Amazon opens up the voice control technology behind Alexa

Software and app developers can now use the technology that powers Amazon’s Alexa assistant to add voice control to their creations. Amazon has opened up the service called “Lex” in what Reuters describes as a move to become the top player in voice-controlled computing. According to Werner Vogels, the e-commerce titan’s CTO, Lex could lead to assistants and chatbots that sound friendlier and more human than their predecessors.

Lex, after all, lives in the cloud instead of within the actual apps and software. That means Amazon can make it better and better by continuously feeding it data from people’s interactions with Alexa. While the company’s Echo sales will likely never match Apple’s iPhone sales, Vogels said people use Alexa for various tasks around the house, but they tend to interact with their phones’ voice assistants only when they’re inside their vehicles.

Still, the company needs more sources of data, so it will also feed Lex people’s interactions with third-party developers’ apps that use the service. We’re guessing that data includes whatever it collects from its call center clients. If you’ll recall, Amazon started prepping a software package that includes Lex and another one of its developer services called Polly earlier this year. The package can field questions from customers’ phone calls and texts, giving the retail giant’s software more samples to learn from.

Source: Reuters

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Amazon puts Alexa inside your iPhone

Now you can talk to Amazon’s intelligent assistant whenever you use the Amazon app on your iPhone. Alexa will be able to do much more than just deal with your Amazon account, like play songs from Amazon Music, give you news updates, or even tell a (bad) joke or two. You’ll also be able to use any of your previously enabled skills that are available within the Alexa ecosystem. According to Amazon, the one thing you won’t be able to do just yet is to ask Alexa to open your door locks with your voice.

Don’t uninstall the Alexa app just yet, though, because you’ll need it to tweak your default settings.

The iPhone isn’t the only handset to get Alexa — Huawei announced the voice service for its upcoming Mate 9 phone — but it is the first. Getting Alexa on as many devices as possible makes a lot of sense for Amazon, which is competing with Apple and Google for digital assistant supremacy.

The iOS update to the Amazon app should roll out starting today and continue for the next week.

Via: VentureBeat

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Police seek Amazon Echo data in murder case (updated)

Amazon’s Echo devices and its virtual assistant are meant to help find answers by listening for your voice commands. However, police in Arkansas want to know if one of the gadgets overheard something that can help with a murder case. According to The Information, authorities in Bentonville issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over any audio or records from an Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates. Bates is set to go to trial for first-degree murder for the death of Victor Collins next year.

Amazon declined to give police any of the information that the Echo logged on its servers, but it did hand over Bates’ account details and purchases. Police say they were able to pull data off of the speaker, but it’s unclear what info they were able to access. Due to the so-called always on nature of the connected device, the authorities are after any audio the speaker may have picked up that night. Sure, the Echo is activated by certain words, but it’s not uncommon for the IoT gadget to be alerted to listen by accident.

Police say Bates had several other smart home devices, including a water meter. That piece of tech shows that 140 gallons of water were used between 1AM and 3AM the night Collins was found dead in Bates’ hot tub. Investigators allege the water was used to wash away evidence of what happened off of the patio. The examination of the water meter and the request for stored Echo information raises a bigger question about privacy. At a time when we have any number of devices tracking and automating our habits at home, should that information be used against us in criminal cases?

Bates’ attorney argues that it shouldn’t. “You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us,” defense attorney Kimberly Weber said. Of course, there’s also the question of how reliable information is from smart home devices. Accuracy can be an issue for any number of IoT gadgets. However, an audio recording would seemingly be a solid piece of evidence, if released.

Just as we saw with the quest to unlock an iPhone in the San Bernardino case, it will be interesting to see how authorities and the companies who make smart home devices work out the tension between serving customers, maintaining privacy and pursuing justice.

Update: An Amazon spokesperson gave Engadget the following statement on the matter:

“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”

As a refresher, Echo only captures audio and streams it to the cloud when the device hears the wake word “Alexa.” A ring on the top of the device turns blue to give a visual indication that audio is being recorded. Those clips, or “utterances” as the company calls them, are stored in the cloud until a customer deletes them either individually or all at once. When that’s done, the “utterances” are permanently deleted. What’s more, the microphones on an Echo device can be manually turned off at any time.

