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Where are we at with the smart home IoT takeover? #rollcall

(TECH NEWS) Whether you think it’s the robot apocalypse or our first step toward Star Trek, it’s now part of the world. So where do we stand?

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Google home IoT

Three kinds of people

Tech-literate humanity pretty much falls into three categories right now, all predicated on their response to the phrase “Internet of Things” (IoT). First, there are the people with serious concerns about the complex, imperfectly secured, largely user-inaccessible communications network that is currently the “Internet of Things.” I can respect that. No one wants their toaster plotting against them.

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Second, you have people thrilled their devices are learning to network without them. We’re getting past the nonsense necessary to kludge together a half-functional home from a pile of disagreeing, disagreeable electronics. I respect that too, as only someone who recently spent six hours on the Herculean task of getting my computer to recognize the existence of the smartphone sitting on top of it can.

Entering Phase One

But it’s the third group I want to talk to today, the group that exists with every issue: people too busy doing actual stuff to have any investment in the question. Here’s the deal, people with lives: “Internet of Things” means getting a human space to provide digital services without an intervening interface. It’s happening, now. We’re officially into Phase One of stepping into a room, telling it what you want in normal human words, and the room doing it. It’s pretty cool.

“Zero UI”

The oft-quoted goal for IoT devices is “zero UI.” “UI” is User Interface, how you get your gadget to do things. It used to be punched paper cards, then a command line. Now it’s graphical bits and bobs you poke and swipe, but the Holy Grail has always been no interface at all. You talk, it does.

Apple, Amazon, and Google have products out right now meant to do just that. CRT Labs recently spotlighted these tech giants, who are shaping the future of IoT through voice control.

How you like them Apples?

Apple’s entry is Siri. Y’all know Siri. Everybody knows Siri. Well, except the actual Siri, who didn’t know she existed until well after she did. But most everyone else is at least acquainted with the disembodied voice of the Colossus of Cupertino. As a rule I’m not a big Apple fan, but even I grant that Apple interfaces set the standard for clarity and convenience. Oddly, of the three big players, Siri is probably the least user-friendly, with voice input limited to fairly formal commands.

Siri — or more accurately Apple Home, the app that lets Siri take over your house — is only compatible with a short list of devices, most Apple-branded. However, Apple has a huge plus: no new equipment. The Google and Amazon options require users to purchase a dedicated hub. Apple provides a simple upgrade for owners of various iThings that lets the gadget run others. If you’re already an Apple user, that’s a darn good reason to stick with Siri.

What Amazon brings to the table

Of the two dedicated-technology solutions, Amazon is the most complete. In keeping with Siri’s “evil computer from a 70s Sci-Fi film” naming convention, Amazon’s voice assistant is called Alexa. But it seems she can be trusted to open the pod bay doors. Amazon’s entry is the most user-friendly of the three biggies, with programmable algorithms that improve understanding of voice commands over time.

Unlike Siri, Alexa is also designed for ease of integration with third party tools. This makes her less likely to go into a sulk and stop speaking to your stereo, or interrupt a Netflix binge to have a Bluetooth shouting match with your TV. Amazon offers more options besides Alexa. Tap, Echo Dot, and Echo are entry, core, and premium respectively, but all of them will broadcast Pandora or order a pizza if you ask – and they smoke Google on price. The entry-level Tap hub is $49.99, less than half the $129 Google Home.

Google’s take

Google Home is hard to review because frankly, it’s not done yet. As with lot of Google products, it has impressive technical crunch: like Alexa, it’s designed to learn over time. And Google Assistant, in addition to not sounding like it wants to play Global Thermonuclear War with Matthew Broderick, can even answer questions and consider context like time of day. But its list of compatible gadgets is short. Comparable to Siri, but without Siri’s certainty that at least Apple-branded products will work.

Review aside, the vital point is this: the Internet of Things is here. Whether you think it’s the robot apocalypse or our first step toward Star Trek, it’s now part of the world. Get a piece.

#GetSmart

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Real Estate Technology

Is Internet access a basic human right? T-mobile thinks so

(TECH NEWS) Last year, T-Mobile announced a plan to bring free and at-cost internet access to 10 million homes in the US; 2020 has made this mission crucial.

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Student viewing internet on tablet.

Modern classrooms practically require students to have access to the internet in order to succeed. This was the case well before COVID forced a national switch to remote online learning.

It’s hard enough to rely on public computers and WiFi networks to complete school work under ordinary circumstances — and I speak from experience there. But campuses, libraries, and cafes are still closed or limiting access in most places. The school year is already a month in progress, yet the struggle to get online is still too real.

This was captured perfectly in a photo that received viral attention on Instagram when the fall semester started: Two teenagers seated on the ground outside of a Salinas Taco Bell, using the restaurant’s internet for their schoolwork.

Fortunately, in their case, the girls’ school district was able to help them obtain a Wi-Fi hotspot. And they’re continuing to distribute hotspots and laptops widely to its student body.

In light of this, T-Mobile is investing $10.7 billion dollars over the next 10 years into ensuring youth are no longer put into situations like that. The company is partnering up with school districts to provide students with a free wifi hotspot and 100 GB of data year (or roughly 8 GB of data per month).

