Indian consumers will make the voice internet

Voice interaction seems to be an idea, whose time has finally come.

A Space Odyssey, voice recognition has been the holy grail for computer geeks. Speech and language are the first communication technologies, and the main driver of human evolution. But the idea of a voice-activated machine, for information, advice, transactions and, maybe, even friendship, has been a mirage, not a reality, given that speech recognition has been a major challenge.

But voice interaction seems to be an idea, whose time has finally come. Why now? AI advances, using deep neural networks and supporting graphics processing unit (GPU) hardware, have made it possible to train speech engines to reach high accuracy levels, using large amounts of audio data.

And, nowhere is this more relevant than in India. From as long back as the Mahabharata, India has been an oral society, without the West’s history of “type to search” using PCs, which powered the online revolution. Illiteracy, numerous languages, lack of familiarity with multilingual keyboards, mean that other ways of interacting with the digital world are necessary. Affordable smartphones and very cheap data, make India, mobile first. And mobiles are perfect for using voice as a UI!

Last year, 30% of Google search in India was voice driven. Hindi search grew 400% in a single year—a testament to the voracious appetite for online tools and content in local languages. Now, if you are not in vernacular, you are not in India!

Recognising the incredible potential for speech technologies in India, Interspeech, the world’s foremost speech research conference, took place in September in India for the first time. It’s theme: Speech research in multilingual societies in emerging markets! Global leaders in speech discussed the huge potential for voice in India. Hundreds of researchers presented how their flavour of deep neural networks, activation functions and model hyper-parameters, progressed speech research. India’s numerous dialects, accents and languages are a researcher’s utopia—challenges to push the boundaries of speech recognition. Priyanka Chopra advertises hair oil on TV, speaking Hindi and English in a single sentence, or code switching, as its known, in technical parlance. For Indians, it makes perfect sense, but impossible for the mono-lingual British or Americans to understand!

All the global technology behemoths at Interspeech, from Baidu to Google to Facebook and Microsoft, acknowledged the importance of local language speech recognition to reach the next 300 million Indians. E-commerce giants, such as Amazon and Walmart/Flipkart, already know that to realise the Indian market’s potential, targeting the top 10% of English-speaking Indians is not enough.

The local-language Indian audience is the real market! And the race to reach multilingual India has started. Last month, Flipkart acquired, a speech tech start-up, to compete with Amazon’s Alexa, which is five years in the making. Amazon released a Hindi website last week. Google and Microsoft are rolling out their own initiatives in Indian languages.

In supporting Indian users, there is another opportunity—the potential for India to build global speech giants, fuelled by its many languages, dialects and noisy environments. China built its tech giants behind the Great Firewall to exclude American competitors.

India has been open to global technology companies. But with voice, India’s unique challenges (barriers for the faint hearted), could be the “opportunity” for fostering home-grown giants. India has the talent. Indians in India, and globally, are some of the world’s finest speech researchers, and Indian tech entrepreneurs are among the world’s best. Panini, the Sanskrit linguist (approximately 500 BCE), was arguably the world’s first computational linguist.

Indian product companies recognise the opportunity. Some, such as, are making speech tech usable for developers. Others, such as (FlipKart) and Voxta, are building their own recognition engines. Even large Indian corporates are throwing capital at the opportunity and hiring experienced individuals, hoping to short-circuit the learning curve for building speech products.

Either way, the Indian consumer will be the winner! Once, western online users helped fuel the development of internet giants, which became household names. Now India, with its incredible diversity of users—languages, dialects, accents—could be the hothouse for researchers, entrepreneurs, and the capital will come together to build global speech tech giants and a voice internet!


Xiaomi Mi A2 Will Be an Amazon Exclusive, Listing Page Reiterates August 8 India Launch

Xiaomi Mi A2 Will Be an Amazon Exclusive, Listing Page Reiterates August 8 India Launch

Amazon India has posted a dedicated page for the Xiaomi Mi A2 on its platform

Xiaomi Mi A2, scheduled to launch in India on August 8, will be an Amazon-exclusive smartphone. The online marketplace is running a teaser page for the smartphone confirming the launch date. However, the Mi A2 price in India is not known yet. Launched in Spainearlier in July, the smartphone is a follow-up to last year’s Mi A1 and the rebranded version of the Mi 6X smartphone, featuring the stock Android 8.1 Oreo software and a promise of quick software updates. Previously, XiaomiIndia head Manu Kumar Jain had announced that the Mi A2 India launch event will be held on August 8, which is when the phone’s price will be revealed.

