Apple speaker/headphone hybrids could change the game

Apple could be looking at headphones that double as speakers so you can switch between an intimate listening experience and a party in a pinch.

Headphones are just small speakers designed to sound good quiet and close to your ears. A new patent from Apple shows that they might be taking advantage of that fact for a unique design on upcoming headphones.

A patent secured by Apple this week states it is for “Dual mode headphones and methods for constructing the same. The patent essentially says that it is for headphones that can be reversed and used loudly as speakers, interchangeably.

With the attached figures it seems that the headphones would work reversible ear cups that can be turned away from the inside. When turned outside they will switch their circuit modes to output music louder when they’re tilted outwards.

Apple headphones that can be turned into speakers

This should mean that there is no chance of the headphones working at speaker volume when placed against your head, which will be a very important safety feature if Apple follow through and create this product.

It’s not the first time the concept has been raised. Apple secured a patent for the same concept in 2017, however it has been slightly refined this time around.

Whilst the concept would be interesting, and if created well with quality sound would likely be highly sought after, Apple’s stagnancy on the product suggests that they are just securing the rights to it rather than having a focused push on making it happen.

If you have an old Sonos device you can now trade it for a newer one

Sonos have launched a trade-up program for some of their oldest devices to keep their most dedicated users up to date.

Sonos have been doing their whole – connected music set up around the house – shtick for a while. So long in fact you probably won’t even recognise some of their very first devices which helped to kick start the idea of a web of speakers on the same network.

Sonos are now taking in many of their older devices in exchange for a 30% discount on an upgrade to their latest speakers. The offer applies to customers with a Connect, Connect:Amp, ZP80, ZP90, ZP100, ZP120, and first generation Play:5 devices.

The 30% discount is accumulative so if you have more than 1 device to trade in you’ll get the discount with each one.

Sonos have more details and instructions on how to recycle your devices in exchange for the discount here.

Roku teams up with Walmart for a new, affordable home theatre

Roku are launching two brand new speakers to make a high quality TV sound experience totally affordable, but only at Walmart.

Roku have entered an exclusive partnership with Walmart to launch two new speakers. In collaboration with the multinational retailers’ onn brand they will offer the Roku Smart Soundbar and Roku Wireless Subwoofer at just $129 each.

They both offer high quality audio based on Roku’s own flagship speakers, however will be offered at a cheaper price. The Smart Soundbar works as a HQ speaker for your TV but also as a connected entertainment hub offering HD, 4K UHD, and HDR streaming from thousands of free and paid channels from Roku’s digital TV services.

Walmart’s Vice President of consumer electronics, Ryan Peterson said: “We know our customers shop with us for quality products at an affordable price. We’re thrilled to be working with Roku to deliver a new category of audio and streaming products in time for the holiday season that are easy to use and come at an incredible value.”

The Smart Soundbar is powered by Dolby Audio for a powerful and rich sound. The Subwoofer connects wirelessly to the Soundbar so that when you complete the set it’s as simple as linking the two and your Soundbar can control your whole home theatre experience.

Vice President of Players and Whole Home Product Management at Roku, Mark Ely said: “The onn. Roku Smart Soundbar gives consumers an easy way to add better sound instantly to nearly any TV, plus with a 4K Roku streaming player built in, it provides easy access to tons of great movies, TV and music entertainment. And, since some people want even more bass, we’ve created the onn. Roku Wireless Subwoofer as an option – for now or later.”

Ely added: “Roku and Walmart have worked together for years to enhance the entertainment experience for millions of people who have purchased Roku TV models and Roku streaming players. Now, we’re looking forward to getting these new audio products on shelves to provider consumers with better sound for their TV experience at a great price.”

onn. TM • Roku Smart Soundbar

The onn Roku Smart Soundbar is an easy way to add high-quality sound and powerful streaming to TVs with HDMI inputs and HDMI-ARC or Optical audio output. Displaying brilliant HD, 4K UHD, and HDR video, the onn Roku Smart Soundbar offers simple set up and an easy-to-use home screen, while providing access to 500,000+ movies and TV episodes and millions of songs via thousands of paid and free channels. Advanced audio modes include Automatic Volume Leveling, Night Mode and Speech Clarity. Automatic software updates are expected to deliver new capabilities over time.

