Google added a new feature to its Google Home smart speaker Thursday. The Amazon Echo look-alike device can now recognize up to six voices. This is clever and useful. In my home, Alexa, which is Echo’s anthropomorphized virtual assistant, seems to recognize my voice better than my wife’s or daughter’s. I like that immensely. But I can see how the ability to recognize multiple voices would be a good thing.
As I’ve written before, voice is a compelling next frontier in computing. We’re undeniably in a Voice 1.0 moment. Alexa and its counterpart Google Assistant are nice-to-have toys, as is Apple’s Siri, but rudimentary in their usefulness. In my house, we use Alexa to play music, set timers, and not much else, despite the multitudes of “skills” Amazon emails me on a weekly basis. I could see using Alexa far more if it were as good at answering trivia questions as an old-fashioned (!) web search. (Siri has gotten quite good at trivia, for what it’s worth, but she doesn’t come wrapped up in a better-than-expected home speaker.) And if the voice-controlled web were to get even better, you could begin to imagine a world where the value of a smartphone was diminished.
What’s particularly cool about the multiple-voice feature is that it begins to answer one of the biggest usability problems with consumer-tech products, which is household sharing of accounts. It’s a pain to switch from one Netflix user to another. (Wouldn’t voice activation be superior?) Amazon Prime is designed to be shared, but individuals like to have their own shopping identity. Apple products are the worst for sharing accounts. The new Google feature allows members of the same household—whether roommates or relatives—to link calendars, commutes, playlists and the like to one device, which will recognize the speaker and answer accordingly.
This is a cure neither for the common cold nor cancer. But it’s kind of cool.
Have a great weekend.
BITS AND BYTES
Now, Verizon's decision to introduce an unlimited data plan makes more sense. The carrier was losing hundreds of thousands of subscribers to aggressive offers by rivals like Sprint and T-Mobile before it changed its tone in February. Verizon lost about 298,000 prepaid phone customers in the first quarter, while its revenue slipped about 7% to just shy of $30 billion. (Fortune)
Dell sells off its cloud backup services division. Private equity firm Insight Venture Partners is buying Spanning, which helps businesses back up and store data associated with popular subscription software services such as Google G Suite, Microsoft Office 365, and Salesforce cloud apps. Dell still plans to resell the service. (Fortune)
Mastercard: May I have your fingerprint, please? The giant financial services company is testing new biometrics technology that would link a cardholder's fingerprints to his or her account. To complete transactions, the shopper would need to place a finger on a reader at the point of sale. The first trials are in South Africa, with Europe and Asia on deck. (Fortune)
Big tech firms stand firm against President Trump's travel ban. More than 160 technology companies, including Amazon, Facebook, and Google filed a brief this week in a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., criticizing an executive order aimed at banning travelers from several mostly Muslim countries. (Fortune)
Uber won't report on sexual harassment claims until the end of May. The team leading an internal investigation into the issue at the ride-sharing company asked Uber's board for more time, so it can be as thorough as possible. (Reuters)
Target's innovation chief is leaving. Casey Carl, a 20-year veteran, has been responsible for many of the retailer's technology initiatives including forays into robots that could handle in-store jobs, the Internet of things, and an "accelerator" that invests in startups working on new retail technologies. The company is seeking a replacement. (Fortune)
There could be changes ahead for business data service plans. The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday against regulations meant to keep prices down, a move that could mean higher prices on offerings from AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon. Many small businesses, schools, and libraries use services of this sort in order to transmit large volumes of data more efficiently. (Reuters)
Square is getting some new competition. E-commerce software company Shopify has introduced a credit-card reader and app for real-world merchants. It's late to the game, but then again, it already has 400,000 customers upon which to build sales. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
eBay's Revamp Needs to Happen Sooner Rather Than Later, by Jeff Bukhari
Here's Why a Google-Powered Ad Blocker Is a Really Bad Idea, by Mathew Ingram
Amazon Cloud Chief Schools Oracle CEO on Cloud Claims, by Barb Darrow
The Uncomfortable Reality Behind Uber's Culture Meltdown, by Erin Griffith
Why Verizon Is Putting Actual Employees in its New TV Ads, by Aaron Pressman
ONE MORE THING
Juicero is defending its $400 bag-pressing juicer, but it's offering refunds anyway. The move stems from a Bloomberg report suggesting that the juice packs can be squeezed by hand without the pricey gadget. (Fortune, Fortune)
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Marketing Nation Summit: Marketo's annual event for digital marketers. (April 23-26; San Francisco)
JiveWorld: Strategies and technologies for workplace collaboration. (May 1-3; Las Vegas)
Data Citizens: Strategies for data governance. (May 2-3; New York)
Apttus Accelerate: Perspectives on automating the "quote-to-cash" process. (May 2-4; San Francisco)
Collision: A tech conference created by the organizers of Europe's Web Summit. (May 2-4; New Orleans)
Red Hat Summit: The premier open source technology event. (May 2-4; Boston)
Knowledge17: ServiceNow's annual customer gathering. (May 7-11; Orlando, Fla.)
Gartner IT Operations Strategies & Solutions Summit: How to accommodate cloud services and other "digital" technologies. (May 8-10; Orlando, Fla.)
Gartner Digital Marketing Conference: Actionable advice about martech. (May 10-12: San Diego)
Outperform: The PROS annual conference about omnichannel commerce technology. (May 10-12; Chicago)
Build: Microsoft's annual conference for software developers. (May 10-12; Seattle)
MarkLogic World: Enterprise database strategies and insights. (May 16-17; Chicago)
Google I/O: Alphabet's annual developer conference. (May 17-19; Mountain View, California)
Epicor Insights: Strategies for retail and resource planning. (May 22-25; Nashville)
Couchbase Connect: Strategy for NoSQL databases. (May 22-23; New York)
Signal: Twilio's annual developer confab. (May 24-25; San Francisco)
Apple Worldwide Developer Conference: An annual gathering of iOS, macOS, and watchOS coders. (June 5-9; San Francisco)
Zuora Subscribed: A conference dedicated to the subscription economy. (June 5-7; San Francisco).
Pure//Accelerate: The future of data storage. (June 12-14; San Francisco)
HR Tech World: An event about people, technology, and organizations. (June 14-15; San Francisco)
MongoDB World: A gathering of the world's fastest-growing database community. (June 20-21; Chicago)
Cisco Live: Education for technology innovators. (June 25-29; Las Vegas)
.NEXT: Nutanix's conference on the future of enterprise cloud services. (June 28-30; Washington, D.C.)
Fortune Brainstorm Tech: An invitation-only summer retreat for business leaders. (July 17-19, Aspen, Colo.)
Microsoft Ignite: Hands-on learning and industry insights for business leaders. (Sept. 25-29; Orlando, Florida)