Another “wake word” has entered the lexicon. Instead of “OK, Google” or “Hey, Alexa,” this time it’s “Hey, BMW.”
With BMW’s new virtual assistant, coming to the German car maker in 2019, voice commands are front and center in the car. It’s a new way to interact with your vehicle.
The assistant was revealed Thursday at a TechCrunch Disrupt main stage event. BMW senior vice president of digital products, Dieter May, showed it off, extolling its skills beyond “just voice commands.” He said the assistant would “live side by side with you” — which is either super helpful or super creepy.
It’s compatible with other voice assistants, so don’t worry, you can still shout at Alexa to put more laundry detergent on your Amazon shopping list.
May was very clear in a conversation after the launch event that this assistant is not something to ask informative queries like “What year was Barack Obama born?” Instead it’s more of a coach about driving and getting places, think: “Where’s the nearest charging station that’s still open?” As May sees it, “It’s more of a co-driver.”
What really distinguishes the BMW assistant is its auto skills. “It’s a real expert who knows everything about your car,” May said. So when something makes a weird noise or a light starts blinking, you can quickly get answers.
You can rename the assistant, and BMW encourages conversation and casual chatting. The assistant is supposed to be able to pick up on patterns and habits. “It’s a much more natural and easier way to interact,” May said. With its predicative abilities, you shouldn’t have to tell it to take you to the gym; it’s already got the GPS loaded up once you sit down. Since we spend so much time in our cars, the AI can quickly learn what we want.
The car isn’t a new space for voice. Far from it, with Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto and third-party services built into infotainment systems, like Nuance with its Dragon Drive interface. Talking to Waze (“OK, Waze“) brings a voice-based navigation system into your car through the app or infotainment system. Then there are devices that act like an Amazon Echo, but for your car, like the Muse.
Just this week Uber added voice commands for drivers picking up passengers. Mercedes unveiled its newest electric vehicle, which will of course include its proprietary voice-controlled user experience, MBUX. On Thursday, Nuance announced an in-car partnership with Affectiva Automotive AI, the MIT startup that measures your emotional reactions and facial expressions. The system will recognize if you’re angry, happy, sleepy, distracted or angry while driving. Emotion-based control is like next-level voice control, where your sad voice could trigger some uplifting tunes.
Amazon’s announcement last month about an Alexa integration coming directly into cars seemed to reinvigorate the potential of in-car voice assistants in a way that CarPlay and Android Auto haven’t, even though plenty of cars work with those operating systems.
Voice has become the go-to tool for the modern household, such as in the “smart” kitchen or living room, and even more so in the car.
A survey from digital consulting firm Capgemini found 85 percent of voice users prefer to use the tool while on the go, meaning in their cars, on their commutes, on a bike ride.
Alex Stock, a partner at Capgemini, said in a call that “car companies are trying to use voice to create more exciting experiences for consumers.” So while the wow factor is still high that cars can turn on the air conditioning or one day interpret your frustration into a pitstop for ice cream (sounds plausible), the next step is commoditizing the experience.
As we’ve seen again and again, cars have figured out how to offer a seamless experience with directions and music choices coming up on command. Now that we’re hooked on voice, it’s time for the cars to turn the “cockpit experience” into an e-commerce shopping hotspot.
Anything to keep us talking to our cars.Read More
Big • sharp • and responsive touchscreen • Excellent far-field microphones • Good clear speaker • Physical camera privacy shutter • Retro design
Kinda big for kitchens • Only has a single speaker
Lenovo’s Smart Display is a perfect example of how voice-controlled smart speakers are better with a touchscreen.
It’s also similarly pricey at $200 for the 8-inch display and $250 for the 10-inch version, which I’ve been using at home for just over a week.
I wish there was a simple answer, but it all comes down to how much you value the information that gets displayed on the screen. A display is great for showing information that can’t be conveyed verbally, but it’s also not a necessity for everyone.
Fits right at home
I think most people agree the Echo Show is more functional than beautiful. Sure, the design is less of an eyesore the more you use it, but that doesn’t mean we should just accept ugly design. Anyone who’s seen the knows what I’m talking about.
The 8-inch model comes with a white frame around the display and a gray backside. On my 10-inch device, the frame’s also white, but the rear has a bamboo finish.
The Smart Display is meant to be stood up in landscape, but you prop it up vertically for making video calls using Duo, Google’s FaceTime clone. Don’t bother trying to stand it up vertically for regular use because the interface only works in landscape.
The smaller Smart Display has a 1,280 x 800 HD resolution and the larger one has 1,920 x 1,200 full HD resolution. I can’t speak for the smaller screen, but the 10-inch Smart Display’s IPS screen is bright, sharp, and has nice wide viewing angle. It’s comparable to a decent tablet display.
The 10-incher comes with a single 2-inch 10-watt speaker with two passive tweeters and dual array microphones. For buttons, there are just the essentials: a volume button, a physical mute switch, and — this one I really like — a physical camera privacy shutter that blocks the 5-megapixel camera.
Honestly, any camera-equipped device that’s always “looking” at you should have a privacy shutter just for peace of mind. Extra points to Lenovo for including one.