Additional features include:

  • Roku Connect: A wireless audio protocol that seamlessly connects the Roku ecosystem
  • Dolby Audio™: Delivers rich, clear, powerful sound
  • Bluetooth®Listen to music, podcasts, and more from popular streaming channels or Bluetooth compatible devices
  • HDMI-ARC or Optical Support: Connect the onn Roku Smart Soundbar to a TV with a single cable via HDMI-ARC or use HDMI and Optical
  • Roku Search: Fast and easy search across top channels offers results ranked by price
  • Roku remote: A simple remote with TV power and channel shortcut buttons
  • Free Roku mobile app: Control the smart soundbar via the mobile remote, keyboard or a microphone button, stream movies and TV from The Roku Channel, enjoy private listening with headphones and more

onn. TM • Roku Wireless Subwoofer

The optional onn Roku Wireless Subwoofer expands the high-quality audio of the onn Roku Smart Soundbar with even deeper, richer sound. Bring movies to life with thunderous bass for a theater-like experience in the home. With an easy wireless setup, consumers just plug it into power and pair it to their onn Roku Smart Soundbar to expand their high-quality audio experience.

The onn Roku Smart Soundbar and onn Roku Wireless Subwoofer are expected to launch in the coming weeks, no specific date, for $129 each.

Sonos goes the Blockbuster route with speakers for rent

Sonos are delving into the world of monthly subscriptions to see if renting sound systems appeals to people more than owning them.

Sonos have just launched a subscription service for their speakers. What they’re offering, to a very restricted Netherlands audience to start with, is as many Sonos speakers as you want to temporarily own for as little as €15 a month.

The subscription, called ‘Flex’, is all about making listening at home simple and affordable – flexible, you could say. Users can change their subscription to add or remove speakers at any time and there’s no lock-in to stop you cancelling.

It’s definitely cheaper than buying a Sonos speaker straight up. For the cheapest subscription, which offers 2 Sonos One speakers at €15 a month, it would cost an upfront price of nearly €500 for the 2 speakers. So you could rent them for 3 years and still not have paid as much as the total cost.

They offer 3 subscription options, including the cheapest option mentioned above. What they’re currently offering a select group of 500 households in the Netherlands is:

For Every Room: €15 a month for 2 Sonos One speakers
For Your TV: €25 a month for a Sonos Beam soundbar and 2 Sonos One speakers
For Home Theater: €50 a month for a Sonos Playbar, Sonos Subwoofer, and 2 Sonos One

All plans are available in Black or White and they are also offering professional installations to people living in Amsterdam. This likely means a professional surveying the room to find the best audio setup for your space.

Whilst these subscriptions are clearly best utilised on a short term basis, there is an advantage to paying long-term instead of just spending the money on your own set to own. Sonos will keep you regularly updated with the latest version of their speakers when you are subscribed to Flex.

For those asking if there might be a rent-to-own scheme added, maybe. When asked a Sonos spokeperson said: “We’re listening to customers throughout the program, and if that is an area of feedback, we’ll certainly look at it.”

Sonos haven’t spoken on a global expansion of Flex but they’re no doubt testing the waters before taking it further. Unless it turns out people don’t want to rent their sound systems, but in this day and age everything seems to become a subscription service.

Speak to a new Google Assistant with new voices in 9 countries

You might have a surprise next time you use Google Assistant and hear a new voice talking back at you from your devices.

Google have launched secondary voice options for the virtual assistant for the first time outside of the US. There are new voices available in Dutch, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Norwegian, whilst new voices are also planned to launch in India and the UK soon.

