of 10 App Store Principles that is says will help “protect the app economy” and ensure that the “benefits of digital technologies are shared by everyone.”
Here is the full list of coalition’s founding members: Basecamp, Blix, Blockchain.com, Deezer, Epic Games, the European Publishers Council, Match Group, News Media Europe, Prepear, Protonmail, SkyDemon, Spotify and Tile.
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