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Why Amazon is putting Alexa in wall clocks and microwaves


A sampling of some of the new Echo devices Amazon just launched.
Image: karissa Bell/mashable

In case there was still any doubt about Amazon’s vision for the smart home, the company just made its intentions clear: it wants to dominate every aspect of your house.

The company revealed a dozen new Alexa-powered gadgets on Thursday, including redesigned Echo speakers, a new subwoofer and amplifier, a wall clock, and, yes, a microwave.

Taking over the smart home

Of these, the $59.99 microwave (officially called the AmazonBasics Microwave) attracted much of the attention because, well, it’s pretty damn random, right? But while some wondered about the usefulness of having Alexa inside your microwave, it also offers the clearest look at how Amazon plans to put Alexa on every surface it possibly can.

So why a microwave? Is it actually faster than just pushing a few buttons? According to Amazon, it opted for the microwave because it’s an appliance that hasn’t changed much in the last few decades. And, more importantly, one that can still be frustratingly complicated. Do you know how to use all the built-in presets on your microwave? I definitely don’t.

Though microwave is Alexa-enabled, it doesn’t have any speakers or microphones built in. Instead, it pairs to a nearby Echo speaker. There is an Alexa button on the microwave, but this is just for saving time; if you push the button on the microwave, you can simply say what preset you want, like “one potato,” without saying “Alexa” or “microwave.”

At launch later this year, Alexa will be able to understand dozens of presets, as well as commands like “add 30 seconds.” Amazon says more commands will be added over time as well.

Strategically, though, the microwave is about much more than making popcorn slightly faster. It’s powered by something called Amazon Connect Kit, which will soon be available to the makers of other kitchen gadgets. This means device makers can make their blenders and coffee makers and mixers compatible with Alexa without having to remake their products with microphones and speakers and custom software.

If you don’t want to wait for manufacturers, though, you’ll have another option: Amazon’s new $24.99 Smart Plug, which lets you control any device you plug into it with your Echo. Think of it as essentially an Alexa-enabled on/off switch. 

Echo Wall Clock.

Image: karissa bell/mashable

The somewhat bulky plug does a few neat things in the background as well. You connect it to your home WiFi network by scanning a barcode on the back of the plug with the Amazon app, which should make setup relatively painless.

Finally, there’s the $29.99 Echo Wall Clock, which is meant to take advantage of what might be the most popular feature on all smart speakers: timers. The clock connects to your Echo speaker and gives you a visual cue to track your timers. 

New and improved Echos

Amazon revamped much of its Echo lineup, with new Echo Dot, Plus, and Show speakers. The good news is that all three are way less ugly than the previous models. The Echo Dot, previously a plastic hockey-puck shaped speaker, has been completely redesigned. The new version now looks a bit like a larger Google Home Mini. It’s rounder, and covered in fabric (available in black or white). 

On the inside, the new Echo Dot has also been engineered to sound louder and clearer. In the brief demos I heard, it did better than the original, though I was in a loud room at the time.

All this also means it’s a bit larger than the original, but it shouldn’t take up much more space. Most importantly, the new Echo Dot is priced the same as the original at $49.99.

The larger $149.99 Echo Plus has also ditched the plastic covering in favor of fabric which, again, makes it look way better and more like a “premium” speaker. It’s also shorter and rounder, making it look more like last year’s Echo 2. On the inside, the Plus has gained a new temperature sensor, so it can detect the temperature of its surroundings, as well as upgraded audio.

The relatively new Echo Show also got a much needed facelift. While the previous version looked like some kind of teleconferencing device, the new Echo Show places the speaker on the side of the device, making it look much less bulky. 

Amazon also delivered its answer to Google’s Chromecast Audio with the $34.99 Echo Input, a thin disc-like gadget you connect to an existing speaker in order to turn it into a smart, Alexa-enabled speaker.

