UE’s Boom app on Android stopped supporting Amazon Alexa in its latest update

UE Boom’s latest app update removes its compatibility with Amazon Alexa. They put out a joint statement to The Verge explaining they’re focusing on their core product.

The new version no longer supports alarms or Amazon Alexa, according to the update notes on Google Play. The company explained that they introduced the update to the app to focus “on enhancing the core functionality of the speakers.” The company noted that Alexa will continue to be available on its Blast and Megablast speakers.

Many users have left one-star reviews complaining the new update slows down the app. Users have noted that the ability to remotely power up UE devices has disappeared as well.

Saint Louis University is placing 2,300 Echo Dots in student living spaces

Saint Louis University has announced that it will be placing Amazon Echo Dot devices, powered by Alexa for Business, in every student residence hall room or student apartment on campus. While other colleges, like Arizona State University, have put Echo Dots in student housing before, SLU says this is the first time a college will equip every student living space with an Amazon Alexa-enabled device.

SLU’s Echo Dots will come with a unique skill that will allow students to ask over 100 university-specific questions like “What time does the library close tonight?” and “Where is the registrar’s office?” It will also be able to provide information about student events, speakers coming to campus, concerts, and more.

In regards to privacy concerns, SLU says that because it is using the Amazon Alexa for Business platform, every Echo Dot is managed by a central system that is not tied to any individual accounts. No personal information will be collected so all use is anonymous. The Echo Dots will also not keep any recordings of questions that are asked. If a student wants to opt out of using the Echo Dot given to them, they can simply store it, unplugged, and turn it in at the end of the school year.

All told, SLU will be deploying 2,300 Echo Dots that should be ready to use by the time classes start later this month.

Amazon offers first look at Alexa Auto to developers today

Amazon is making it easy for automakers to integrate the company’s Alexa digital assistant into cars today. While BMW, Ford, Toyota, and other carmakers are working with Amazon to integrate Alexa, the Alexa Auto SDK is being released today. Available for developers on GitHub, the SDK includes support for streaming media, smart home controls, weather reports, and Alexa’s many skills. It’s the first time developers will be able to get a first look at how Amazon wants to integrate Alexa into in-vehicle infotainment systems.

Alexa Auto will include support for features like calling from phones and navigation using GPS systems, and the ability to perform local searches for restaurants, movie theaters, and other businesses. You’ll also be able to use Alexa to stream audio from Amazon Music, Audible, and iHeartRadio.

We should start seeing Alexa appear in more vehicles later this year. Toyota is building Alexa into its Entune 3.0 infotainment system (which also includes Apple’s CarPlay support), and Panasonic is bringing Alexa to its future in-car infotainment systems. Anker and Garmin are also creating aftermarket devices that plug into cars to bring Alexa to older vehicles. It will take some time for developers to get familiar with Alexa Auto, so we’ll likely see more cars ship with Alexa in 2019 and beyond.

Former Alexa smart home chief and Windows Media Center founder joins Control4

Amazon’s former Alexa smart home boss, Charlie Kindel, is joining home automation specialists Control4. Kindel spent five years at Amazon and was instrumental in creating the Alexa and Echo Smart Home features along with the “Works with Alexa” program. At Control4, Kindel will lead the company’s overall products and services, which span across software and hardware to power home automation.

Control4 is one of the most popular home automation systems, and the company professionally installs more than 12,000 third-party products into homes alongside its own remotes, controllers, Android-based touchscreens, and keypads. The company installs intelligent lighting, multi-room audio / video, access control features, and even heating and air conditioning to automate smart products with its own Control4 system.

“I didn’t leave Amazon to go to Control4,” explains Kindel in an interview with The Verge. “I was going to just take a break. I had five years of pouring my heart and soul into something and really enjoyed it, but it was time to do something different. I had left Amazon and then the conversations with Control4 heated up, and it just made great sense to do.”

Kindel has spent most of his career focused on smart products for consumers. He spent 21 years at Microsoft and created Windows Media Center and Windows Home Server. The Media Center project delivered a TV experience to Windows, and Windows Home Server was designed to connect multiple PCs to share files before the age of cloud computing. Both were loved by their fans, but ultimately the cloud and other tech advances replaced the need for them. Kindel also worked on the Windows Phone 7 platform, and we all know what happened to that.

Kindel worked on Windows Media Center at Microsoft

“The work I did at Microsoft on Media Center or Windows Home Server, or even Windows Home Networking, was really focused on individuals configuring their own stuff and making things work,” explains Kindel. “That carried on with the work I did on Echo and Alexa, and now I get to focus on the other end of the spectrum where the whole home is enabled, and where the scenarios are highly defined.”

Control4 has 370,000 homes that it manages, and it has been in the home automation business for 13 years. While Alexa and Google Assistant have made smart home control more mainstream, it’s still not an easy process to install, automate, and ultimately control the thousands of smart home gadgets that are emerging. “This stuff is still way too hard to use, there’s too much complexity,” says Kindel. “Even when the products are an order of magnitude easier to set up than they are today… normal people are simply not going to program their homes.”