Lenovo really nailed the Smart Display’s hardware, but the size might be a problem for some people. The 10-inch model’s nearly twice the width of an Echo Show and can dominate a smaller kitchen counter or bedside table.
If you’ve used a Google Home or Google Assistant-powered smart speaker of any kind, you’ll know exactly what capabilities to expect from the Smart Display.
Everything you can do with a Google Home you can also do on the Smart Display. That means asking the Google Assistant to tell you the weather, play your music, control smart home devices, set alarms, make phone calls, search for things, etc.
The dual 2 x 2 microphones work really well. The Smart Display was able to pick up my “Hey, Google” requests even when it was playing music at the highest volume. At close range, it could also pick up the wake word if I whispered it.
The single speaker has decent range, too. Side-by-side with the Echo Show, the Smart Display sounds a lot clearer. Music sounds less muffled, and the bass isn’t as distorted at higher levels. On the Show, the speakers crackled as they tried to push more air. The only edge the Show has over the Smart Display is that it’s capable of louder sound. But that’s not really much of an advantage since it’s rare you’ll ever crank these kinds of tabletop smart devices to full volume.
The value of the Smart Display, like the Echo Show, is of course its screen. The touchscreen interface is extremely stripped-down — there’s no grid of apps or app drawer — and serves as a reminder that the Smart Display isn’t a tablet. As such, it’s for short voice and bite-sized screen interactions.
On standby, the screen shows the time and weather. Tap it and it takes you to a home screen with an expanded weather forecast. Swipe to the left to scroll to access features like music. A right swipe from the left bezel returns you to the home screen. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up controls for adjusting brightness, volume, and toggling Do Not Disturb mode.
All of these touch controls can also be performed with voice controls. So instead of swiping on the bezels, you can just say say “Hey Google, go back” or “Hey Google, go home.”
Voice controls are super convenient, especially when your hands aren’t free, but there are many times where visual information is either more useful or augments the digital assistant experience.
For example, Google Maps. It’s great that a Google Home can tell you how long it takes to go somewhere, but it’s even better when you can see the route and all the additional info that comes with Google Maps such as street names, nearby restaurants, etc.
Same goes for showing information such as your Google Calendar, the upcoming five-day forecast, album art, Google Translations, to name a couple of things. These are all things that are better with visual info.
The most obvious use for the screen is for playing videos and displaying photos. If you have the Smart Display set up in your kitchen, the display’s really handy for showing recipe instructions (Google’s even condensed popular recipes from various independent online sources into easy-to-follow step-by-step slides) and for watching tutorials on YouTube.
I can’t stress enough how convenient it is to have YouTube videos on the Smart Display. It’s infinitely more valuable than watching Amazon Prime Video on the Echo Show. While chopping veggies one night, I simply asked the Google Assistant to show me Mashable’s MacBook Pro video without ever lifting a finger off my knife.
Similarly, you can tell the Google Assistant to show you photos. By default, it’ll pull photos from your Google Photos gallery first. I asked to show photos of my mom and because I had her face ID’d and tagged in my Peoples & Pets section within Google Photos, it pulled up all her photos.
The screen’s also essential for video calling over Google’s Duo service. Video and audio quality is alright. I used the Smart Display to video call Mashable Tech Editor Pete Pachal’s iPhone X and though the connection was solid, the video call picture quality was average.
For almost all screen info, the Smart Display also includes a handful of actions that you can take either with touch or voice. But sometimes, actions aren’t clearly labeled. For instance, I pretty much guessed at using voice controls to scroll through this recipe’s steps, and it worked even though it wasn’t clear how to do so:
It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t quite get all of Google search just because the Smart Display has a screen. There’s no Google app where you can manually search the web like you can on Android or iOS. Which kind of sucks because when Google doesn’t understand something, it’d be great to have the option to perform a manual search.
One good example was when I asked for a meatloaf recipe. It worked the first time with the Smart Display showing recipes from a couple of publications. But for whatever reason, the time I asked for meatloaf recipes, the Google Assistant apologized and said it couldn’t understand what I wanted. After a handful of fails, it finally understood the command again.
Then again, Alexa fared way worse. When asked for meatloaf recipes, it just messed with me — every single time:
Paying for the display
After trying out the Smart Display, I’m convinced that smart speakers are better with screens. There’s no doubt in my mind that certain information is better shown than spoken. With the Lenovo’s Smart Display you can the best of both voice and touch.
You don’t have to use the touchscreen if you don’t want to. It’s there to augment the experience, which is still primarily voice-based.
The Smart Displays aren’t cheap at $200 for the 8-incher and $250 for the 10-incher. But they’re also not outrageously priced when compared to the $230 Echo Show.
Regardless of the model, you’re getting what is arguably a richer and more meaningful experience than you get with the Show. The Smart Display is prettier and has a larger screen. The Google Assistant is smarter and does more than Alexa. It also plays YouTube videos, which the Show can’t.
That tablet and dock combo, however, is powered by Alexa. With the Google Assistant, the Smart Displays are more intelligent, but if you can make do without the deep Google services integrations, it’s a much better buy for something that’s probably going to end up as kitchen toy.Read More