Amazon India has posted a dedicated page for the Xiaomi Mi A2 on its platform. The page also features a ‘Notify Me’ button, which provides an option to sign in using your name, email ID, and phone number to receive notifications on the arrival of the smartphone in India. The handset is also likely to be available via Xiaomi’s own site. Meanwhile, the Amazon India’s page also highlights some of the key highlights of the Xiaomi Mi A2 including cameras, processor, and Android One certification.

To recall, Gadgets 360 had reported earlier that Xiaomi will not be launching the base 4GB RAM and 32GB storage variant of the Mi A2 in India. While Xiaomi is setting the 4GB RAM and 64GB storage variant as the base model for the Indian market, deliberations are still going on whether the 6GB RAM and 128GB option should be released as well in the country. The Indian market will also see an extra colour option – Rose Gold – launching, up from the three – Gold, Black, and Blue – announced at the global launch. We had also reported that the variants launched in India will support Quick Charge 4.

ALSO SEEXiaomi Mi A2 vs Mi A1: What’s New and Different

Xiaomi Mi A2 price in India, specifications

As mentioned above, the Xiaomi Mi A2 price in India will be revealed at the event scheduled next week. It was announced at the global unveiling that the smartphone’s price in Spain will start at EUR 249 (roughly Rs. 20,100) for the 4GB RAM and 32GB storage variant, which is not coming to India. The 4GB RAM and 64GB storage option is priced at EUR 279 (roughly Rs. 22,500), and the 6GB RAM and 128GB storage option costs EUR 349 (roughly Rs. 28,100).


The dual-SIM (Nano) Xiaomi Mi A2 runs an optimised stock version of Android 8.1 Oreo, certified by Google’s Android One programme, and sports a 5.99-inch full-HD+ (1080×2160 pixels) display with a 18:9 aspect ratio, 2.5D curved glass, and Gorilla Glass 5. It is powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC, paired with an Adreno 512 GPU.

In the camera department, the handset sports a dual rear camera setup. It consists of a 12-megapixel Sony IMX486 with f/1.75 aperture and 1.25-micron pixels, and a 20-megapixel secondary Sony IMX376 sensor with f/1.75 aperture and a 2-micron 4-in-1 Super Pixel size. The rear camera setup comes with dual-tone LED flash and PDAF. On the front, the handset gets a 20-megapixel Sony IMX376 selfie camera with f/1.75 aperture, fixed focal length, and a soft-LED flash. There is a 3010mAh battery under the hood.

In terms of connectivity, the smartphone includes 4G LTE, Bluetooth v5.0, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Miracast, an IR emitter, and USB Type-C. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack on the Xiaomi Mi A2. Sensors on the handset include accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, and proximity sensor.


Google: Android Pie will hit more devices by the end of 2018 than Oreo in 2017, thanks to Project Treble

With major system upgrades landing each year, it feels as though most devices are farther behind than they’ve ever been. Despite the fact that Android Pie still has no presence on Google’s monthly distribution numbers, the company still expects Pie to hit more devices by the end of this year than Oreo saw last year.

In a blog post this week, Google gives a quick update on its efforts with Project Treble. One tidbit in the post is that Google has some big expectations for what Treble will be able to do for the Android ecosystem in terms of delivering major updates.

So far, we’ve only seen a handful of manufacturers roll out updates to Android Pie or launch devices with the OS. That includes Google, obviously, as well as Essential, Sony, OnePlus, and Nokia. That’s barely made a dent in the numbers, though, with Pie still not even showing on Android’s distribution numbers as of last month.

Despite that, with just a month to go, Google expects more devices to be running Pie by the end of 2018 compared to Android Oreo’s numbers in 2017. As a point of comparison, in January of 2018, Oreo was on 0.7% of devices.