Source: The Information

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Amazon accidentally outs new, cheaper Echo Dot on Twitter

Amazon Echo’s official Twitter account made a blunder that may have given hope to followers waiting for new Echo Dot stocks with bated breath. It sent out a tweet introducing an all-new and cheaper Echo Dot, according to Recode, but it deleted the post as quickly as it went out. If the company’s social media team didn’t tweet on purpose to drum up interest — post-then-delete is a common tactic used by celebs — then someone may have fired it out a bit too early. If you’ll recall, the tech titan also accidentally posted an iPhone 7 accessories landing page before Apple announced the product on stage. Either way, the post caught by @Indypodcaster says the new Echo Dot will set you back $ 50 — $ 40 less than the original one’s price. Clicking the link on what he quoted just takes you to the first Echo Dot’s listing, though, which has been sold out since July. You’ll just have to wait for the e-retailer to officially announce its new Alexa-powered speaker if you want to buy one.

Source: Recode

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The Wirecutter’s best deals: $30 off the Amazon Tap

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read their continuously updated list of deals at TheWirecutter.com.

You may have already seen Engadget posting reviews from our friends at The Wirecutter. Now, from time to time, we’ll also be publishing their recommended deals on some of their top picks. Read on, and strike while the iron is hot—some of these sales could expire mighty soon.

Athlon Optics Midas ED Binoculars

Street price: $ 290; MSRP: $ 290; deal price: $ 250

The first time we’ve seen a drop on these binoculars since we started tracking them, and it’s a worthwhile one. At $ 250, they’re a full $ 40 below the street price.

The Athlon Optics Midas ED are our pick for the best binoculars. Daniel S. Cooper said, “Amazingly affordable with great optics, these binoculars have comparable performance to many models that cost thousands more.”

He went on to say, “The Athlon Midas ED pair’s optics aren’t its only strong suit: These are exceptionally durable binoculars that easily withstood the humid, dusty, and hostile environment of the Mexican rain forest and harsh sun of the Californian desert. And their focus dial adjusts reliably and smoothly across a wide range of depths, making it easy to focus on what you’re trying to see, no matter where it is.”

Anker PowerLine 3-ft Lightning Cable (3-Pack)

Street price: $ 25; MSRP: $ 40; deal price: $ 20

If you like having spare Lightning cables on hand, Anker’s currently offering a deal on a 3-pack of their PowerLine 3-ft Lightning cables. It’s $ 5 below their street price and only slightly over the usual cost of buying two Lightning cables individually.

The Anker PowerLine Lightning cable is our pick for the best Lightning cable. Nick Guy wrote, “Anker’s PowerLine cables charge iPads, iPhones, iPods—and the plethora of Lightning-based accessories Apple introduced over the past year—at their maximum speed (though the 12.9-inch iPad Pro can charge even faster with a special cable and charger). They also fulfill our readers’ number-one request: sturdiness. Anker builds its PowerLine cables with Kevlar fiber and PVC strain-relief collars that should prevent fraying during normal use. Plus they’re affordable: The 3-foot cable is half the price of Apple’s 1-meter (3.5-foot) Lightning to USB Cable. Add to this Anker’s reputation for stellar hardware, its fantastic customer service, and an awesome 18-month warranty, and it’s clear why this cable is our pick.”

Amazon Tap

Street price: $ 130; MSRP: $ 130; deal price: $ 100

This is the second time we’ve seen the Tap down to $ 100, matching a previous sale from the start of August. A couple days after that last sale started, Bed Bath and Beyond beat it with an $ 80 sale for a few days, but since that’s the only time we’ve seen a great BB&B sale on any our picks, we don’t think we’ll see that price again soon.

The Amazon Tap is a more portable pick in our Alexa guide. Grant Clauser wrote, “The Tap’s built-in battery lets you take Alexa voice control to the backyard or other places outside the home, though worse audio performance and the lack of an always-on microphone is limiting.”

For more about the always-on microphone, “The Tap doesn’t sport the always-on microphone for receiving voice commands that the Echo and Dot have. Instead, there’s a microphone button you need to press, similar to pressing the home button on an iPhone to call Siri to attention (if you don’t have “Hey Siri” enabled on your iPhone). This little inconvenience is meant to make the Tap’s battery last longer. It also makes it unsuitable as your main Alexa interface. You can’t shout commands across the yard, because the Tap isn’t listening.”

