It seems that Apple did not remove the headphone jack to allow it to provide more space after all.
When Apple killed off the speaker jack its CEO Tim Cook said, “that jack takes up a lot of space in the phone, a lot of space. And there’s a lot of more important things we can provide for the consumer than that jack.”
OK fair enough, so what did Apple do with the extra space? Well it turns out that the latest tear down carried out by iFixit found that Apple was doing nothing with the extra space it gained from getting rid of the headphone jack.
It wrote that in place of the headphone jack, is a component that seems to channel sound from outside the phone into the microphone. In other words, Apple has not put anything into the space at all, just some acoustics holes, which lead nowhere and molded plastic.
We somewhat cynically suggested that the reason that Apple got rid of the headphone jack was nothing to do with providing new functions on the iPhone 7. Instead we see it as a way to prop up its wireless headphone business .
It does appear that the tear down confirms this as it is unlikely that the iPhone 7 needed this fake plastic grill and acoustic holes. It appears to be a rather costly feature for the user who will now have to fork out a fortune for new headphones.
Twitter Inc rolled out a new video streaming application for Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc TV platforms, as well as Microsoft Corp’s Xbox One gaming console as it brings its video content to the forefront.
The application will also be available for users of these devices without a Twitter account or a pay-TV subscription, the company said.
The application will feature video content from a number of Twitter’s partners, including the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, as well as curated tweets and shorter video from its Vine and Periscope services.
The news comes a day ahead of the first of the 10 NFL Thursday night games that Twitter obtained streaming rights for in April.
Jack Dorsey-led Twitter has made a significant push into video, signing deals with several media companies and sports organizations to stream major events.
However the basis of the story is one written by Digital Music News which interviewed some unnamed sources.
“News of Samsung’s strategic planning was supplied to Digital Music News this week from a pair of sources operating out of South Korea, both of whom are involved in the broader supply chain of Samsung’s smartphones. Both requested total confidentiality and limited identifying information, fearing sharp reprisals from Samsung, whose power within the South Korea technology and broader community is considerable and widely feared.”
The sources feared Samsung’s hit men so much that they declined from offering details on the actual proprietary ports and jacks under consideration.
But what they appear to be talking about is something connected to the development of the USB-C jack, which is already present on Motorola’s Moto Z and Moto Z Force devices. Those devices do not have a 3.5mm jack, and are far thinner. They also don’t have the problem of being wireless.
The cunning plan is that Samsung’s proprietary jack would be designed with all Android manufacturers in mind, with easy and cost-free (or extremely low-cost) licensing to encourage adoption.
This claims Digital Music News will kill off Beats and Apple because both would be too proprietary to be useful. Samsung’s phones would be proprietary but would see a greater adoption.The article does not mention that Samsung is going to go all wireless, in fact it does not appear to imply that it is copying Apple at all.
The chipmaker previewed its virtual and augmented reality plans last month with Project Alloy, a Microsoft HoloLens-type headset that can mix images from real and virtual worlds. Project Alloy will be available for PC makers to replicate, but Intel may also see a market for mixed reality headset chips.
Project Alloy is a prototype headset running on Microsoft’s Windows Holographic platform, and it could support other VR and AR platforms in the future.
The Alloy design and specifications will be open-sourced early next year. PC makers have expressed interest in making headsets based on the design.
Just like it has done with PCs, Intel is trying to provide guidance to device makers on how to design headsets, integrate hardware, and resolve camera issues, as well as provide ideas on production and productizing, said Venkata Renduchintala, president of the client and internet of things businesses and the Systems Architecture Group at Intel.
Mixed reality can generate a new class of VR/AR products and will probably generate “a custom piece of silicon built on the PC platform to exemplify and amplify the use case,” said Renduchintala, nicknamed Murthy.
The Project Alloy headset has a Skylake laptop chip, but as of now, the company has no dedicated chip for headsets that are also self-contained computers. Intel recently announced new 7th Generation Core PC chips code-named Kaby Lake but has no specific chip for all-in-one headset computers in that lineup.
VR is already catching on quickly, with products like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive — which need to be wired to PC with high-end GPUs — getting a lot of attention.
Spurred by HoloLens, there are efforts to develop untethered PC-style VR and AR headsets, but the makers need to address problems related to wireless connectivity and battery life. Mobile VR — in which smartphones are placed in headsets — is taking off with products like Samsung’s GearVR.