Going forward, all devices launching with Android 9 Pie or later will be Treble-compliant and take full advantage of the Treble architecture to deliver faster upgrades. Thanks to Treble, we expect to see more devices from OEMs running Android 9 Pie at the end of 2018 as compared to the number of devices that were running Android Oreo at the end of 2017.

Treble’s goal is to close the gap on updates, making it easier for devices to launch updates faster than ever before. For some OEMs, that’s been true. Essential gave Treble a lot of credit for its day-one Android Pie update.

There’s seemingly hope for other OEMs as well. Samsung, for example, didn’t start rolling out Android Oreo until February of 2018, but it will launch Pie in January of 2019 for a handful of devices. Considering that update comes with a major refresh to the company’s own software layer, I’d say that’s good progress. Hopefully, we’ll see even further progress over the coming years.


Google will give you 50% off a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL for Black Friday, if you buy two

Image result for Google will give you 50% off a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL for Black Friday, if you buy twoIt looks like it isn’t fashionable anymore to have Black Friday deals on, well, Black Friday. Instead, companies like T-Mobile are starting deal season one week earlier, and Google is joining in the fun.

From this Friday, November 16, it will offer a Buy One, Get One 50% off on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. So you buy two units but only pay for 1.5. Then from November 22 until November 25, this will change into a $150 price cut for the Pixel 3 and $200 off the Pixel 3 XL. On Cyber Monday, if you buy a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL you’ll receive a free Google Home Hub worth $149, as well as a $50 coupon to spend in the Google Store at a later date.

If you’re not interested in its phones, here’s what Google’s cooked up in terms of deals for its other products. All of these are available from November 22 to November 26: Pixel Buds, Google Home Hub, Home, and Home Max all $50 off, Home Mini $24 off, Home Mini + Chromecast bundle $39 off, Home Mini + Smartlight bundle $24 off, Chromecast Audio and Chromecast Ultra $20 off, Chromecast $10 off, Titan Security Key kit 20% off.

From November 18 and up until November 28 you can save $300 on a Pixelbook, as well as 50% on the Clips camera. From November 21 to November 28, you can save $70 on the Nest thermostat, $30 on the Nest E, $50 on the Nest Hello and Nest Cam Outdoor, $70 on Nest Cam Indoor, and $20 on the Nest Protect.

On Cyber Monday the Daydream View will be $60 off, a My Case for your Pixel will be $20 cheaper, and if you buy two Google Home Max speakers you can save $150. Finally, a bundle consisting of the Home Hub, a Google Home, and a 3-pack of Google Wifi will be $129 less than usual.+


Five ways to know if your gadgets will expose your data

Women holding their mobile phones are silhouetted as they walk on an overpass at a business district in Tokyo, Japan, November 5, 2015. REUTERS/Yuya Shino - GF20000046605

Everyday gadgets can pose security risks beyond the microphones on your smart speaker or the camera on your laptop.

Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit behind the web browser Firefox, created a shopping guide by studying 70 popular internet-connected products and highlighting the minority that actually passed standard security requirements. Some that failed, such as the Anova Precision Cooker Sous Vide or the Amazon Kindle, may not even be the kind of products that consumers generally associate with being vulnerable to misuse of user data.

Mozilla worked with Consumers International, a global consumer-advocacy group, and the nonprofit Internet Society to determine the standards each product should meet.

“This points consumers in the direction of what they should be looking for when it comes to minimum security components,” Ashley Boyd, vice president of Advocacy for Mozilla, told Quartz.

Here is how the requirements highlight the fundamental ways internet-connected products can fail when it comes to protecting your data:

Communications are not encrypted

When network communications are encrypted, it essentially means that only the sender and the receiver are able to access the information, and it can’t be eavesdropped on or modified in transit. If there is no encryption, “the security of the device really depends on the wifi network,” Boyd says. “If they’re connected to an insecure wifi network, someone else who is within range could connect to the product and possibly take control of it.”

Boyd uses the example of the Anova Precision Cooker, whose communications are not encrypted. And since the device can even be controlled from a mobile app using wifi, meaning you can direct it from another room, or as Mozilla suggests, even another continent, a hacker could swoop in and ruin your meal. Another example is the FREDI Baby Monitor, which doesn’t encrypt data. That means that without a secure network, someone else could be monitoring your child, or you.

