Commentary: Home devices are becoming less cool and more creepy

Amazon, Google, Apple, and now Facebook are now all pushing for home invasion, they are fighting hard to get conquer the consumer’s home (and possibly your car), and while competition is great for us consumers, not everything about this is good for us.

When Amazon released Echo with the wonderful digital assistant Alexa, I was pretty excited, I bought one, and I’m still pretty happy with it. It took Google and Apple a little bit to respond with their own flavor of a smart speaker/home assistant, but they did. So far so good.

I have to admit, when the Google home device was released, I started to worry about all of this. The Amazon Echo, while creepy sometimes, it’s not entirely aware of my life, it knows what toothpaste I buy and how often but it doesn’t know about my contacts, my email, etc. Also, it’s good to know that Amazon’s primary business model isn’t advertising, and neither is Apple’s.

Now, Google is another story, but I’m still trusting them with my email, and only some of my searches and internet browsing (I’ve switched to Firefox as my primary browser and DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine).

Facebook is where I feel the line has been crossed into creepiness, I just don’t trust the company now, and I am definitely not feeling that bringing Facebook’s eyes and ears into my house is a wise choice. And how can we trust them? They haven’t been playing nice with consumer’s privacy and why would they? Facebook’s business model is advertising, and their success is the result of highly targeted advertising that is only possible by them collecting multiple data points from us, our contacts, and our online (and offline) behavior to create detailed profiles that can be bundled and offered to whoever needs them.

I invite you to read Ben Thompson’s weekly article with the title The Battle for the Home which inspired this brief commentary.

What’s New? The Surface line just keeps getting better

It’s been a while since Microsoft surprised us with its first Surface laptop, tablet, or whatever it was. At the time, the design was something unique and innovative, but not everyone liked it, or at least, not everyone was sure that the Surface was a good move for Microsoft.

Microsoft’s introduction of its Surface tablet engendered buzz like no other we’ve seen from Microsoft. The big question is, does it stand up to the hype? – PCWorld

Microsoft first announced the Surface at an event on 18 June 2012, presented by former CEO Steve Ballmer in Milk Studios Los Angeles. This hybrid tablet included a keyboard that was surprisingly good, and it also served as a cover for it.

Earlier today, Microsoft announced new updates to its existing line of Surface products and a few new items as well. So the question is, is Microsoft’s Surface line getting better? In my opinion, yes, it has been improving with every update and every product added to it. The Surface Book 2 for example, is an excellent laptop for power users looking not only for a responsive and capable laptop, but also a computer that can act as a tablet for portability, creative work, and even for entertainment.

What’s new?

Both of these incredible products come in an all-new finish, a timeless and sophisticated matte black.

Surface Pro 6

  • Featuring the latest 8th generation Intel® Quad Core™ processor.
  • More than 67 percent faster than 5th generation Surface Pro.
  • Same portability, versatility and all-day battery as before.
  • PixelSense™ Touch Display.
  • Intelligent inking.
  • Password-free Windows Hello sign-in.
  • Windows Timeline.

Surface Laptop 2

  • New Quad Core 8th generation Intel® processor.
  • 85 percent faster than the original Surface Laptop.
  • PixelSense™ Touch Display.
  • Best in class keyboard and trackpad.
  • 14.5 hours of battery life you need to get through your day (without sacrificing performance and portability).

Surface Studio 2

This is the second generation of the most potent Surface ever. This is the computer that targets annoyed Mac OS users that need high graphics performance, and fast processing for video creation, and other demanding computing tasks.

  • Next generation Pascal graphics and 50 percent faster GPU.
  • 38 percent brighter than previous Surface Studio, with 22 percent more contrast.
  • Surface Pen:
    • 4,096 levels of pressure, tilt sensitivity for drawing and sketching.
    • Best-in-class ink latency.

Surface Headphones

This is the new Surface family member, the Surface Headphones that match the design and we hope, the quality, of the rest of the Surface line products.

  • Spectacular sound quality and 13 levels of ambient noise control.
  • Designed with collaboration in mind, there are 2 beam-forming microphones on each ear cup, 8 microphones in total.
  • Easily adjust volume and noise cancellation levels with new, intuitive on-ear dials.

Microsoft says that while Surface Headphones are optimized for Surface devices, they will pair with any Bluetooth enabled device so when you’re switching between PC and phone, you can stay connected to your music, meeting or call seamlessly. The Surface Headphones also integrate with Cortana for voice-activated commands – I’ll get back to you on how well that works once I get a hold of them to try it.

What else is new?

Many people are already using Surface products, and the continued success of the Surface line depends, in part, on how many people Microsoft can get to switch from Mac OS devices and who are looking for powerful and capable tools that can help them complete their work and enjoy every minute of it.

These Surface products aren’t cheap, and to help with that, Microsoft also released a new program called Surface All Access to help people purchase any of their Surface products with low monthly payments.

One more thing, you can also get the Windows 10 October 2018 update now, details are on the video below – or you can just wait until the general rollout begins on Oct. 9.

Alexa, Are we there yet?

