TalkSocket Wants to Bring Always-on, Hands-Free Alexa Access to Any Smartphone

TalkSocket this week announced a new Kickstarter project for a product that will provide always-on access to the Amazon Alexa voice assistant through smartphones. Many smartphone users already have the Alexa app installed, but it can only be activated hands-free by voice if you have the app open, or the screen is unlocked and you have one of a few Android smartphones that support Alexa as a default assistant, or you are using compatible wireless earbuds such as Echo Buds. Each of these exceptions is rare. The result is many Alexa users in the home rarely if ever, use Alexa when on the go.

Using Alexa on mobile for most people requires unlocking the phone, navigating to the Alexa app icon, tapping it to open, then waiting for the app to load in the foreground, then pushing the Alexa logo icon before you can start speaking. It is at least a few taps and maybe a swipe or two as well and not the same hands-free experience users are accustomed to in the home. TalkSocket wants to eliminate that friction by adding a microphone that can pick up the Alexa wake word and automatically call Amazon’s voice assistant into action through the mobile app. The approach is intended to introduce the smart speaker interaction experience to your smartphone.

How They Do It

It may seem like magic that you can add an always-listening Alexa to your iPhone that can bypass lock screens and Siri’s dominance for voice interaction. However, it simply leverages a feature that Apple supports for third-party Bluetooth devices that enables them to connect directly to iOS apps. Typically this technology is used by wearable devices that after pairing relay a message via Bluetooth to the app that then executes a function. TalkSocket uses this same bridge by linking up to the Alexa app using the Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit (AMAK).

The result is you say something to the TalkSocket where its two microphones pick up the utterance. If it recognizes the Alexa wake word it activates and then passes the request along to the Alexa app. The app then performs the requested task or responds to the user by way of the smartphone speaker. Since the TalkSocket device is only using the microphone, the power consumption is far less than having to drive audio as a response. That task is delegated to the smartphone which has far more battery capacity. This factor enables TalkSocket to have a battery life of several days, far longer than hearables which you are lucky to get a few hours from in large part due to the delivery of audio to the user.

Interestingly, this same technique can be used to enable users to access Google Assistant on a smartphone as well. You don’t need this if you have an Android OS smartphone since hands-free access is native to the devices. However, you could use TalkSocket to activate the Google Assistant app on an iPhone. The product hasn’t shipped, but TalkSocket CTO Chandler Murch tells Voicebot that the user will be able to select either Alexa or Google Assistant at setup similar to the approach Sonos has taken with its smart speakers. With that said, the marketing is clearly aiming at Alexa users given the friction involved in taking that assistant on the road with you.

The Form Factor and Partners Make it Unique

TalkSocket’s form factor is a significant part of the product story. The company is partnering with PopSocket, the popular smartphone attachment, and Otterbox, a leading smartphone protective case maker. TalkSocket with its microphones and activation light ring attaches to these smartphone accessories so it becomes part of the phone. There are other options as well such as a key ring form factor for smartphone users that don’t want a custom case or PopSocket post. TalkSocket can be removed from these accessories for charging and then reattached easily when ready for use.

Coming to Market in 2021

The product will ship in Q1 2021 for pre-orders placed this month. General retail availability is expected in the second quarter of next year. With the early-bird special, you can pre-order for $49 today while the expected MSRP is listed at $129. After 24 hours, the Kickstarter had close to 400 customers and over $30,000 in sales. Let me know what you think. Are you interested in using Alexa while on the go?

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