Smart Speaker Startup Whyd Shifts Focus to Software


Whyd Smart Speaker in 2016; Photo Credit: Y Combinator

Smart speaker startup Whyd announced it is shifting focus from creating a smart speaker to developing “the voice assistant software technology we’ve been building along with the hardware.” The company’s first project as a software company is the 8tracks Amazon Alexa skill, which allows users to hear music that matches a combination of activity, mood, genre or artist they give to Alexa. The partnership with 8tracks seems to stem from their original background as audiophiles as their original smart speaker product focused heavily on sound quality. David Porter, CEO of 8tracks, commented on the release of their Alexa skill with Whyd:

“We’re excited to introduce the 8tracks skill for Alexa. More than a decade ago, 8tracks’ DJs pioneered the concept of playlists curated and tagged by activity, mood and other themes that transcend genres. As it turns out, listeners on Alexa-enabled devices tend to favor these same human attributes when selecting music. The new skill showcases the unique attributes of 8tracks while making playlist-based listening on Alexa even better.”

Why Whyd is Changing Focus

Whyd CEO and Co-Founder Gilles Poupardin says the shift is due to a lack of support from major streaming services. In the announcement blog post, Poupardin wrote,

We had been talking with major streaming services for voice integrations for the past 2 years, but no one was ready to approve an integration with a voice-controlled speaker other than Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana speakers.

In 2014, Whyd began building its own voice-controlled speaker. The company was backed by Y-Combinator and then launched a pre-order campaign in 2016. At CES 2018 the smart speaker was demoed with Spotify as an unofficial, private integration. Poupardin explains that the company faced many challenges in 2017, ultimately hitting a wall with the approval process for working with music streaming services. This led the company to the decision of canceling the product launch and changing direction.

Whyd Will Now Help Companies Create Custom Voice Assistants

Whyd’s discussion of its software focus is vague. The company says it makes an open and embeddable voice-assistant software for app developers and consumer electronic manufacturers. It also stated that it has a framework that can help companies create custom voice assistants for smart speakers, mobile phones, HTML5 web browsers, and other connected devices. Their initial launch to kick off their software approach with the 8tracks Alexa skill has a 1-star average rating out of 2 user reviews. Although the skill has low reviews, Whyd’s experience with smart speaker development could work in their favor when it comes time to develop voice assistants for the web and mobile applications. 

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