An estimated 16.9 million US youth currently lack internet. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Matt Staneff cites his concern that a majority of school-age kids consider homework to be a major source of stress in their lives.

Of course, telecommunications companies are clearly aware of how much our educational systems depend on the internet. It is unquestionably the most comprehensive collection of human knowledge and culture ever. It can no longer be considered just a luxury or a novelty. It’s a critical tool for academic and career success.

While he acknowledged the potential business opportunity in providing schools with internet connectivity, Stanek claims T-Mobile’s intentions are good. He stated, “We recognize there’s a problem in society of kids not being connected. We want to do more than just try to win customers. This is a huge problem.”

Staneff concedes that suitable Internet access extends to hardware, too: “[sometimes students] need a bigger screen, which is why [T- Mobile is] also offering at-cost, larger-screen devices.”

But even if T-Mobile has the best intentions, the fact remains that they aren’t a charity. Service providers like T-Mobile would probably not be too happy about the lost “business opportunity,” should tablets and internet access be made freely available to every student. The schools are public, and they rely on the internet, yet the internet is privatized.

The responsibility to solve the civic issues brought on by the pandemic is increasingly falling onto the private sector. If T-Mobile is willing to offer the money and infrastructure to help kids get an education, that’s a step in the right direction.

Yet it prompts the question: Should we consider internet access to be a human right? Because as long as the web remains corporately controlled and commodified, the access gap will persist and our schools will pay the price.

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Real Estate Technology

The real reasons we’re all obsessed with spy machines (I mean smart speakers)

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Regardless of privacy issues with them, what does information about smart speakers, ownership, and usage tell us about future trends?

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smart speakers scare me

I don’t trust smart speakers, but even I can (begrudgingly) admit why they might be convenient. With just a simple wake word, I would be able to do anything from inquire about the weather or turn down my own music from across the room. And the thing is, plenty of people have bought into this sort of sales pitch. In fact, the worldwide revenue of smart speakers more than doubled between 2017 and 2018. And it’s projected that by 2022, the total revenue from smart speakers will reach almost $30 billion.

With over 25% of adults in the United States owning at least one smart speaker, it’s worth figuring out how we’re using this new tech…and how it could be used against us.

First things first: despite the horror stories we hear about voice-command shopping – like when a pet parrot figured out how to make purchases on Alexa – people aren’t really using their smart speakers to buy things. In fact, in the list of top ten uses for a smart speaker, making a purchase is at the bottom.

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, though, it’s worth knowing where advertisements might crop up in more subtle places.

Sure, people aren’t using their smart speakers to make many purchases, but they’re still using the speakers for other things – primarily asking questions and getting updates on things like weather and traffic. And I get it, why scroll through the internet looking for an answer that Alexa might be able to pull up for you instantly?

That said, it also provides marketers with a great opportunity to advertise to you in a way that feels conversational. Imagine asking about a wait time for a popular restaurant. If the wait is too long, it creates the perfect opportunity for Alexa to suggest UberEats as an alternative (promotion paid for by UberEats, of course).

Don’t get me wrong, this is already happening when you search Google on your phone or computer. Search for a tire company, for instance, and the competitors are sure to appear in your results. But as more and more consumers start turning their attention to smart speakers, it’s worth being aware that they won’t be the only ones.

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Real Estate Technology

Curated newsletters help you learn literally anything you want

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) All the news you could ask for in a large quantity of topics, from independent journalists brought to you in a neat looking Newsletter Stack.

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Newsletter Stack

To say it has never been more important to stay up-to-date on world news than it is right now doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch, but the issue of where to start can be so daunting as to overwhelm people–a problem that Newsletter Stack attempts to fix, and quite handily at that.

Newsletter Stack is a curated news service that delivers “unfiltered and fresh takes” from independent journalists on a variety of topics (56, to be exact). These topics are expansive and range from things like artificial intelligence and technology to think-pieces on pop culture and wellness, and one can browse by featured collections–for example, “Adult Picture Books” or “Emerging Markets”–for a more immersive experience.

Should the urge strike, one might also find themselves browsing the reading materials of other curators, a list found immediately below the Newsletter Stack collections library. This isn’t necessary, but it’s a nice touch for anyone looking to consume information they know is interesting to like-minded (or dramatically dissonant) individuals.

Newsletter Stack even has a section of their website dedicated to news submissions if you come across a piece that fits their aesthetic. That aesthetic is actually a huge selling point for the service; while plenty of inbox news subscriptions (and even more established services like Apple News) allow you to curate topics and sources to your liking, Newsletter Stack places a heavy emphasis on independent authorship.

In an effort to be as transparent as possible, one can browse a list of all current curators on the service’s website, search through their reading preferences, and see their recommendations.

Independence in an age of digital literacy metrics might be a sticking point for some folks, but Newsletter Stack makes it clear that they aren’t anti-mainstream media. In fact, it seems that the point behind this news subscription is much less holistic than other services (again, inbox subscriptions fall into this trap). At no point does Newsletter Stack make the claim that they should be one’s only source of news, and that’s incredibly important.

If you’re at all interested in expanding your knowledge using independent authors, and a clean interface, Newsletter Stack deserves a few minutes of your time.

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