Analyst firms are projecting headset shipments to grow, and it makes sense for Intel to have VR-specific chips. IDC is projecting VR/AR headset shipments to reach 9.6 million units this year, and 110 million units by 2020.
Intel is backing more PC-style mixed reality experiences over mobile VR. Project Alloy provides a powerful mixed reality experience, and that’s the kind of market Intel wants to develop, Renduchintala said.
Amazon.com Inc and Pandora Media Inc are gearing up to roll out new versions of their streaming music services in coming weeks, the New York Times has reported, citing several anonymous people with knowledge of the matter.
Pandora could announce its plans this to expand its $5-per-month platform this week, with possible features including skipping more songs or storing several hours of playlists, the newspaper said. The company plans to launch a full-fledged on-demand platform by Christmas. Such a platform, priced at $10 a month, would compete with Spotify and Apple Inc’ Apple Music.
Amazon, meanwhile, is expected to reveal a platform with a large catalog of music for $10 per month or about half that amount for customers using its Echo voice-activated speakers, according to the Times.
Both companies are close to completing months of negotiations for deals with record companies and music publishers that will allow them to offer the new services, the Times reported.
Amazon was preparing to launch a standalone music streaming subscription service at $9.99 per month, in line with major rivals, Reuters reported in June, citing sources.
Amazon so far has not responded to a request for comment. Pandora declined to comment.
Intel has acquired artificial intelligence (AI) startup Nervana Systems in a bid to future-proof its data centre business and shift focus away from the flailing PC market.
Intel hasn’t revealed the financial details of the deal, but Recode reported that the company paid “more than $400m”, citing an anonymous source.
Nervana, a 48-person firm based in San Diego, California led by co-founder Naveen Rao, a former Qualcomm researcher, was founded in 2014 and offers a fully optimized software and hardware stack for deep learning.
The firm’s cloud-based service allows businesses to build and deploy applications that make use of deep learning, and Nervana has developed a custom processor, known as an ASIC, especially for deep learning.
Intel is looking to the firm to bolster its own deep learning credentials, betting big on the fact that AI represents the next big shift in corporate data centres. The purchase also sees the firm moving away from the PC market, which hasn’t been going too well for Intel lately.
Diane Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of Intel’s Data Centre Group, said: “I’m excited to announce that Intel signed a definitive agreement to acquire Nervana Systems, a recognized leader in deep learning.
“Their IP and expertise in accelerating deep learning algorithms will expand Intel’s capabilities in the field of AI. We will apply Nervana’s software expertise to further optimise the Intel Math Kernel Library and its integration into industry-standard frameworks.
“Nervana’s engine and silicon expertise will advance Intel’s AI portfolio and enhance the deep learning performance and TCO of Intel Xeon and Xeon Phi processors.”
Rao added: “The semiconductor integrated circuit is one of humanity’s crowning achievements and Intel has the best semiconductor technology in the world.
“Nervana’s AI expertise combined with Intel’s capabilities and huge market reach will allow us to realize our vision and create something truly special.”
Intel’s acquisition of Nervana comes just days after Apple scooped up an AI startup called Turi. The firm handed over £150m for the Seattle-based firm, according to reports.
Dish said it lost 281,000 net pay-TV subscribers in the second quarter ended June 30, missing the average analyst estimate of a loss of 91,000 subscribers, according to market research firm FactSet StreetEstimate.
However, average revenue per user rose to $89.98 from $87.91, helped by price increases for its video service.
Dish raised its 2016 video service rates in January.
To offset losses in its core pay-TV business, the company last year launched a cheaper $20-per-month Sling TV online streaming service that offers a slim bundle of channels, including live programming from networks such as ESPN.
Net income attributable to Dish rose to $410 million, or 88 cents per share, in the three months ended June 30, from $324 million, or 70 cents per share, a year earlier.
Net revenue rose to $3.84 billion from $3.83 billion.
The Winograd Schema Challenge is a competition intended to reward technologists who can build a system that understands the kind of ambiguous sentences humans come out with all the time, but which are simple for other humans, even stupid ones, to understand.
Get it right 90 per cent of the time and $25,000 is up for grabs. And with things like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Assistant, the Winograd Schema Challenge must surely be as good as obsolete by now.
The best two entrants at the event this week achieved correct scores only 48 per cent of the time, little better than randomly guessing the meaning of the sentences they were supposed to crack.
This is despite a decade of advances in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), which has barely shifted since the late 1950s, according to some.
