Voice Activation

Voice-Activated Tracker: Here Come The Screens?

Good news for those disappointed to see that Samsung’s Bixby didn’t debut last month alongside the Galaxy S8. The wait may soon be over.

While Samsung’s announced time frame for Bixby’s arrival in the U.S. was a vague “later this spring,” a number of various media sources have reported that Bixby is now up and running on smartphones in South Korea.

Is the U.S. next in line?

The Wall Street Journal had previously pegged the U.S. release for late May. If true, this means that stateside Galaxy owners won’t have to wait too much longer to get an earful of the voice-activated artificial intelligence (AI) interface for themselves.

In the meantime, other AI assistants are getting some upgrades.

Alexa, for one, is going to start sounding more human. Amazon recently announced that a new set of speaking skill tools has rolled out to developers.

Developers can use speech synthesis markup language (SSML) to make the voice-activated AI assistant whisper, take a breath to pause for emphasis and adjust the rate, pitch and volume of speech, among other more lifelike features.

Additionally, Amazon has reportedly added a number of new idiomatic words and phrases to Alexa’s lexicon (say that five times fast).

It’s an interesting move. There’s no explicit reason as to why Alexa would need to sound more human-like. If anything, the move toward greater linguistic authenticity risks creating some sort of speech/auditory version of the uncanny valley.

But as the tasks and skills that voice-enabled AI assistants can do grow to become more complex, perhaps the user experience will benefit by moving away from human-issued imperatives toward a more realistic, conversational push and pull between human and AI.

Or it might just block the path to purchase.

It all depends on if and how developers end up leveraging the features. If nothing else, there’s always the entertainment value of Alexa being able to say, “Blimey!”

But that’s not the only development to the voice-activated system that made a splash this past week.

For months, the rumor mill has been turning about the prospects of Amazon‘s breakout smart speaker device Echo gaining a touchscreen in its next iteration. Now, we might have some proof.

Well, proof may be a strong assertion. Let’s go with potential evidence.

AFTVNews reported it had found a low-resolution image on Amazon’s servers that shows a device that looks similar to older video phones, but that could be an upcoming Echo product — codenamed Knight.

In the image, the screen, rumored to be about 7 inches, sits above what appear to be speakers.

In the past, rumors suggested that a potential tilted upward so the screen can be seen by a user that is standing with the device on a surface such as a counter. This appears to be the case in the image found by AFTV.

Some 8 million Echos have sold since its 2016 launch. By the end of this year, data projects that some 24.5 million new voice-enabled devices —  including Amazon’s, Google’s and others’ contributions — will ship in 2017.

How the market will react to screens on the Echo or other voice-activated IoT devices yet to come is an open question. A screen could make it easier for users to digest content like weather forecasts, calendar appointments and news bulletins. Likewise, a screen could grow interaction with product catalogs via a combination of touch and voice.

The addition of a touchscreen to this voice-activated hit could work to challenge the smart tablet market, as well as bring about the death of the landline. (It’s been a long time coming.) Players in the voice-activated device space have rumored to be looking for ways to incorporate voice calling capability. Add video chatting to the list once a screen is in the mix.

We may not have to wait too long to find out how screens will fit into the ecosystem. AFTV suggests that the product featured in the image could be released within the month.

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