The new voices are an attempt by Google to try and move away from gendering their voices. As with most virtual assistants the voice used in Google’s has had a feminine sound. Their new voices are all reported as “male-sounding” though Google have themselves avoided naming them with a gender.

Instead, Google are going to refer to the different voices by colours. The voices will be randomised when users set up a new phone so they could have either voice. Even when users go to their settings to select their preferred voice, the order will shuffled each time so that neither voice is prioritised over the other.

It seems a little like excessive equalising, but I can appreciate what they’ve done and why none-the-less. Last year Google began randomising their Assistant’s presentation in the US and already shuffle the voices on Google Nest and Home devices.

This is the first time that multiple voices for the Google Assistant have been available outside of the US. There are 11 English voices available in the US currently – there’s even a John Legend option. This is also the first time multiple voices will be available in different languages.

Pocket Casts’ podcast app is now free to use

Podcasts are getting more popular by the day and this popular podcast app are looking to the Spotify model to get more people listening.

Pocket Casts are a popular podcast platform offering a selection of over 700,000 podcasts from the top creators around. They boast their abilities in finding new favourites through hand curated podcast recommendations and discovery tools. They can now boast offering it all for free.

The app used to be available for a one-time $3.99 charge, or more if you wanted to use their desktop app. Now they’ve taken away the pay wall so that the app is totally free to access but with the option to upgrade to Premium for $0.99 a month, or $10 a year. Users who have purchased the app in the past get 3 years for free.

Their new Premium subscription, Pocket Casts Plus, offers access across any device or platform. It comes with 10GB of cloud storage for users to upload audio and video, as well as exclusive app icons and themes. They hope that the cloud storage will be especially appealing for podcast creators to look at footage and shows before publishing them.

In a release statement, Pocket Casts CEO, Owen Grover said: “In today’s rapidly evolving audio landscape, it’s important we stand for free and open access – not walled gardens – to grow the medium while delivering the world’s best listening experience.”

The app launched in 2010 and has grown a lot since then with a dedicated fanbase and millions of downloads. At the time freemium models weren’t the standard that they were today, and the developers needed to support themselves. The change in their payment process represents a change in culture but also represents Pocket Casts growth in the last decade.

Hey Alexa, speak Hindi; Amazon updates assistant for India

Amazon Alexa can now talk to half a billion people in India as the assistant gets support to speak in Hindi.

Hindi is spoken by roughly half a billion people in India, whilst English is only spoken by 10% of the Indian population. Yet Amazon’s intelligent smart assistant Alexa has, until now, only spoken in and understood English in the country.

This week at a press conference in New Delhi, Amazon announced announced that Alexa now support Hindi. So Hindhi speakers will be able to talk to Alexa, give it commands, and ask questions whilst Alexa will be able to respond and understand, all in Hindhi.

They’re hoping that in the next few months they will be able to update Alexa even further to understand multiple languages in one household. Allowing each person who uses their Alexa-enabled devices to speak in the language they prefer with the assistant.

Company executives said that they have been in the process of bringing Hindi voice commands to Hindi for more than a year. They said that there were a lot of challenges, like the context and culture of the language, that they had to overcome before releasing it to the public.

After launching Hindi language support for the Amazon website last year the company saw it’s Hindi usage grow 6 times. Vice President and Head Scientist at Alexa AI, Rohit Prasad said: “The adoption of Alexa in India has been phenomenal.

“A lot of how people in India engage with their smartphones and internet services is different from those of the people in the United States. For instance, in India, people often use the name of an actor instead of the singer or the band when looking for a particular song.”

500 Alexa skills are already available in Hindi. To change Alexa’s language it’s as simple as going to the Alexa App, and changing language from the settings.

Smart Speakers are the new big tech battle, and big privacy debate

Is this town big enough for all of the different companies vying to be number in the new realm of home Smart speakers?

Smart speakers have found their way into many of our homes in the past 5 years. Since Amazon launched the Echo Smart speaker in 2014 the tech industry have perked up their noses at the roaring success of the speaker and now Artificial Intelligence powered speakers are an entire market of their own.