Refurbished Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 Lens

Street price: $ 350 (new); MSRP: $ 400 (new); deal price: $ 220

We’ve featured a deal on this refurbished lens before, but this comes in at $ 20 below the previous sale. At this new low, it’s even more affordable and even more of a reason to pick it up if you’re looking for a more capable prime lens. As always, Canon’s refurbished lenses come with a 1-year manufacturer warranty.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 STM is the higher quality version of our prime lens pick in our Canon lenses guide. Tim Barribeau wrote, “If you’re willing to spend a bit more, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 is higher quality—and capable of gathering even more light—but nearly three times the price. Of the company’s two 50 mm offerings, the f/1.4 version is undoubtedly a better lens, but if you’re just starting out and you aren’t sure what you want out of a lens, the f/1.8 version is supremely affordable and worth getting as you feel your way around.”

Deals change all the time, and some of these may have expired. To see an updated list of current deals, please go to The Wirecutter.com.

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Amazon Prime Day 2016: UK deals you need to know about

It’s July 12th. For many, it’s just another Tuesday, but for Amazon, it’s another chance to sell millions of customers gadgets, homeware and lots of other stuff they don’t need. Yes, it’s “Prime Day,” a marketing gimmick where Amazon discounts thousands of products for Prime subscribers. To keep on top of things, you’d normally have to track shopping websites or keep an eye on social media, but we want to help. We’ve listed a number of all-day deals that we think are worth keeping an eye on, but act quick, other deals on the site will only be available for a couple of hours at the most.

  • Fire Tablet – £35 (normally £50): We’ve put Amazon’s diminutive tablet through its paces and even at £50 we’d consider taking the plunge. You’ll save £15 if you decide to buy today.
  • Fire TV Stick – £20 (normally £35): Amazon’s high-definition streaming stick supports Prime Video, Netflix and a whole host of other apps. If you need a streamer for your spare TV, you can’t go wrong with this.
  • Amazon Fire TV 4K – £55 (normally £80): If you’ve already got a 4K TV and are looking for Ultra HD content to watch, the 4K Fire TV can help. It also supports voice search and play games with its smart remote.
  • Kindle Paperwhite – £80 (normally £110): With its improved high-resolution 300ppi display, the Paperwhite is the Rolls Royce of Kindles. With a bigger discount than Black Friday, now might be the time to pick one up.
  • Lenovo N22 11.6-Inch Chromebook – £100 (normally £160): It’s not an Amazon sale without a cheap laptop, and this year it’s a Chromebook that is getting the discount treatment. The Lenovo N22 comes with an HD display, Intel Celeron N3060 processor, 2 GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage.
  • Surface Pro 4 Bundle – £750 (normally £944): Microsoft’s 2-in-1 is also seeing some decent discounts today. The Pro 4 bundles with a 2.2 GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD and a range of coloured Type keyboards have been reduced by almost £200 today.
  • Xbox One 500GB Bundle: Amazon has a number of Xbox One deals on today. First is the standard Kinect bundle for £210, then there’s the Kinect Bundle plus Overwatch for £230. However, if you want Guitar Hero, that’ll cost you £235. Finally, there’s the Kinect Bundle, Forza 6 and a extra controller deal for £246.
  • PlayStation 4 500GB Bundle: There aren’t as many deals for the PS4, but Amazon is putting on an Uncharted 4 bundle that costs £240 and will save you quite a bit of cash. If you want Uncharted 4 on its own, that too is discounted and will set you back £32 for today only.
  • Microsoft Band 2 – £129 (normally £200): Microsoft’s fitness tracker is enjoying another big sale.
  • Nvidia Shield 16GB – £100 / 500GB – £170: Both boxes are £50 off today (and still come with a free controller).
  • 12 Months of Xbox Live plus £10 credit – £31.49 (normally £40): To get the most out of your Xbox One, you’ll need a subscription to Xbox Live. This deal will see you right for a full year and give you some extra cash to spend on games or DLC.
  • SanDisk SDSSDHII-480G-G25 Ultra II SSD – £77 (normally £95): If you’re looking for a way to speed up your PC (or even Mac), Sandisk’s Ultra II SSDs will definitely help things zip along.
  • Beoplay H2 On-Ear Headphones – £79 (normally £150): Bang & Olufsen’s on-ear headphones are almost half off today and are available in green or silver.
  • Anker PowerCore+ 26800 portable charger – £35 (normally £50): Anker markets the PowerCore+ 26800 as the world’s highest capacity portable charger with Quick Charge 2.0 technology. It’ll juice your iPhone 6 over 10 times and a MacBook over three.

Source: Amazon Prime Day

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