If you’re really serious about upgrading your audio setup, Amazon has offered a solution in the form of the $129.99 Echo Sub. The sub pairs to your existing Echo speakers, which can now be paired in stereo and support multi-room audio. 

In the demo I heard it sounded pretty good by my ear — with a noticeably thumpy bass—  but again, I was in a loud demo room so it’s hard to judge the audio quality at this point. What is clear is that Amazon wants to fight the perception that Echo speakers aren’t meant for people who care about sound quality.

Does all that seem like too much Alexa? Perhaps. But Amazon doesn’t need you to buy all of its products or even most of them. What it is trying to do is make its ecosystem of hardware and software an essential part of the things you do in your home every day, whether it’s listening to music, turning off the lights, or cooking popcorn. 

It’s no secret that the smart home, right now, is kind of a mess. From complicated setup processes to getting a bunch of disparate gadgets to sync up to one another, we’re still a long way off from the cohesive vision so many tech companies have promised us. 

For Amazon, the solution isn’t just to make Alexa smarter and easier to use, it’s to integrate it with every conceivable appliance and gadget you could possibly need or want. Once you’ve bought into one part of the ecosystem, why wouldn’t you keep investing in it? 

Read more: https://mashable.com/article/new-amazon-echo-devices-hands-on/

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This Is the Smart Home of the Future

Don’t worry: Technology may come and go, but some things never change. In the not-so-distant future, cars will drive themselves and men may become obsolete (sorry, guys), but home will always be home. It’ll just be a heck of a lot smarter.

Juicero​​​​​.
Photographer: Evan Ortiz/Bloomberg

Granted, some tech is better than other tech. No one needs a Wi-Fi-connected juice press that doesn’t actually juice anything. Gadgets that offer real utility—like a smart oven or open source furniture—stand a better chance of becoming ubiquitous. If you’re skeptical, think of it this way: In-home refrigeration was the crazy, newfangled invention of 1913. Now, few among us can imagine living without it.

What will the home of the future look like? We took stock of the most exciting tech-forward home products on the market. It’s only a matter of time until at least some of these come standard in every American home.

 

The High-Tech Living Room

Apple’s HomePod.
Source: Apple

Thirty-nine million Americans now have a smart speaker in their homes—that’s 1 in 6 people—and all signs indicate this figure will only creep higher with time. In the living room of the future, smart speakers will be a central feature, with newer models connected to every element in your home, from the lightbulbs to the lock on your front door to the thermostat. They will become so essential you won’t think twice about plunking down $400 for one.

Watching TV and movies will be a wildly different experience. Why devote precious square footage in your living room to a giant screen when you could have one that effortlessly rolls up away and out of sight, like the one LG Display debuted at this year’s CES? Or you may choose not to have a TV at all and opt instead for a superhigh-resolution short-throw projector that turns any white wall into your own personal movie theater. Sony’s new $30,000 model would fit the bill, assuming the price tag comes down.

Open source furniture from Tom Dixon via Ikea.
Source: Modsy

In the coming years, it’ll be much easier to design your living space. Apps and online platforms such as Modsy and Hutch will use virtual and augmented reality to help you visualize how a couch or chair will look in your home. You’ll have lots of options: Modular, open source furniture will dominate interior design trends, taking the lead from Ikea’s Tom Dixon-designed Delaktig couch, which has more than 97 different configurations. Choose wisely, because you’ll be spending more time on the couch than ever: Facebook Inc.’s forthcoming living-room-geared video chat device will reportedly use smart camera technology to make people on both ends feel like they’re sitting in the same room.

Also, expect your living room to be even more of a central hub than it already is. Deliveries will arrive here instead of on your front porch, thanks to Amazon.com’s new Prime service, which will let verified delivery persons carry goods right into your home.

And don’t for a minute think ultramodern gadgetry is only for the younger set: Homes for the elderly will be outfitted with internet-connected gear that allows adult children to monitor their aging parents.