The Challenge posed a series of ambiguously worded sentences to the entrants such as:
The trophy would not fit in the brown suitcase because it was too big (small). What was too big (small)?
The town councillors refused to give the demonstrators a permit because they feared (advocated) violence. Who feared (advocated) violence?
There is an ambiguity in the above examples, read literally, about what is too big (or small) and exactly who is fearing violence, although a semi-intelligent human should be able to work it out with ease.
The problem, according to Gary Marcus, a research psychologist at New York University, who acted as an advisor for the Challenge, is that computers lack common sense, and programming it into them is incredibly difficult.
Indeed, the MIT Technology Review said that most of the entrants in the Challenge used a combination of hand-coded grammatical understanding and a ‘knowledge base’ of facts. It still didn’t help much, though.
However, one of the two best-placed systems, led by Quan Liu, a researcher at the University of Science and Technology of China, together with researchers from York University in Montreal and the National Research Council of Canada, used neural network-based machine learning in a bid to train their computer to recognise the many different contexts in which words can be used.
Liu claimed that after fixing a problem in the AI, he was able to achieve a success rate closer to 60 per cent, which is still a long way from being able to go home with a cheque for $25,000.
The Challenge is deliberately designed to be different from the Turing Test, which tests only whether a human can be fooled into thinking that an AI program is human.
The trouble with this is that there are more than enough idiots who could be fooled into helping an AI system to pass that test. The language test, in contrast, provides a more objective test of genuine AI, argued Marcus.
The failure of the AI programs in the Challenge highlights how far chatbots and other supposedly revolutionary AI-based machines still have to go before humans can clock-off for the last time and leave running the planet to computers.
Some experts have claimed that its development will spark the next industrial revolution, while others, such as Apple co-founder and pontificator Steve Wozniak, suggest that we’ll be adopted as pets by robots.
Google, Microsoft and Facebook didn’t bother entering, perhaps because they feared outright humiliation. Maybe next year.
Verizon Communications Inc, the No. 1 U.S. wireless provider, announced that it would increase plan rates but will also boost data buckets by 30 percent for its customers, who increasingly stream content through mobile devices.
As of July 7, the company rolled out a revamped version of its My Verizon mobile app to let customers control data overages and billing, as well as manage plans, it said. Moreover, emulating moves by some of its rivals such as AT&T Inc and T-Mobile US Inc, it will let customers carry unused data over to the next month and begin offering users on certain plans unlimited text and calling to and from Mexico and Canada.
The redesigned plans and app come as the company, known for its high-quality network, is locked in a battle for subscribers with competitors in the saturated U.S. wireless market.
Smaller rival Sprint Corp has been offering half-off discounts, and T-Mobile has launched free music, video-streaming plans and other customer-friendly offers and free gifts to attract customers away from competitors to their networks.
The new rate plans are meant to help customers tackle data overage costs and “reflect the significant growth in individual data use,” Rob Miller, vice president of consumer pricing at Verizon said in a webcast on Wednesday.
Verizon is hiking rates and increasing data across all its plans. For instance, the basic “S” plan will cost $35, a $5 rise, and offer double the data at 2 gigabytes and the high-end “XXL” plan will cost $10 more at $110 and offer 24 gigabytes as opposed to the previous 16 gigabyte limit.
The company also said it will introduce a “safety mode” that protects customers from data overages by slowing down their speeds. The feature is free for those on the “XL” and “XXL” plans and costs $5 for those on the “S”, “M”, “L” plans, it said.
Twitter confirmed the investment, but did not provide any financial details.
“Earlier this year we made an investment in SoundCloud through Twitter Ventures to help support some of our efforts with creators,” Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said.
Soundcloud, a platform that enables people to upload and share music and other audio files, also confirmed that Twitter had made the investment.
Twitter’s investment was part of a funding round expected to be in the range of $100 million, which would value SoundCloud at about $700 million, the Re/code report said.
The microblogging site has previously attempted to make a foray into music with the launch of Twitter Music in 2013, which was closed a year later. At the time, the company said that it would look for new ways to bring music based content to the service.
Amazon.com Inc is gearing up to launch a standalone music streaming subscription service, placing it squarely in competition with rival offerings from Apple Inc and Spotify, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The service will be offered at $9.99 per month, in line with major rivals, and it will offer a competitive catalog of songs, the sources said. Amazon is finalizing licenses with labels for the service, which likely will be launched in late summer or early fall, the sources said.
Amazon, which offers a free streaming music service with a limited catalog to subscribers of its Prime shipping and video service, did not respond to a request for comment about the new, full-fledged music plan.