No security updates

Mozilla’s requirements state that a product must be enabled to support automatic security updates by default. If it doesn’t, this means that companies can’t address vulnerabilities in a timely matter and at scale. If you’re using an internet-connected device that hasn’t been updated in a while, there’s a chance it isn’t fully equipped to deal with the most recent forms of privacy intrusions.


The operating system of the future will cater to your every need

Every transaction processed by your credit card company, every text you send, every video game you’ve ever played, are all possible because of an operating system.

It’s the most basic, fundamental interaction you have with a computer, especially for consumer technology. If a company sold a great phone but its operating system was difficult to navigate and didn’t have a variety of applications (cough, Windows Phone), then it would fail.

The original iPhone was a revelation for the smartphone age, with an operating system that was easier to navigate than anything else on the market, with well-designed features and applications people actually wanted to use. The phone was simple and intuitive to interact with, and the software complimented the touch screen interface in a way that no other phone had done before.

But despite updates, operating systems are often stagnant, a relic of the era in which they were developed. The operating systems we use on laptops or desktops, like Windows, Mac OS, and even Linux, were originally built before the internet era, meaning many programs exist independently from the web, where we do most of our work now. It’s time for a fresh look at what an operating system, and therefore a computer, can be. The internet and the influx of technology like artificial intelligence has expanded the possibilities for how we interact with our technology, whether that be through our voices, movements, or even tapping at a phone screen.

Even mobile operating systems like Android and iOS are being retrofitted with AI-powered voice assistants and connectivity to the Internet of Things. They “work” but anyone who has regularly used an IoT device or Siri know they’re unreliable and generally limited. Siri has to connect to a server far away to understand what you’re saying, making every conversation halting and cumbersome (if they even qualify as conversations). IoT devices often fail to connect at all, and are easy targets for hackers as they use nonsecure software. For us to enjoy the full capabilities of the web, to have a seamless experience across all our devices, and one that could maybe even pick up where we left off on another device, we need a better system.

Tech companies have ideas about what these next-generation systems will be. Amazon is betting that the future of computing is one where we talk to our devices to get things done. It’s also getting rid of the notion that a computer is just in your hand or on your lap. Amazon is putting its computers in your microwave, your clock, and your car. Each one will learn from you to improve your overall experience.

Google, on the other hand, thinks the laptop can be refined further, just with better software. It’s trying to redesign how a computer fundamentally interacts with the internet, making the whole computer into a web browser. That way the computer can learn how you work on the internet across applications, ultimately customizing itself to its owner.

What is an operating system?

An operating system is a set of software that translates commands between you and the tiny silicon chip doing all the hard work inside your computer. We speak in keystrokes, clicks, and voice commands, and then the operating system funnels that into the billions of 1s and 0s that are being switched on and off inside your computer’s central processing unit.

Another way to think about it is like a car. Instead of manipulating the steering mechanisms, transmission, engine, and brakes directly with your hands, you have a steering wheel, a shifter, gas pedal, and brake pedal. They make it possible for a human to operate a complex machine, the same way an operating system does.

The first operating systems for consumers didn’t look like the ones we interact with today; they only consisted of text. A user would type very specific commands to create a new document, retrieve data, or delete a file. It required a computer literacy that few acquired, since the commands were specific and there was no room for error. Then, in the 1980s, IBM, Microsoft, and Apple introduced the graphical user interface. There was now a desktop where people could store files and programs. Suddenly you didn’t need to learn sets of commands to use a computer, you just needed to point and click.

The computer had transformed into something that anybody could use. It was one of the first steps in making computers as common as they are today.

The future of computing

But now that the era of mobile computing has been established, operating systems are hurtling toward a new paradigm. Devices are functionally always connected to the internet, and, by extension, connected to things like smart speakers, lights, and even to another computer, phone, tablet, or TV.

“We’re not talking about necessarily a single screen device or, you know, sitting down in front of a laptop. We’re thinking about the more abstract terms about the world the customer lives in,” Rich Koehler,  director of product for Alexa AI, tells Quartz.