Smart Cooking in the Kitchen

The June intelligent oven.
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

Ultimately, the goal of kitchen technology won’t be to do the cooking for you. It’ll just make you a better cook. Smart ovens such as those from June will be outfitted with cameras and digital thermometers, helping you monitor your food as it bakes. And instead of just hoping the “medium-hot” setting on your gas range is hot enough, smart skillets will take guessing out of the equation by sizzling food at a precise temperature, which you’ll set on a connected app.

Smart refrigerators will help reduce waste by letting you know when the carrots in your fridge are about to go bad, and offer up several recipes for them to boot. The smart fridge from LG will even send cooking instructions to your smart oven. Meanwhile, 3D food printers will help you create intricately shaped pasta, and smart-technology-equipped ice cream makers will automatically sense the hardness of the mixture within and keep it ready until it’s sundae time.

Tech Enters the Bedroom

Eight Sleep’s smart mattress.
Source: Eight Sleep

The latest wave of home-focused technology is about making everyday life better and easier, and that begins with a good night’s sleep. Sleep trackers such as Eight’s smart mattress and smartphone apps Sleep Time and Sleep Cycle will use sensors to measure your sleep metrics, while smart alarm clocks like Amazon’s mini Echo will help you begin your day on the right foot with time, weather, and news.

Need a gentler wake-up? The smart aromatherapy alarm clocks from Nox Aroma will sense when you’ve reached your sleep cycle’s lightest point and release a wake-up scent of your choice.

Once you’re up and moving, it’s time to get dressed: Your closet will be filled with clothes you don’t just wear. They will actually interact with you, tracking health markers and habits. Among them: MadeWithGlove’s still-in-development smart gloves, which promise to detect skin temperature and provide heat accordingly. Your clothes might even change shape or color based on your feelings, as will the Sensoree mood sweater, now available for preorder.

And if you want a new wardrobe, you won’t have to even leave the house to find the best-fitting clothes: Amazon’s patented mirror will let you virtually try on outfits from the comfort of your own bedroom.

Yes, Even in the Bathroom

Moen’s smart shower system can be operated with Amazon’s Alexa.
Source: Moen

In the future, spa-like experiences at home will be the norm. No need to draw your own bath—your digital assistant can do that for you with smart shower systems like those from U by Moen. High-tech tubs such as those from Toto will induce relaxed brain waves, while nose-geared gadgets like Olfinity will let you program and control your own aromatherapy session from your iPhone while you soak.

Sound far-fetched? Remember a decade ago, few of us could have imagined being so attached to our smartphones, let alone ordering groceries off the internet or barking commands at a digital assistant. With time, even the strangest things can become normal.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-16/this-is-the-smart-home-of-the-future

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    Light fires without a flame with this cool plasma beam lighter

    Image: Saberlight

    Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.

    If youre going out into the wilderness for any significant amount of timewhether youre tent camping or cabin glampingyoure going to want to have a more reliable source of fire than your old Zippo. After all, even the cushiest camping trips can get rugged real fast, and it never hurts to be as prepared as possible.

    Replace your current lighter with the Saberlight Plasma Beam Lighter and youll have a contingency against inclement weather and low lighter fluid reserves. Plus, youll have a remarkably slick lighter that will blow your fellow campers moisture-wicking socks off.

    The Saberlight Plasma Beam Lighter offers unparalleled reliability in rough conditions, including high winds and rain. It features the same flip-top functionality as your standard butane lighters, but its electrically generated plasma beam burns hotter and cleaner.

    Hold a piece of kindling to the beam and it instantly ignites, allowing you to start your campfire quicklyso you can skip the hassle and get right to the marshmallow roasting. Saberlight can be used over 300 times on a single charge, and then replenished via USB in a laptop or portable battery (or a good old electrical outlet if youre not exactly roughing it). Normally, this remarkable gadget costs $99.99. Today, however, the price has dropped to just $15.95 for a limited time.

    Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/07/15/this-plasma-lighter-can-start-a-fire-without-a-flame-sale/

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