Although it will be a late entrant to the crowded streaming space, Amazon believes a comprehensive music service is important to its bid to be a one-stop shop for content and goods, the sources said.
The new music offering also is intended to increase the appeal of the Amazon Echo, its home speaker, which searches the Internet and orders products from the retailer with voice commands.
“A music service will further increase the daily interactions between Amazon and its customer base,” said former music executive Jay Samit when told about the company’s plan.
The new Amazon effort will compete directly with Apple Music and Spotify, which boast more than 30 million songs. Apple launched its service last year in one of the highest profile signs that listeners wanted subscription services, rather than paying for individual songs or albums.
The service also will diversify Amazon’s subscription offerings and be another step away from a single, annual subscription. Amazon recently began allowing subscribers to Prime to pay monthly, for instance.
Silicon Valley titans such as Apple and Alphabet Inc’s Google have muscled into music streaming in recent years, aiming to weave themselves more tightly into their customers’ daily routines and drive device sales.
Amazon similarly hopes its new service’s tight integration with the Echo will help it stand out and reinforce the speaker’s appeal, the sources said.
Released broadly last year, the Echo has become a surprise hit that rival Google is now seeking to emulate with a speaker of its own.
The move suggests that Amazon will increasingly offer basic media options through Prime while selling additional subscriptions for consumers who want to go deeper. The company recently launched a standalone video service.
The new music service is unlikely to steal many customers from Spotify, but it could pose a threat to other players, said David Pakman, a partner at Venrock who headed early Apple music efforts, when informed of the move.
Apple Inc announced a series of long anticipated enhancements to its App Store, but the new features may not ease concerns of developers and analysts who say that the App Store model – and the very idea of the single-purpose app – has seen its best days.
The revamped App Store will let developers advertise their wares in search results and give developers a bigger cut of revenues on subscription apps, while Apple said it has already dramatically sped up its app-approval process.
The goal is to sustain the virtuous cycle at the heart of the hugely lucrative iPhone business. Software developers make apps for the iPhone because its customers are willing to pay, and those customers, in turn, pay a premium for the device because it has the best apps.
The store is now more strategically important than ever for Apple as sales of the iPhone begin to level off and the company looks to software and services to fill the gap. Apple CEO Tim Cook said on a recent conference call that App Store revenues were up 35 percent over last year.
But the store is also a victim of its own success. Eight years after its launch, it is packed with more than 1.9 million apps, according to analytics firm App Annie, making it almost impossible for developers to find an audience – and increasingly difficult for customers to find what they need, as some 14,000 new apps arrive in the store each week.
“The app space has grown out of control,” said Vint Cerf, one of the inventors of the internet and now a vice president at Alphabet Inc’s Google, who was speaking at a San Francisco conference on the future of the web on Wednesday. “We need to move away from having an individual app for every individual thing you want to do.”
While investors believe privately owned Spotify is probably heading for a public listing, some industry analysts see the loss-making company as a takeover target for a larger tech giant with deeper pockets.
“My selfish ambition with Spotify is just trying to show … that we can create one of those super companies here in Europe,” he told journalists at the symposium Brilliant Minds, which aims to bring artists and musicians together with the tech community.
Asked if that meant he was not up for selling the firm, Ek said: “I’m not going to sell, no.”
Spotify, founded in 2006, pays more than 80 percent of its revenue to record labels and artists and has not yet shown a profit as it spends to grow internationally. It competes in a business crowded with formidable rivals such as Apple Music, Google Music and YouTube.
Many other European tech start-ups have been swallowed up by bigger Silicon Valley competitors.
Ek said Silicon Valley got an earlier start in building up its tech giants but that Europe finally has the right conditions to support its own entrepreneurs.
“For the first time now there’s an ecosystem around it with capital and experience that can actually help guide entrepreneurs,” he said.
“The number one advice I tell everyone is ‘don’t sell’, because that’s the biggest problem we have. All these things could grow gigantic if you just kept the course and kept doing what you’re doing,” he added.
Last year Spotify made an operating loss of 184.5 million euros ($205 million), widening from 165.1 million in 2014.
Spotify, whose investors include Northzone, DST Global and Accel, does not disclose details about its ownership but the co-founders no longer own a majority, having sold off stakes.
