Voice Control and Smart TVs: The Most Important News From IFA 2019
The IFA tech expo in Berlin this year was jammed full of news and announcements from companies eager to show off their latest and greatest projects. Startups and tech giants both had a chance to share what their next year or so looks like. Here are a few of our picks of the most interesting bits to come out of IFA this year.
Portable Speakers and Wireless Headsets
Portability was a major theme of the IFA demonstrations this year. Sonos grabbed plenty of attention when it officially revealed the Move, its first portable speaker. The speaker is a relatively durable piece of equipment and functions as something of a hybrid device. It can plug in and connect to a home entertainment system, including offering a voice assistant and smart home connections or use Bluetooth to play music and audio while not connected to an outlet.
On the wearable side of things, true wireless headphones are more common than ever, but the newest generation of the devices does offer some standouts. Jabra revealed with its new Elite 75t wireless earbuds at IFA, devices aimed for the higher end of the market. The earbuds are smaller than previous generations, but with better audio quality and more features than any of Jabra’s earlier offerings.
Sennheiser also rolled out its Momentum 3 noise-canceling headphones with one-tap access to Siri and Google Assistant. Alexa is said to be “coming soon.” The Momentum 3 also include vibration for incoming calls and presumably for other notifications, an unusual feature today for noise-canceling headphones. This is another example of how hearable capabilities such as easy voice assistant access have quickly become a standard as opposed to differentiating feature in headphones and earbuds. This follows the evolution of wireless speakers which first added Alexa and Google Assistant integration as differentiating features but now risk becoming irrelevant to consumers without voice interactivity.
A New Smart Speaker for Germany
Also, on the smart speaker front, a new stationary device was announced by Deutsche Telekom. Magenta is a long-awaited smart speaker optimized for Germany that is the twin of Djingo which was created by French Telecom giant Orange and debuted earlier in 2019. This device includes voice interactive controls for accessing Deutsche Telekom services and also offers Amazon’s Alexa onboardd which immediately makes it comparable in feature breadth to the leading smart speaker in Germany. The list price of Magenta at €149.99 is quite a bit higher than comparable Amazon Echo devices, but it is on sale for the next six weeks for €99 and also offers a monthly lease option.
Smart TV Competitions
Smart televisions made a strong impression at the expo. Amazon placed its stake for bringing Fire TVs to everyone, announcing partnerships with manufacturers like JVC, Grundig, and Toshiba to build more than a dozen new Fire-powered TVs. Roku, meanwhile, announced that will extend its licensing program to Europe for the first time. TV makers, starting with Hisense, will be able to build Roku televisions and use the Roku OS in other smart TVs.
Complementing these software expansions, Amazon and Roku both announced new hardware to enhance entertainment at home. Roku brought out its plans for a Smart Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer, potential competition for Amazon’s new Fire TV edition soundbar built by Anker. Amazon also unveiled a new Fire Cube with double the power of the previous iteration.
New Voice Assistants, New Modes
Voice assistant developers all want to extend their respective ecosystems as much as possible. Google created an entirely new mode of operation for Google Assistant to further enable that option. Ambient Mode is a visual display on mobile device lock screens.
Turning on Ambient Mode turns a mobile device into a kind of smart display when it is plugged in and charging. Google Assistant will listen for its wake word without having to unlock the phone, and it will display notifications. Google Assistant from Ambient Mode smartphones and tablets won’t have all the benefits of smart display hardware, but with so many people owning mobile devices with Google Assistant inside, it still provides some benefit to users. Iteven induce consumers to buy a smart speaker or smart display with the voice assistant after becoming accustomed to using Google Assistant for more always-listening use cases.
On the flip side of Google’s news, Voice AI developer Snips announced that it is creating an entirely new voice control platform built on local control. Snips is teaming up with NXP Semiconductors to combine its software with NXP’s microcontroller systems so that companies can build smart devices with voice control that don’t need to connect to the cloud. Without Google Assistant’s and Amazon Alexa’s need to transmit data to the cloud to operate, Snips and NXP’s offering is a cheaper and more private alternative, a combination that may appeal to a growing number of smart device makers and consumers.