How they work
After setup (see below), whether
you’re right beside the speaker or across
the room, you say the wake word, followed by what you want to know or what
you want the speaker to do for you. Your
voice request is quickly uploaded to the
company’s servers (their computers), and
the appropriate response is then downloaded for your speaker to say. It all happens ridiculously fast. And you can press
a button to mute the microphone should
you not always want it on.
What they can do
Many of these devices let you use your
voice to make bill payments, order a ride-sharing service, have products delivered
to your door and find out if a flight is on
time (before you leave for the airport).
Most of them can also differentiate
between multiple voices in your home, so
you can ask how long it’ll take to get to
the office—with traffic in mind—and
you’ll get a different response than your
partner who asks the same question. If
you ask it to play your favorite music
throughout the home, your smart speaker
will know whose playlist to load up.
Voice digital assistants
help out at home
by MARC SALTZMAN
an you name the most natural
and intuitive way to interact
with technology? It’s speech.
Voice is powering the new digital assistants that are transforming the
way we do many things in the home.
Here’s a look at how they work and
what you can do with them in your home.
What they are
When connected to your home’s
Wi-Fi, voice-activated personal assistants—such as Google Home and the
Apple HomePod—are basically smart
speakers with an array of sensitive microphones; place one somewhere you hang
out a lot in your home, such as the
kitchen. After saying the wake words—
“OK, Google” for Google Home, or “Hey,
Siri” for the HomePod—you simply ask a
question or give a command, and you’ll
hear a humanlike voice respond.
Ask to hear the news, a specific song,
a podcast, trivia or a joke. Or set a timer
for the oven, get homework help or use
your voice to control your smart devices in
your home, such as lighting, a video doorbell or a thermostat. Ask how many calories there are in a slice of cheesecake, or
how to say “hello” in a specific language.
Setting it up
Costco o;ers Google Home and the Apple
HomePod in warehouses and online at
Smart assistants are being
integrated into many other
Wi-Fi products in the home.
That includes TVs, thermostats
Setting up these
digital assistants is
super easy. Simply
plug yours into the
wall and download
the companion app
on your smartphone
or tablet. Launch the
app and you’ll be
walked through the
setup process, which is
essentially joining the
device to your home’s
Wi-Fi network and then
logging in with any
relevant accounts you
have (required only
once). That’s about it.
No other requirements
or training are needed.
New features are continually being added to
expand the capabilities
of these digital assistants.—MS
is a leading high-tech
reporter and the
author of more than 16
books. He’s on Twitter
Saltzman will answer
selected questions in
this column. He regrets
questions cannot be
in the subject line.
Q&A Marc Saltzman
P.O. Box 34088