Alexa, what can I do with a smart speaker?

Since Amazon released its echo speaker in November 2014 and users have been able to hear the weather forecast or their favorite song by summoning a voice assistant called "Alexa", the phenomenon of smart speakers has exploded.

An estimated 43 million US adults have at least one smart speaker, according to a survey by Edison Research, a leading digital audio research company. About half of them have more than one.

Intelligent speakers are the fastest growing technology Edison has ever followed, said senior vice president Tom Webster, with more than doubling the number of speakers since last year. Listening to audio – music, news, or podcasts – is the # 1 for smart speakers, Webster said, followed by questions from the speaker's spokesman.

The Amazon Echo will be joined by competitors Google Home, Apple HomePod and the new Invoke speaker from Microsoft and audio equipment manufacturer Harman Kardon with Microsoft's Digital Assistant Cortana. The Sonos One speaker uses Amazon's Alexa voice assistant and Sony offers a smart speaker with Google Assistant.

The devices offer everything from directions to trivia, but some users report creative ways to leverage the capabilities of these speakers.

"My 7-year-old, frustrated that we order pizza from a place she did not like, asked Alexa for the way she wanted to go, grabbed a bag … and walked out of the house," said Julie Wallace, 51, from Cleveland. "Fortunately, we stopped this mishap."

In Hilliard, 49-year-old Steve Friend relies on Amazon's Alexa to quickly calculate the insulin-to-carbohydrate ratios for his 9-year-old son Owen with type 1 diabetes. His family owns six smart speakers and also uses them as an intercom.

The technology sounds like science fiction, Webster said, but he predicts that smart speakers will soon be as seamlessly integrated into people's lives as smartphones are now. Data privacy concerns – such as the implications of using voice-based speakers – seem to be the biggest reason why some people argue that they do not buy smart speakers.

The devices should not begin recording conversations until they respond to "wake-up words" such as "Alexa" for the echo. However, you may hear background conversations during activation.

This seems to have happened in May, when a couple in Portland, Oregon, told a news station that one of their echoes had recorded a portion of their conversation and e-mailed it to a friend. Amazon said that the device falsely believed that it had heard a trigger word and an order to send the recorded conversation to someone in the couple's contact list. The company called it an "unlikely" chain of events that would prevent it in the future.

Webster believes that consumers will put such worries aside if they think the speakers are performing valuable functions.

"People use these for eight, nine, ten skills a day, which are just part of their daily lives," he said. "It brings a familiarity with technology to every room in the house."

The current generation of intelligent speakers costs about $ 100. Google's smaller version, the Google Home Mini, is being sold for $ 49, as has Amazon's Echo Dot.

Smart speakers can also be used for:

Local weather, traffic and news

Use your smart speaker to stay up-to-date on what's going on in your area. Say "Alexa", "Okay, Google" or "Hey, Siri" and ask your digital assistant for a weather or traffic report to prepare for the upcoming day. You can also get the latest local news by asking for headlines from the likes of The Dispatch. For example, if you have an Amazon Smart Speaker, add The Dispatch as a news source by going to the settings in the Alexa app, choosing "Flash Briefing," "Getting Flash Flash Briefing Content," and "Columbus Dispatch." Just ask Alexa, which is in the news.

Set alarms, timers and reminders

You can use your Smart Speaker as an alarm clock and create ToDo lists when you wake up, so you can remember everything you need to do that day. Ask Alexa to remind you to bring your lunch when you go to work. Tell Google Assistant where to put your keys, and the device can remind you where it is when you forget it. And when you get home and start dinner, ask your digital assistant to set a timer – you do not have to worry about dirty hands.

listen to music

Get this song out of your head by asking your digital assistant to play it, and the smart speaker connects to its compatible music streaming service, such as Spotify, Google Play Music, Amazon Prime, or Apple Music. You can also play songs using Bluetooth or AirPlay to connect to the speaker with another device. Fill your home with music by connecting multiple smart speakers and streaming audio.

Home help

Combine your smart speaker with smart home products and apps to make your home a (smart) home. Connect to other devices in your home to turn the light or TV on and off, control the thermostat, or set a time for your coffee maker to start brewing. The speakers can also be used as an intercom so you can tell your family that you are on your way home or call everyone to the dining table.

Get answers

Instead of jumping to the computer, use your smart speaker to find out what you need to know. Google Home Language Assistant has access to the entire database of the search engine. Ask the Google Assistant about the most burning questions and the smart speaker will find answers. Ask for directions or for the nearest café.

Fun and games

Smart speakers are not just fun and games, they also provide it. Ask your digital assistant to tell you a joke or use the speaker to play a game like Twenty Questions, Deal or No Deal, Mad Libs or Jeopardy! Instead of going to a bar, ask your smart speaker to test your knowledge in categories such as US presidents, capitals of the world, and pop culture.


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