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Google outage caused smart homes to breakdown, again

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

A recent major outage at Google left many Nest users unable to access their smart thermostats, smart locks and doorbells, and other devices for a few hours. Google reported several issues with its cloud platform as the main reason behind the service disruption. This was not the first time for Google. Last summer, many homes using Google's smart solutions broke down when the Nest app went offline, leaving Nest devices inoperable remotely, while an outage on the entire system affected Google Home and Chromecast users worldwide for more than 12 hours. The frequency of these incidents is increasing across the cloud services sphere. This is damaging both the brand image of the company facing the issues and the users' perception of smart home devices. Google should make improvements to its systems and devices to prevent and minimize the future recurrence of these massive outages. Furthermore, Google should introduce local voice control features for Google Assistant in smart speakers and displays, like Amazon did for Alexa, to enable users to connect with their devices even when there is an internet outage.

Amazon and NHS team up to help British patients

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

In the UK, Amazon has signed a partnership agreement with the NHS to provide health advice through Alexa. The service offers NHS-verified information on common illnesses and targets patients with visual impairments and other disabilities who cannot easily search for health advice on the internet. This initiative is expected to empower people to take more control of their own healthcare while easing the pressure on the NHS. Important safety and privacy concerns have been raised, however. To start with, the voice assistant is not providing a diagnosis but rather health advice. Despite the intention to encourage people to judge their symptoms better, the information provided via Alexa is not suitable for them to be able to differentiate minor illnesses from serious illnesses. Most importantly, the service should not prevent people from seeking proper medical help when it is necessary. Data protection is another important concern. Ensuring that all the information is kept confidential will be crucial for the success of this initiative. Finally, it will be important to welcome other popular AI assistants such as Siri and Google Assistant to bring convenience to more people across the UK.

Amazon releases new Echo Dot Kids Edition

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

Amazon has recently refreshed its line of Echo speakers for children. Based on a more expensive version of the third-generation Echo Dot, the new Echo Dot Kids Edition comes equipped with better sound quality, a modern design, and a two-year guarantee. The children's segment is a key bet for Amazon. The company has developed a more advanced proposition for families than those offered by Google and other competitors, not only with a dedicated device but also with numerous initiatives for the developer community, such as tools and resources to encourage the design of fun and educational voice experiences for kids. Additionally, Amazon is offering one year of free access to FreeTime Unlimited, a service that provides kid-friendly entertainment and educational content and parental control features via the Amazon Parent Dashboard. Through this tool, parents can set daily time limits, review activity, block explicit content, and pause Alexa on the device. Despite its functionality, the Echo Dot Kids Edition has recently been under scrutiny for alleged child privacy violations after advocacy groups filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission. Replying to these allegations, Amazon has stated that the FreeTime application doesn't violate the "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act" (COPPA) guidelines. The challenge for Amazon will be to extend this guarantee to all third-party apps too.

Signify launches new Philips Hue Bluetooth smart lights

Michael Philpott, Senior Practice Leader, Consumer Services

Signify (the new company name for Philips Lighting) has launched its first ever smart bulbs that don't require a Philips Hue Smart Hub. Prices range from $14.99 for a basic white dimming bulb to $49.99 for the white and color ambience version. Users can connect up to 10 of these bulbs before they then need to purchase a dedicated Smart Hub. Signify is the global market leader in connected lighting and is known for its premium products. It is coming under pressure from competitors, however, not only with cheaper bulbs but with bulbs that connect directly via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and hence do not require the additional expense of a hub device. Signify has always claimed that its hub ensures the best user experience, but at $59.99 it does add a significant barrier for first-time buyers. The new Bluetooth bulbs therefore enable consumers to take their first steps into smart lighting without the additional expense of buying a hub. To maintain quality, users will need to purchase a Hue Smart Hub once they reach more than ten bulbs, but by that time Philips hopes that they will have become committed consumers of the Philips' experience.

Baidu upgrades DuerOS and expands the Xiaodu smart speaker product line

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

At the Baidu Create 2019 annual developer conference, the Chinese tech giant laid out its new vision for AI, introducing upgrades for its DuerOS voice platform and adding more devices to its Xiaodu smart speaker product portfolio. The first DuerOS 5.0 upgrade includes a new "full duplex" feature that allows Xiaodu devices to respond without the need for a wake word. This means that Xiaodu smart speakers will be able to have continuous conversations with the user. Another important upgrade has been a new function that enables Baidu's voice assistant to recognize when to reply and execute commands and when to just listen without the need to respond or react. These platform enhancements show how the company has made substantial progress over the past few years, gaining ground in the Chinese market with more than 400 million devices supporting DuerOS as of June 2019. The competitive prices of the brand new smart speakers will also help the company to reach a wider audience, encouraging people to buy more than one device. Baidu now needs to boost Xiaodu's functionality with more skills. To achieve this goal, the company will need to enlist a higher level of developer support. Ovum expects that Baidu will soon expand its initiatives for the developer community, offering new design tools and attractive monetary incentives.

Appendix

Further reading

AI Assistant Tracker: 2H18 Highlights, CES006-000081 (July 2019)

Apple WWDC 2019: Key Consumer & Entertainment Trends, CES004-000097 (July 2019)

"One-third of households will be 'mobile-only' by 2024," CES005-000040 (July 2019)

TV Devices Forecast: Media Streamer Sales and Installed Base 2019–24, CES004-000091 (June 2019)

TV Devices Forecast Report: 2019–24, CES004-000094 (June 2019)

Author

Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Smart Home

mariana.zamoszczyk@ovum.com

Michael Philpott, Senior Practice Leader, Consumer Services

michael.philpott@ovum.com

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