The week in smart home: Google Assistant gains ground and August changes the locks

A look back at the last seven days

Google Assistant makes big strides

We're winding down on another week of smart home mayhem - and this is the first written by yours truly. Thankfully, there's been no shortage of happenings and occurrences in the world of the smart home. Sonos was one of the biggest stories of the week, with its smart home theater speaker looking set for a reveal on 6 June. We'll be there to bring you a first look.

Meanwhile, ahead of I/O Google announced its Assistant now works with over 5,000 smart home devices, and that the company is throwing money at early-stage companies to find interesting new applications for its AI assistant. Speaking of, our most lusted-after product this week has to be Como Audio's old-school Google Assistant hi-fi speaker - just a shame we have to wait so long to get our hands on it.

It was also Facebook's F8 conference this week, with nary a smart speaker in sight. According to a new report the rumored speakers - yes, there's two of them - were delayed in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. What's more, they'll apparently launch outside the US first when they do arrive later in the year. Madness. Ok, here's what else happened.


Amazon Echo is losing ground as Google snaps at Bezos' heels

Sorry Alexa, but your period of absolute rein is under threat. Google is storming the kingdom and it seems to be having an effect on smart speaker usage. According to the latest data from eMarketer, Alexa's usage is falling as rivals move in. Its data reports that 40.7 million people of any age in the US will use an Echo at least once a month in 2018, but it will slip from 66.6% of users this year to 60.8% by 2020. Google meanwhile is predicted to rise from 29.5% to 32.9% in the same period.

“Google Home’s competitively priced Mini drove growth for the brand in the 2017 holiday season,” according to eMarketer forecasting analyst Jaimie Chung. “With Amazon and Google vying for spots in both the smart-home and ecommerce spaces, Google’s pricing has revitalized the artificial intelligence race to dominate the home.”


The week in smart home:

August smart locks get new feature for easier unlocking

This week August taught its Smart Lock Pro and third-gen Smart Lock a new trick. Until now the process of remotely checking the lock status or granting someone access felt longer than it should have, but August has changed it so that the lock will detect when you're near the door (using the location detection) or whether you're accessing it remotely. If you're accessing remotely, it'll make the connection between the lock and Wi-Fi as soon as you open the lock screen in the August app - before now you've had to tap a button to make it happen. It's a small update, but one that should add convenience.


Neighbourhood #5 (Google watch)

Google's ambitions for your home seem to be going further than the house walls. According to some ideas in a new patent spotted by The Standard, the company is looking at how it could create a neighbourhood watch system. This would mesh together a type of social network within the neighbourhood that would be linked to people's smart home devices. Included in this would a digital “tripwire” that could livestream a break-in to the local police station, while neighbours could be alerted with bright lights and phrases like "intruder detected" shone on the walls.

Sounds like it'll up the stakes on nights we're stumbling home drunk and fumbling with the door, but the patent says the system should be smart enough to tell the difference between your dog and an intruder. It would even work with facial and fingerprint sensors to give friends and family access. Just nobody let Dr Lecter know.


The week in smart home: Google Assistant gains ground and August changes the locks

Alexa gets an absent dad

Charlie Kindel, who has nothing to do with the Amazon Kindle despite working for the company that makes it, has called it a day. Why should you care? Well, Kindel was largely responsible for the rise of Alexa and served as director of Amazon's Alexa Smart Home division. He joined in 2013 (on April 1 no less, giving rise to suspicion that the Kindel/Kindle thing was a weird prank) and at the time was rumored to be working on a new Amazon phone. Of course he was in fact coming aboard to build Alexa.

So why is he leaving? "The pace of the past five years has finally gotten to me and I simply need to catch my breath," Kindel wrote on his personal blog. "I have a car restoration project that is two years behind schedule. My home automation system needs a complete revamp (it's gotten a bit crusty since it was installed in 2001)". So he's leaving work at his smart home company to work on his smart home. Got it.


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