Since the Echo took the world by storm there have been AI infused offerings from Apple, Google, Sonos and many more smaller brand offerings. It feels like everyone has a smart speaker, or at least a quarter of everyone as a study in February showed that 23% of American households contain a Smart Speaker.

Facebook are the next big company to get in on the market with their Portal home speaker planned for launch later this year. Their Portal device will offer a similar package to it’s contemporaries but with video, like Amazon’s Echo Show launched in 2017.

Facebook are looking to pin down a corner of the market for themselves by going beyond a smart speaker with video. They want the Portal to be a full multimedia device, approaching Netflix, Disney and others about making their video streaming services available on their device.

With questions over whether a device that is constantly listening and recording in our homes infringes on personal privacy, Facebook’s entry to the market could bring those concerns further home. Facebook are one of the most notorious entities for concerns over our privacy in the digital age.

But that’s one of the good things about the amount of competition in the Smart speaker industry currently. With no monopoly over Smart speakers there isn’t one sole entity in all households that own a device. As soon as there is a sole brand recording the voices, and even video, within our homes then there is a real question of security.

Hopefully competition will push the brand’s to prioritise privacy as a selling point. “Hey, get the new Amazon Echo – Don’t Listen edition. Unlike Facebook we won’t save anything you say, ever!” For now we hopefully don’t need to be concerned about these “always on” microphones.

I’m sure that in the next few years we will only see the Smart speaker market increase in variety and offerings as more cash in on the matter. Hopefully that competition keeps the products innovative and the privacy a matter of priority.

Amazon’s colourful new Echo brings the rainbow into your home

Fill your home with music AND colour with the latest range of Amazon’s smart speakers aimed at younger audiences looking brighter than ever.

Amazon are launching a new line of Echo speakers aimed specifically at kids. Their new Echo Dot Kids Edition will give kids access to loads of child-friendly content on the Smart home speakers.

Based on the third-generation Echo Dot speakers that released late last year, the speaker will feature better sound quality and enhanced design on previous Dots. The Kids Edition speaker will be available in two colours: frost blue or a fantastic looking rainbow fabric.

The speakers will offer kids voice-controlled access to content fit for children. It will be able to respond to questions, play voice-based educational games, and there are podcasts aimed at children. The Echo Dot Kids Edition also comes with a years subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, offering over 1,000 kids audiobooks from Audible, Alexa skills from Sony and Disney, and more content aimed at kids.

So that kids are getting the right content for their age, parents are able to select an age bracket for their child so that the Echo Dot only shows content appropriate for that age. Parents can also block specific content, limit how long it can be used, and decide when Alexa will respond.

The Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition ships later this month with a 2-year guarantee against breakages. It will cost $69.99 but will be available for $49.99 in a limited time promotion.

Bose speakers are getting smarter with Google Assistant

More and more speakers are getting voice control AI as music tech gets interactive and Bose are the latest to get in on the trend.

Google and Bose have announced that they are joining forces to bring voice-control power to more home speakers. Starting this week Bose are bringing Google Assistant to their line of smart speakers and soundbars to make them smarter and more interactive.

Bose speakers getting the voice-controlled artificial intelligence will be able to tell it to play music, find answers to your questions on the web, manage tasks and your planner, control smart devices and even more. As with other Google Assistant powered devices all functions are activated by simply saying, “Hey Google”.

Bose speakers with Google Assistant support will include: Bose Home Speaker 500, Bose Soundbar 500 and 700, and a new compact smart speaker that they will launch later this summer – Bose Home Speaker 300.

If you already own one of these Bose smart speakers or sound bars, it’s easy to get the Assistant set up. Your speaker and soundbar will automatically receive a software update introducing the Google Assistant as a voice assistant option. You can go to “Voice Settings” for the device in the Bose Music app, select the Google Assistant and follow the guided setup process.

And if you are purchasing a Bose smart speaker for the first time, you’ll be able to select the Assistant right at set up.