Smart Speakers

We live in a Star Trek world.

  • Early flip-phones looked surprisingly like Star Trek communicators
  • Virtual Reality is here (future article) … with similarities to Star Trek’s Holodeck
  • China reportedly teleported (“beamed up”) particles 500km into space earlier this year
  • And now, we can speak to “smart speakers” the way they speak to the computer in Star Trek

For a while now, you have been able to ask Google or Siri questions verbally on your computer/tablet/smartphone and get verbal responses. A few manufacturers have now put that technology into standalone devices that require only power and a wifi Internet connection.

Think about it. Instead of typing your question into a device and reading the response, you can speak it and get a verbal response! So far, there are a lot (but limited) number of questions that these devices can respond to, but something they do very well is offer verbal control of music. Both their hearing and their fidelity are very good … they can even “cast” to connected audio/video systems!

The only smart speaker product currently available in Canada is the $179 “Google Home”. (Amazon has similar products, but they’re not available in Canada yet. Apple plans to release the HomePod in US/UK/Australia in December, and the rest of the world in 2018.)

I have been playing with the Google Home for a few weeks now, and I like the functionality … even at this early stage. This doesn’t seem to be a ploy to sell more products and services, although the Google Play Music service ($9.99/month) does integrate nicely.

How these smart speaker products tie into my recent series of articles is that these devices can theoretically control other smart devices in your home. (I say “theoretically”, because this feature unfortunately isn’t available in Canada yet.) With a Logitech Harmony remote, you can ask Google to “turn on the TV”. With a ChromeCast, you can ask Google to “play my kitchen playlist on the kitchen speakers”. With certain lights, thermostats, or door locks/openers, you can ask Google to turn them on/of, up/down, lock/unlock.

But even without any other smart devices, you can ask Google to turn the music up/down/off, ask it to remember/recall something (like calendar entries), ask it facts, and even play trivia games with it.

Beam me up, Scotty!

Next day update: As of this week, Google Home can make phone calls to/from USA and Canada.