Last month at Intel’s 2016 Developer Forum in Shenzhen, China, the chip giant proposed a broad market transition to remove all 3.5mm audio jacks from the phone and tablet industry and gradually replace them with USB-based audio solutions and Conexant has become the first partner company to embrace the standard with its announcement of two new audio chips, the CX20985 and the CX20899.
Conexant is the first company to announce chips designed after Intel’s USB-C Digital Audio standard, according to a recent post by AnandTech. Although the USB Type-C standard traditionally supports up to 10Gbps bidirectional bandwidth, Conexant’s CX20985 and CX20899 chips will start by supporting USB 2.0 bandwidth up to 480Gbps. This bandwidth rate should technically still give plenty of headroom for high-fidelity audio transmissions along the 24-bit range with any additional functionality such as equalizer customization and room correction adjustments.
Intel’s standard was made public in late April and is a result of the company’s ambitions to lead the industry toward a unified digital interconnect for at least three purposes – data transfer, charging (up to 100 watts), and now audio. Of course, USB Type-C is a universal all-in-one format that also supports video signals over DisplayPort Alternate Mode (up to 8.1Gbps per lane) but any video transfer capability over USB-C versus alternative formats such as MHL is ultimately left to the discretion of mobile device manufacturers.
The main premise behind USB-C Digital Audio is that Intel wants to use USB-C as the universal port that it was designed to become. This includes audio transmissions to headphones, docking stations, health-monitoring headsets, car stereos, soundboards, wearables, and many other digital playback devices in the long run of the format. The traditional 3.5mm headphone jack has been around since the 1960s, and while it’s a very reliable and trusted connector, it only serves the purpose of providing 2-channel analog stereo audio signals. There is also no possible conversion into 5.1 or 7.1 formats, with the most advanced option being “matrixed” Dolby Surround with decoding performed on the device side.
Although no one has currently succeeded in replacing the ubiquitous 3.5mm audio standard, Intel hopes that some of the “smart standard” features proposed in its USB-C Digital Audio specification will be enough to convince even the most diehard analog audio purists that there might be a digital alternative finally worth adopting. Of course, the concept is not new. In the early 2000s, Motorola and others used mini USB connectors for data transfers, charging and headset connectivity. In 2016, Intel wants to do the same thing with USB-C, only this time there will be enough bandwidth to drive premium lossless audio content along while allowing headsets to perform digital-to-analog conversions and offload all the amperage to make it possible.
The CX20985 features a 24-bit DAC with sampling rates up to 48kHz and a stereo ADC for music and voice applications, including Skype for Business and Google’s basic Android Wired Audio Headset 1.1 specification. The chip features a five-band parametric equalizer for playback, two-band equalizer for recording, and an integrated capless headphone driver that eliminates the need for AC coupling capacitors. The CX20985 also features very low idle power consumption of just 22.6mA with voltage between 4.35 and 5.25V. Conexant expects its headphone-optimized USB-C digital audio chip to hit mass production in July using a 6 x 6mm 50-pin QFN package.
Conexant CX20899 – designed for high-end headsets and docking stations
The CX20899 features a full-fledged DSP with sampling rates up to 96kHz and a stereo ADC with the same 96KHz sampling rate for playback over differential “line-out” or a capless headphone driver. The DSP supports a variety of more advanced functions including digital room correction, microphone automatic gain control (AGC), acoustic echo cancelling and a programmable equalizer, among others. The CX20899 also supports PCM/I2S and S/PDIF outputs for docking stations and higher-end mobile equipment over USB-C connections. While more power-hungry, this chip also features reasonable idle power consumption of just 1.8mA with voltage between 4.35 and 5.25V. Conexant says this chip is already in mass production and uses a 76-pin QFN package.
Conexant has traditionally been an early adopter of USB audio formats and has released at least eight current USB-based solutions over the past two years, typically costing around $1 per unit. In June 2014 the company announced the CX20562, a USB DSP codec with Class-D amplifier (48-pin QFN package), capable of driving 1.2 watts on a 4-ohm signal through USB host power. In August 2014, it announced the CX2077x, a 24-bit USB DSP codec system-on-chip with integrated PWM LED drivers. Two other interesting products released the same year were the CX2087x and CX20833, featuring USB-based Dolby and DTS headphone decoders with Class-D amplifiers. We expect the company’s new CX20985 and CX20899 USB-C chips to become available for device manufacturers to use sometime towards the end of the year, with initial products being unveiled next January at CES.
