In-Ear: The Next Frontier

Last week, Microsoft held a major hardware event in which they announced a new phone, new tablets, and perhaps most intriguingly, in-ear headphones: the Surface Earbuds. These hearables will compete with Amazon’s recently-announced Echo Buds, as well as Apple’s Airpods, and will work with all major voice assistants (Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Samsung Bixby). Rounding out the big tech updates before holiday 2019, Google will host its event on the 15th of this month. It is rumored they will release a second generation of the Pixel Buds. Mum’s the word on specific functionality, but, we hope they will be fully wireless. Other anticipated launches include the Pixel 4, Pixel 4 XL, second-generation Nest Mini smart speaker and Pixelbook laptop.

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Hey Google, play music from my Surface Earbuds

In a surprising turn of events, Microsoft’s released a new Surface Earbud that is voice assistant agnostic. That’s right, they’ll work with competitors, not just Cortana. “Everything about this product is about user choice,” Mohammed Samji, the Surface Earbuds product lead added. “If you want to use Android, iOS, or Windows, we support that. But we also want to make sure if you want to use Cortana, we make it super simple.” At $249 they are priced higher than their competition, but initial reviews are stating they are very comfortable. Additionally, tools such as a live translate features is forthcoming. Release date is TBD but expect this holiday season. More on VentureBeat.

A Wearable Technology World

Google’s Advanced Technology And Projects division (ATAP) released an update to their Jacquard technology and sensor in Levi’s Jackets. This sensor fits into the jacket and allows users to access smart assistants, manage music and much more using gestures. While voice was not explicitly called out, we’re eager to watch how gestures begin to compliment voice invocations as a pathway to Google Assistant and others. “Computing can now go beyond specialized devices and start providing digital experiences through everyday things around you—an idea we call ‘ambient computing’,” said Ivan Poupyrev, Director of Engineering for Google ATAP. This is not ATAP’s first partnership, they also released a smart backpack with Saint Laurent. “We see technology as an ingredient for making ordinary things better and more helpful—not turning them into gadgets.” More on CNBC.

Alexa Digests the News

Amazon Alexa will now be able to answer more timely user questions about news using data from Reuters News. How will this work? Alexa will integrate 45,000 Reuters stories per month. This integration not only positions Alexa as reliable but also stands to make Alexa smarter overall, as more data is being fed to train the assistant. Reuters president Michael Friedenberg said in announcing the arrangement, “This collaboration calls on that strength and also leverages the metadata and best-in-class API that make us an ideal partner for technology companies and voice services.” More on Voicebot.

Stats Don’t Lie

30% – Companies that will be using AI in at least one of their sales processes by 2020. (data via VentureHarbor)

$17.19  – Opening share price for Cerence (NASDAQ: CRNC), the voice automotive spinoff from Nuance Communications. (data via Xconomy)

Chart of the Week

Alexa Skills by Country