The operating system of the future isn’t just for one device. Rather, it supports an entire ecosystem. Amazon is demonstrating that with Alexa, a custom voice-based operating system that started out as only a smart speaker. Now Alexa also exists in your phone, your stereo, your microwave. You no longer need a different operating system for each IoT device or smart speaker.

“All of these things together constitute the world the customer lives in, and we have the ability to make that world simpler for the customer by bringing together the things that they want to do and have that world react to their desires,” Koehler said.

Amazon has had the opportunity to reinvent the operating system because it started from scratch—a new kind of operating system that just uses your voice instead of mouse clicks or a keyboard. To make this voice-first approach possible, the system uses artificial intelligence to decode spoken words into text and decide what a user is asking, meaning personalized AI is in the operating system’s core design.

“I love the concept that there is an AI foundation that enables the transition from the customer needing to learn the technology, to instead the AI learns the customer and then makes the technology available,” Koehler said.

The screen lives on

Amazon’s futuristic operating system is rooted in completing real-world tasks, like turning on a light or a coffee machine, playing music, or answering simple questions. But when you’re sitting down to do some research or write, say, a news article, the screen still reigns supreme.

That’s where Google comes in. Even though it operates Android, the mobile operating system with more than 80% market share, the company is still trying to redesign what a laptop operating system looks like in a time when our technology should be adapting to us.

Chrome OS takes the approach of making the internet browser pretty much the whole computer. Since most of us are booting up our laptops to just open an internet browser anyway, Google decided to cut away everything else.

That’s part of the reason why Chromebooks can be so appealing in 2018 and beyond—simple web searching, social media, and entertainment are all done in a browser tab, so there’s little need for anything else. This allows it to make relatively cheap, nimble devices. A Chromebook is more of an access point than a standalone machine.

Still, Google doesn’t think it has perfected the operating system for the perfect information device, though.

Much like Amazon, the Chrome and Chrome OS teams are working to make the software more personalized and adaptable to the user based on what they’ve done before.

“If you take a step back and ask yourself what is it that makes the web unique versus other platforms built on top of the internet, history is one of those pieces,” Ben Galbraith, a senior product director for Chrome, told Quartz.

Since your computer knows about the kind of information you search for, or the actions you want do, it can automate some of the work and plop a button in front of you.

For example, the Pixel Slate, a convertible laptop with Chrome OS, suggests actions within the application launcher. Right between the Google search bar at the top of the screen and the applications you can tap to launch, there are five actions or recently used apps that the operating system thinks you might want to use based on your history of using the computer. These are still early days for our computers suggesting actions and assisting with our work, but it’s a step towards a future where computers are collaborators as much as they are tools.

Shifting responsibilities

As these operating systems become more ubiquitous in our homes and try to predict our next move every waking minute of the day, new questions are emerging about what the duty of an operating system really should be. Is it a portal to let you onto the internet, or a gatekeeper to keep you from falling in?

Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS now have features that allow you to see how much time you’re spending on your phone each day. It’s a rebuttal against the idea that our time spent on our devices should be like time spent in a casino, without any real way to know how much has passed unless you’re paying attention. After years of fighting to consume our time, there’s a notion that our devices should help us reclaim some.

These features are new, and it’s still unknown whether people will find them useful. But an operating system that could alter your relationship with technology raises the question of what other problems an operating system design could solve. How do the form and function of our operating systems now contribute to the problems plaguing the internet today? Could a teenager’s phone stop bullying? Could it warn you that you’re reading news from a disreputable source?

If companies take that path, they would be following precedents set by companies pursuing self-driving cars with features that automatically correct your driving if you’re veering out of a lane, or can’t stop fast enough. It would be a huge shift that would make the operating system inherently political, making decisions on what a computer should and shouldn’t be used for, and granting technologists far more control over how technology is used. But it’s not necessarily unprecedented.

“Cars are not particularly unsafe, but drivers do crazy things all the time,” artificial intelligence journalist John Markoff said when talking about autonomous vehicles. “So if we can be sort of wrapped around with a cocoon that will make us make better decisions, I think we should go that direction.”

Maybe that’s the way we should head with all of our technology: With safety as our north star..