Control4 is betting on the race to become the platform that controls this smart home gear and professionally installs it in homes. Much like how plumbers, electricians, and other tradesmen install and service other equipment in a home. That doesn’t mean it’s going to create its own Alexa platform or build hardware that competes with Sonos, but it wants to ensure it can control it with its own systems. “We started partnering with Amazon very early; we helped their engineers develop parts of their APIs and interactions with their APIs as they developed them around the connected home,” explains Martin Plaehn, Control4 CEO, in an interview with The Verge. “If you can talk to it, it plugs into Control4.”

The platform to control the smart home is a war that’s being fought by multiple companies. Apple has its HomeKit platform that’s designed to make hardware work together well on the company’s various iOS and macOS products, and Samsung has its own SmartThings hub that centralizes control over smart home gadgets. Google acquired Nest and has launched a variety of Assistant-based products, and Amazon’s latest Echo Plus doubles as a smart home hub. All of these consumer-focused gadgets, and the associated tech battles between them, do open up an opportunity for home automation specialists to control them all through a simple-to-use hub and platform. Control4 also has strong competition from Crestron, Savant, and other home automation specialists, but it’s currently leading the way for regular consumers.

Kindel joins Control4 just as home automation and smart home devices are starting to appear in regular living rooms. He led much of that effort at Amazon, and he’s only a few days into his new role, so he’s not making big promises on what Control4 will achieve just yet. His focus is now on making it easier for the thousands of smart home products to work together. “I’ve been passionate and working professionally on home automation stuff since the late ‘90s, and the house I’m in right now is kind of the ultimate playground for smart home,” says Kindel. “It hasn’t taken off until now, and now it finally is.”

Amazon is making it easier for all Alexa devices to work together

Amazon first introduced Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) to its first-party Echo devices nearly two years ago. ESP makes sure that only the Echo device closest to you in your home will respond, and it’s ideal if you have multiple Echo devices. While Amazon has been trying to expand this feature to third-party devices, most Alexa-enabled devices don’t support ESP. Amazon is changing that today, and moving ESP to the cloud.

The change means that every Alexa-enabled device can now support ESP without any software changes. Cloud-based ESP will also include improved accuracy for noisy environments, making Alexa more accurate at understanding commands and questions. The biggest benefit is that all Alexa-enabled devices will now work together more intelligently in a multi-device environment.

While Amazon has solved this particular limitation for third-party Alexa devices, the company still has limits on how multiple devices work together. Alarms, timers, and reminders are still limited to each Alexa device they’re set on, and we’re hoping that Amazon is working on a more intelligent way of managing these across multiple devices.

Alexa can now tell you the hours and phone numbers of local businesses

If you ask your Amazon Echo for information about the closest drugstore, you can now not only get the hours, but other information about those that are closest to you, thanks to the recent update that’s adding that information to the more than 1 million businesses in Amazon’s Alexa platform.

This latest update comes courtesy of Amazon’s new partnership with Yext, a company that’s supplying the tech giant with business data aggregated directly from the businesses themselves, according to Bloomberg. Since 2015, Amazon has offered similar information through Yelp, and the information pulled from the review site is what allowed people use their Alexas to, for example, find the most popular Italian or Greek restaurants in their area. The data from Yext, meanwhile, isn’t aggregated through third-party customer reviews — it’s pulled directly from businesses that partner with the platform, like McDonalds, T-Mobile, and Rite Aid, who work with Yext to keep their data up to date.

This update isn’t available worldwide yet; right now, it’s limited to a select few countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, and India according to a statement about the partnership on Yext’s website — but there are plans to expand to other countries in the future.

Amazon’s next Echo Dot reportedly revealed in leaked photos

Amazon hasn’t released a new Echo Dot speaker since September 2016, but newly leaked photos appear to depict a third-generation model that could be released within the next couple months. The images, reported on by AFTVnews and first published by French publications Numerama and FrAndroid, reveal that Amazon is making some significant design changes to its most affordable Alexa device.

With the third-gen Echo Dot, it looks like Amazon will ditch the glossy black plastic and flat top of the current model for a more rounded, softer appearance. And there’s fabric running around the side, which gives it an aesthetic that’s similar to the latest Echo and one that’s also very close to Google’s Home Mini. The signature round LED is still there (but not illuminated in either of the leaked shots), as are the same four physical buttons up top.

If these images are accurate, Amazon’s next Echo Dot will have a more rounded design with fabric running around the side.
Photo: Numerama / FrAndroid

Going by the Amiibo figure on top, AFTVnews estimates that the new Dot would be slightly larger than the second-generation product, which is said to be because Amazon wants to improve audio quality — just as it did with its last update of the flagship Echo speaker.

Amazon’s Echo-related hardware announcements tend to happen in September, which would give the company a bit of a head start versus whatever Google might have planned for its Home lineup in October. Would better audio (keeping expectations in check for the size of this thing) and a nicer appearance be enough for you to upgrade your Dot?

Google’s Home Mini.
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge