AI: How we arrived at the 4th industrial revolution


You could be forgiven for wondering why AI is so big all of a sudden. Hasn't humankind been dreaming about human-like robots for a long time? The first Star Wars film (with crowd-pleasing'droids' R2D2, C-3PO) was released in 1977; Terminator (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg assassin) was a massive success in the mid -1980s, a few years after Blade Runner (starring synthetic – or not? The idea of an intelligent machine is not exactly a new one, yet our ability to create something with Artificial Intelligence has increased dramatically in the last decade or so. There is now scope to use AI to make legal assessments, create games, predict purchases, navigate through traffic, translate words into different languages and diagnose diseases.

Google Home Max: Google's max effort pays off in powerful smart speaker


If you care more about your smart speaker's sound than which digital assistant it employs, the new Google Home Max speaker should be on your holiday short list. After days of pumping an eclectic range of music through Google's $399 speaker -- from AC/DC to the Three Tenors -- it's clear the Google Home Max is in a class by itself when it comes to filling a home or apartment with sounds even an audiophile could appreciate. The downsides: It's big, heavy, cord-powered and not particularly portable. Admittedly, for many people the decision to purchase this or that voice-activated smart speaker has often boiled down to which AI-infused digital assistant you're most comfortable engaging with in your home, most likely Amazon's Alexa or the Google Assistant. But when music is the priority, different features come into play.

Alexa can now wake you up with your favorite song


Maybe, just maybe, Alexa's new alarms can make you actually enjoy getting up in the morning. You can finally instruct Amazon's voice assistant to wake you up in the morning with a song of your choice. Yes, if you have a smartphone, you could do this already. But unlike the iPhone, which limits your selection to your Apple Music library, Alexa can select songs from a number of platforms: Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, SiriusXM, and iHeartRadio. Whichever you're loyal to, you're set.

Google gives its Home app a makeover and advanced audio controls, just in time for Max


Just in time for the impending release of its higerh-fidelity Google Home Max smart speaker, Google has given its Home app a makeover, bringing advanced audio settings, smarter search, and better navigation. Anyone who owns an Assistant or Chromecast device knows how easy it is to set it up using the Home app, but now Google is giving us a reason to open more often. The entire app has been redesigned, with a clean aesthetic and more intuitive navigation. For example, when you want to find a movie or song, the search bar is at the bottom of the screen, just like it is on the new Pixel phones. It's a small change for sure, but it's much kinder on your fingers.

Interactive fiction for smart speakers is the BBC's latest experiment


Smart home speakers have quickly become the hot gadget people didn't know they wanted. They can answer your movie trivia questions, call a cab, turn your heating on and do your shopping for you. They're gaining new features every day, but are more than just a utility product. These speakers are a ripe platform for all kinds of screen-free entertainment, and I'm not just talking about streaming a Spotify playlist. Earplay is a popular Alexa skill that tells interactive stories, for example, and never one to be late to a fledgling medium, the BBC has taken note.

Alexa will help you order gadgets and gear from Best Buy


In an odd turn for retail cooperation, Best Buy is now available on Alexa, Amazon's voice-powered digital assistant. Starting today, you can learn about and order Best Buy's Deal of the Day sales just by saying, "Alexa, talk to Best Buy." Sure, it seems odd to have a competing service on Amazon's own devices, but as the blog post from Best Buy points out, the big box store has been selling Amazon Alexa devices in a special section in about 700 of its stores earlier this year. Best Buy is only the latest retailer to jump on the voice-shopping trend, too. This isn't the first time Amazon has allowed a competitor into its garden, either. Spotify and Pandora live easily next to Amazon's own music service on its connected smart speakers, as do competing on-demand video services.

Think Tank: This Holiday, Retailers Say Hello to Voice Commerce


This past summer proved to be the official tipping point for voice-first shopping for many consumers. With Amazon's Echo Dot ranking as the "best-selling product from any manufacturer in any category across Amazon globally" during Prime Day 2017 and Google Home pairing up with Wal-Mart and The Home Depot, the era of AI-assisted selling officially had its breakthrough during the first half of 2017. Additionally, according to a recent Gartner study, sales of voice-activated speakers with artificial intelligence capabilities will reach $3.52 billion by 2021, signaling that adoption of voice-enabled speakers will only continue over the next few years. Though e-commerce continues to gain ground on in-store purchasing, we are collectively a group of consumers who often use our voice throughout our purchasing journeys. Whether it is asking for a different size or color, checking if our product is in stock or simply expressing how we want to pay, we are used to these interactions.

Amazon Echo review (2017): Good price, bad sound


Two years after its birth, the device that inspired dozens of copycat smart speakers and spawned thousands of integrations is getting a makeover. Amazon's "all-new" Echo is smaller, cheaper and promises better sound. But, with a pile of new competitors and even more in the pipeline, the second-generation Echo needs to prove it's still worth your money. At $100, it's cheaper than the original, Google Home and Sonos One. But it also sounds worse than those devices, delivering somewhat flat audio that emphasizes the high end and vocals at the expense of bass.

Amazon Echo (2017) review: The best Alexa device yet


If only every guest could slide into your life as smoothly as an Amazon Echo. Amazon's smart speaker, home to its digital assistant, Alexa, found a place in my home years ago. The 9.25-inch-tall black cylinder sits on my hutch, answering questions about the weather, sports, news, adjusting the climate on the first and second floor of my home, setting alarms, checking my schedule and even playing games. Over time, it's woven its way into more and more of my daily activities. I don't think my story is that different from millions of other people around the world who've welcomed home the Echo, the Echo Dot, and the Amazon Tap.

Sonos plus Alexa makes for a smart -- and great-sounding -- speaker


The Sonos One wireless speaker, priced at $199, will be available Oct. 24. It will support multiple voice services, launching with Amazon Alexa, but will add Siri using AirPlay 2, and Google Assistant, in 2018. Sonos is upping the volume in the smart speaker race. Already well-known for its great sounding wireless home speakers, Sonos is bringing to market the first whole home speaker system with built-in voice control using Amazon's digital voice-commanded assistant Alexa. The new speaker, the $199 Sonos One, due out Tuesday, raises the bar for good-sounding smart speakers.