Intel’s USB-C Digital Audio specification contains two side-band pins, SBU1 and SBU2, that can transfer analog audio signals when a host device is put into “audio adapter accessory” mode. One journalist from AndroidAuthority.com notes that this solution may not be favored by audio purists as it puts potentially-cleaner analog audio signals next to noisier digital audio pathways. While this can be a concern for some on paper, the results in real-world testing could be drastically different with the migration of multi-function processing units (MPUs) from mobile devices onto headphones and headsets themselves.
Currently, many smartphones and other mobile devices contain MPUs that support features like non-linear processing, acoustic echo cancellation, noise suppression and beamforming, among other things. If Intel is offloading these features onto headphone and headsets, we can definitely expect digital audio accessory prices to rise significantly, with the presumption that they will integrate “smart features” that were previously reserved for on-board smartphone and tablet codecs and DACs.
The other concern is industry-wide adoption. Currently, there is a rather partisan split between Apple and Google (all Android-enabled devices) on mobile industry standards and connection peripherals. In 2012, Apple made a practical yet shameless move of launching its own Lightning standard as an alternative to USB, knowing full well that the market would quickly splinter rather than unify around a single data and charging protocol going forward over the next decade. Three years later, USB-C was announced, albeit three years too late to recover from the observable standards fracture that Apple had willingly placed on the mobile industry.
If Apple and Android smartphone manufacturers choose to replace the 3.5mm headphone jack with a USB-C solution, then they would be obligated to include USB-C to 3.5mm adapters with every new device in order to avoid backlash from users with traditional audio equipment.
It is unlikely that Apple will do this, as the company is known for charging every last penny on adapters that should often be included with new device purchases – $29 for its Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adapter, $19 for its USB-C to USB adapter and $25 for its USB-C to Lightning Cable. If Apple continues to market Lightning headphones as a viable alternative to USB-C, there is guaranteed to be another format war and one in which Apple’s prospects are considerably outnumbered by Android users.
On the other hand, if Android manufacturers completely remove 3.5mm headphone jacks, replace them with USB-C only solutions and do not provide adapters, then this would only incite users of traditional audio equipment to become angry at purchasers of newer USB-C audio solutions. Traditional 3.5mm users would then be required to purchase adapters at the expense of users purchasing newer USB-C equipment.
The solution, of course, is to gradually phase out the existence of 3.5mm audio jacks rather than immediately replacing them or requiring millions of users to purchase adapters. Intel, AMD, Samsung, Dell, Lenovo and others announced plans to phase out VGA and LVDS connectors as early as Q4 2010, and they eventually were removed from the most device manufacturing processes between 2013 and 2015, respectively.
The only issue with an industry-wide adoption proposal is that Apple would need to plan an exit strategy for its Lightning connector and embrace USB-C in its next-generation mobile products due in a year and a half from now. Whether not the company wants to accept humility for its actions with Lightning in 2012 is a concern that will be left to company executives and investors, among all other private circles involved in the matter.
Intel’s new mobile USB-C digital audio standard is due to be finalized before the end of June and is ultimately designed to support more recent audio formats and features, improve internal power management, and add new discovery and configuration models to enable “simpler” devices. New devices adopting the standard are expected to gain additional features including a thermal sensor for earpieces. This may prove useful for measuring temperature during workouts and providing some in-ear biometric data back to a connected mobile device.
Alphabet’s Google Inc introduced us to its answer to Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant along with new messaging and virtual reality products at its annual I/O developer conference on Wednesday, doubling down on artificial intelligence and machine learning as the keys to its future.
Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai introduced Google Assistant, a virtual personal assistant, along with the tabletop speaker appliance Google Home.
He also unveiled Allo, a new messaging service that will compete with Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger products and feature a chatbot powered by the Google Assistant. Allo, like WhatsApp, will also have end-to-end encryption when it is rolled out this summer.
Amazon’s Echo, a surprise hit that has other tech giants racing to match it, uses a virtual assistant called Alexa, a cloud-based system that controls the Echo speaker and responds to voice-controlled commands by users.
Like Alexa, Google Assistant can search the internet and adjust your schedule. However, Pichai said Google Assistant can use images and other information to provide more intuitive results.
“You can be in front of this structure in Chicago and ask Google who designed this and it will understand in this context that the name of that designer is Anish Kapoor,” said Pichai, pointing toward a photo of Chicago’s Cloud Gate sculpture.
For Google Home, the Google Assistant merges with Chromecast and smart home devices to control televisions, thermostats and other products. Google did not offer a specific release date or pricing for Google Home, saying only that it will be available later this year.