Amazon hosted a hardware event in Seattle this week, and as expected, it introduced an array of new and updated Echo devices, including the Echo Auto. That’s right, an Echo that you can bring with you, in your car. Echo it’s Amazon’s line of smart speakers and screens, and with the addition of Echo Auto, there is now an Echo device for your car.
Amazon Alexa is the software, a virtual assistant developed by Amazon, first used in the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers developed by Amazon Lab126. It is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, sports, and other real-time information, such as news (Wikipedia).
Amazon’s new Echo Auto will be a hit, I just know that right now. The price point is low, starting at only $24.99 with the introductory offer (By invitation only ) that will save you 50% for a limited time. The regular price is set to be $49.99. This device will bring Alexa’s virtual assistant capabilities to your car, making it safer for you to get information, listen to music, etc. while you drive since all you have to do is talk to it and use voice commands instead of moving your eyes off the road or your hands off the steering wheel.
This is revolutionary, and I’m not talking about the tech of this device but the strategy behind it. The Echo Auto is a simple device, it’s small, it has the full power and versatility of the original Echo, and it will make Alexa accessible from any car, for just $24.99 with the starting price. The benefits of taking Alexa on the road thanks to this new device, the Echo Auto are many. Safety is the first thing that comes to mind, with the Echo Auto, we’ll be able to have amazing hands-free capabilities in our car by just using our voice. No more looking away from the road just to play a song, or make a call.
Just ask Alexa to play music, resume your Audible book, check your calendar, find nearby businesses, make calls, and more. With eight microphones, Echo Auto even hears you over road noise. Echo Auto starts up in seconds, works through your car speakers, and uses your existing smartphone plan. ~ Amazon
The Echo Auto also brings entertainment, you can ask Alexa to tell jokes, play a game, play music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, and more. In my case, having Alexa in my car will allow me to play my podcasts, audiobooks, or listen to the news briefing – all of it without having to use my hands or stop paying attention to the road.
There are already cars with the Alexa software built in, but this little device allows everyone to bring Alexa’s functionality into their car, any car. One concern I have with this (as I do with the rest of the Echo devices) is privacy, and as Amazon continues to conquer the kitchen, the bedroom, the living room, and now the car with its line of smart speakers, I just hope they also continue to maintain the interactions of users with Alexa private.
Alexa, Are we there yet?
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MacBook Pro and Surface Book 2 images

Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 – The laptop that is what the Macbook Pro should have been

It has taken a few years for Apple to make any considerable upgrades to its most powerful line of laptops, the MacBook Pro (MBP). This I believe, has given Microsoft the opportunity to release a second and better iteration of a product that has both a new design and a set of features that can potentially make MacBook Pro users switch to this Windows laptop, at least for now. So what’s Apple to do?

Well, perhaps nothing if they aren’t as excited as they were once about pursuing the high-end laptop market which is made of, undeniably, of many of their existing customers via iPhone and iPads. The MacBook Pro has always been considered upscale and the high-end of laptops for professionals. The premium materials and powerful specs of the MacBook Pro were still on par with its high price, which made it hard for Windows laptop companies to compete.

The MacBook Pro

Presently, I consider the current MacBook Pro overpriced for what it offers. The 13 and 15-inch MBP models are priced only $100 less than Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 laptops of the same size with similar specs. But I consider that the Windows laptops while still expensive, offer a computer with better specs than the MacBook Pro where it counts. The Surface Book 2 includes a much better battery life (up to 17 hours vs. MBP’s 10 hours) a 10 point multi-touch display, better connections including a full-size SD card reader, and the versatility to be not just a laptop but also a tablet, and portable studio all-in-one.

The Surface Book 2

The Surface Book 2 also has better options for storage, Microsoft offers four storage options for the 13-inch model, and 3 storage options for the 15-inch model which range from a Solid state drive (SSD) 128GB to a roomy 1TB PCIe SSD, and you’ll still be under $3,300 while the Apple MacBook Pro will cost you over $4,000 if you choose a drive larger than 512GB.

The Surface Book 2 also features two cameras, a 5.0MP front-facing camera with 1080p HD video and an 8.0MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p Full HD video. In comparison, the MacBook Pro includes a 720p FaceTime HD camera. To be honest, I haven’t really used the Surface’s rear-facing camera yet, I just haven’t found a use case for it, so not sure what advantages exists for having it.

The main advantage

The versatility of the Surface Book 2 is also no joke, I was a bit skeptic of it, but I’ve been using this laptop for two months now, and the tablet and studio options have been handy for me. When you detach the screen to use as a tablet, you end up with an incredibly light and powerful tablet.

The design is something I wasn’t a fan of when I first saw it, but it has grown on me. The hinge adds a bump to the Surface Book 2 profile, but it doesn’t bother me. This powerful laptop isn’t the thinnest, but it is indeed not the heaviest either. The 13.5-inch model wights 3.38 lbs while the 15-inch model is at 4.2 lbs. In comparison, the new Apple MacBook Pro is at 3.02 lbs for the 13-inch model and 4.02 lbs for the 15-inch model.

Another advantage of the Surface Book 2 is its QWERTY keyboard, it feels good, and it is definitely much better than the MBP’s keyboard equipped with the low-profile butterfly switch mechanisms.

The main disadvantage

The most significant disadvantage of the Surface Book 2 is that it falls short in memory options as you can only get up to 16GB while the MacBook Pro is configurable to 32GB of memory. This is important to a lot of people, having the extra memory comes handy when using memory hungry applications while coding or using photography and/or video editor applications.

Apple failed to impress with the release of the new options of their MacBook Pro line earlier this summer. In contrast, Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 is already a great laptop, and there are rumors that the Surface Book 3 release might be around the corner. There are good chances that the Surface Book 3 will include a 32GB memory option, and perhaps a better screen resolution if they want to stay ahead of Apple’s MacBook Pro line.

Bottom line

Most people who have gotten the Surface Book 2 would agree that Microsoft is changing the game and it’s regaining the attention of creators in search of a powerful and capable laptop, while Apple has a hard time keeping up after leaving their line of laptops unattended for so long.

Yup. Microsoft got its mojo back, and there is competition again.

Image credit: By SimonWaldherr [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons