Hosts: Lucy Hopkins, Digital Marketing Manager at WBB & Craig Pugsley, Director and Creative Lead at StudioFlow.
Lucy Hopkins: Hello and welcome to The Botcast Episode 10. I’m joined by Craig Pugsley, the Director and Creative Lead at StudioFlow for our second monthly news digest. Hey Craig!
Craig Pugsley: Hello Lucy, how are you?
LH: I’m good thanks. How are you?
CP: I’m really good. I’m thoroughly festive.
LH: Are you?
CP: 100% committed to the holidays – no, not at all. What is it, the 20th of December?
CP: T-minus four or five days and counting. Pretty much hours left really to last minute purchases. If only there was someone who could give us some advice on last minute tech purchases.
LH: Wouldn’t that be great. Thank God we’re here!
CP: Oh, here it is!
LH: Yes. So today we’re going to talk about a few of the news stories from the month. But then we’re also going to chat about, kind of, the best gifts that we think could really make someone’s Christmas.
CP: Yeah, that’s it. Because I don’t know about you but Christmas for me is all about the tech and over consumption, but mainly about the tech.
LH: Yeah. Mine’s a bit about the tech, mostly about food, but yes, quite a bit about tech.
CP: Good, excellent. All right, well shall we crack on?
LH: Yes, let’s.
CP: The first story we’re going to look at this session is going to be something that just blew me away. Now, you know, we follow tech a lot, right? It’s kind of what we do, we’re in this industry. And we see a lot of new stuff, you know, new research projects, new products coming to market that are supposed to revolutionise people’s worlds. But a lot of it’s just a bit of hot air really and actually the products don’t really live up to their expectation. But this thing blew me away and I think it’s a real perfect example of how AI and some of the new technologies can really help make people’s lives better just on a day to day basis.
So, we’re talking about the Pixel Night Sight here. This is something that Google released for their phone cameras just recently. And it’s a new update for their camera software that lets you effectively take pictures in the dark. Now, like a lot of camera technology the hardware has been the fundamental differentiator in mobile devices for years and years. I used to work for Nokia and when I was there, we released the world’s first 21-megapixel mobile phone camera. It was crazy, right? You could do all kinds of stuff with it, really, really interesting. But that was driven by the hardware innovation, so the lenses, the sensors, all that kind of stuff. This is ushering in a,new wave of computational photography which is really, really interesting and can only really be done by tech companies.
So, a bit like Canon and Fujitsu have been creating smaller and smaller cameras for years but have been struggling in the compact camera market because that’s where smart phones pick up. This comes from the other direction. It comes from the tech companies’ direction and really leans heavily on their skillset to create cameras that don’t just come into the compact camera space that Canon and Fujitsu and whoever are going to be in, but more into the entry level SLR space as well.
So computational photography right, what is this thing? Well, it’s the idea that you can take the data that’s coming from a camera sensor and you can apply some really, really interesting algorithms on it to sort of fill in the data that the sensor’s seeing, effectively, to create pictures. And that’s not just a case of making a scene, a dark scene, that you take a picture of brighter. This is actually trying to understand the content in the scene and to try and fill in the shapes of what the sensor’s seeing to create a picture that is bright and well exposed, it’s something that the average person can just press a button and get back. It’s absolutely crazy what they’re doing.
Their cameras are taking multiple frames over a few seconds, you don’t even know it’s happening until you press the button. And then it’s doing a whole load of really hardcore machine learning, tech to scan what the sensor’s seeing and try and figure out is it a person in the photo? Is it a dog? Is it a table? You know, all these really interesting machine learning capabilities to then fill in what the images should be. And it means you can just take pictures in the dark, it’s insane.
Google are rolling thisout to their Pixel devices, that’s coming soon. I think the first – if you’ve got a Pixel 3 device, I think that’s coming out already and that should be shipping.
CP: But this technology is really the very first phase of what Google can do. And Apple are also on this boat 100%. iOS 12 and the new iPhone XRs are totally using computational photography as well as their differentiators. Because I think they’ve realised now they’ve hit the limit on what the hardware can do and they’re trying to push through into other ways of making their cameras better. So, this is the beginning of this new wave of computational photography and we’ll see where it goes from here, but it’s amazing.
LH: Absolutely. It’s so impressive. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it and actually it’s better the darker it is, isn’t it?
LH: It’s so detailed. I couldn’t believe how brilliant it is.
CP: You do get to the point where you think well, this isn’t, like, real. The photo that I’m left with is something that an algorithm has created, and how do I feel about that, right? Because, you know, photos for years have been about capturing reality and it was about freezing a moment, you know, creatively that’s what it’s supposed to be.
Technically that’s what’s happening still, you know, but as an algorithm there’s some kind of intelligent system in place here that’s filling that in for me. So, it’s not actually capturing technically the exact thing it’s seeing anymore. I don’t know how I feel about that.
LH: That’s amazing.
CP: There’s a bit of a moral thing there maybe?
LH: Yeah. You’re right. When you say it like that, I hadn’t really thought about it that way.
CP: It’s stretching it a bit far, right? And I know we don’t want to go down the AI scare stories because it’s easy to talk about that and get worried about this stuff, but it just feels a bit, like – it’s a new technology and with any new technology there’s always these, kind of, human moral implications to it as well we should have to talk about. We should totally consider.
CP: I think this new era of photos that have been very overtly manipulated by an AI is something that we should definitely be aware of and should talk about.
LH: Yes, I think so.
CP: Not to be scared about at all, it’s nothing to be worried about. It’s just about understanding what’s happening here and for due diligence to be on it, I suppose.
LH: Yeah, absolutely. So, shall we move on to news story two?
CP: Let’s do it.
LH: So, Alexa as of last week, saw their number of skills reach over 50,000.
CP: Insane numbers, isn’t it?
LH: Isn’t that crazy?
CP: It is, it’s absolutely huge.
LH: So, apparently their skills grew between, 50 and 60 new skills per day between the 10 and 40k milestone. And then that tripled to approximately 170 per day in between the 40 and 50 milestone. So, they’ve just seen such massive growth so quickly. And yes, it’s just that there’s endless opportunities, who knows how many we’re going to end up with.
CP: It’s a fascinating space. It really is moving so quickly. You know, outpacing the mobile app trend, smart phone app trend, that happened years ago where development of apps on those platforms was very slow to start with until people realised what the capabilities of these things were and then it exploded. But really the voice assistant app space has taken off. It’s hit the ground running and it’s taken off exponentially just in the last – yeah, as you say, six months. And I think the really interesting thing here – and we spoke about this a little bit last time – is the number of skills that are now in the UK actually. Because, a lot of the new capabilities are coming to devices in the US and obviously that’s a more mature market. You know, we’ve got 40 odd thousand skills in the US. But in the UK now there’s 20,000 skills.
LH: Yeah, that’s good.
CP: For the size of island that we are with a population that we’ve got with the addressable market, if you look at it in purely financial terms, in the UK–
CP: – that’s a hell of a lot of development that’s going on over here and then compare that to Germany with 5,000 skills. Again, Germany has a very tech eccentric audience. You know, they love their tech as much as we do over here. Amazon released Echo in Germany at the same time as the UK because they knew that market was, you know, right for taking advantage of. I think a few of these skills are probably because it’s actually quite easy for a skill developer to say let’s go for every English market.
CP: I’ve released skills and StudioFlow have released skills and we’ve actually got any English market - that gets you India. You know, that gets you North America. That gets you UK – any English-speaking market just with the check of a button really. So, there’s going to be a bit of that but even so, that’s still 20,000 skills in the UK. That’s a large number of skills that people can use.
LH: It’s a huge number.
CP: Really, really big. And I think, you know, what’s driving that? So, you’ve got things like the Dev incentives, Amazon are doing some really interesting things to incentivise their developers to release skills for their platform. I mean, you know, they go so far as paying people. So, if you’re releasing a skill that’s popular and gets a lot of engagement, Amazon will pay you hard cash to be on their platform. So that’s an interesting thing, to bootstrap the market. They’re giving away devices but it’s also other things like the tooling is getting better, so it’s actually easier to create skills now, the basic skills, it’s fairly straightforward to create them.
CP: And of course, it’s the time of year as well, you know, coming up to Christmas. I think a lot of people are going right okay, that’s a great season, a cultural thing, that we can create interesting experiences for Alexa on.
LH: Yeah, there’s a lot of novelty skills around, isn’t there?
CP: Oh God, so much. To be fair, a lot of those 20,000 skills are going to be dross, right? They’re not good. The quality of Alexa skills – well, and Google Assistant skills as well, let’s not, you know, bias them. People are still struggling to find the real killer apps, the real killer use cases for these platforms.
CP: Yeah, so it’s lots of soundboards and let’s listen to the sound of falling, you know, rainfall, you know, when I sleep, or whatever. Which is fine. These platforms, they are smart speakers, they’re in people’s homes, they’re in people’s bedrooms. It makes a lot of sense. That’s a great user case, right?
CP: But you only need one or two of those and I think there’s, like, hundreds and hundreds of those skills.
LH: Oh, there’s bound to be. Something that I’d like to talk about, which you’ll know much more about than me because obviously I’m in marketing, is the voice SEO for skills. So, I did a little bit of digging and apparently – Alexa calls this Shortlister – it’s the new role model architecture. So, solves domain classification problems to find the most statistically relevant match. So, that focuses on the high volume and apparently, they’ve got another technique which is hypothesis re-ranking network–
CP: Oh, I love that.
LH: – that Alexa call HyperRank which uses contextual signals to select the most relevant skills. So, that’s focused on high precision. So, do you want to talk a little bit more about that and how the voice SEO works? Because for me, I don’t really understand that.
CP: Yeah. It’s an interesting space and to be honest it’s a bit of a black box at the moment.
CP: It’s a bit difficult to tell it but, Google is still with standard ad words and getting page ranking there as well. They have an algorithm and the more you play with it, the more data you put in and see what comes out, the more you can learn about how that works.But it’s fair to say it’s fairly early on in trying to understand how the algorithms for Amazon and Google work on the voice side. One of the things that they’re pushing really heavily – because obviously you can’t advertise on these platforms at the moment.
CP: Okay, so there’s no pure marketing skills. Like you will not get certified on Alexa unless your skill actually has real user value. So, it has to do something. Obviously, there’s all the good things about being on the platform and having a brand presence there and having a personality that users can engage with. All the things we keep talking about as good reasons to have a skill on that platform, but you still need to have a purpose. I think a lot of the algorithms you’re mentioning there are what Google and Amazon are doing to solve the discovery problem.
LH: Right, yeah.
CP: That’s a big issue, right? So, you’ve got – what did we say? 20,000 skills in the UK, a large proportion of those are going to be not relevant to you but a couple of them are going to be absolutely massively useful to you. So, those kind of algorithms are going to be, I would have thought, what the platforms are using to surface the right skills to you at the right time. Because what you want to be able to do is, you want to be able to say I want to book a flight to New York, right, to Alexa. You want to just be able to say that in terms that make sense to you. And you want Amazon themselves to figure out who’s going to fulfil that request.
CP: Because then you don’t have to discover the skill. But of course, as soon as you do that you give Amazon the control for who they’re going to surface, then it becomes an SEO game.
CP: And that’s when it goes black box and Amazon and Google will never reveal the exact ranking algorithms and how that all works. There’ll be voice SEO companies that are sprouting up doing exactly what they’re doing for SEO on, you know, the web and on mobile right now. They’ll just be doing exactly the same thing trying to guess what the algorithms are doing and helping their clients to rank higher. But ultimately Google and Amazon, specifically in this case Amazon, are going to be the gatekeepers for skill and skill use in the future.
So, if you are a flight vendor or if you’re someone who’s offering an E-commerce service, this is another reason why you need to be on a platform right now. Because if your skill’s being used and it’s got good reviews and it’s got good retention, that will be ranking higher on these algorithms where someone asks for that product than anyone else coming later to the party.
LH: Yeah, absolutely. It’s the number of users, how engaged they are, the ratings they get, sort of, meta data, key words.
CP: And ultimately can Amazon make money out of it?
CP: This is the slightly concerning thing. Google have been doing this for years as well. Google are dangerous because if you’re trying to do something and Google decide they want to do it as well, they’ve got the means, the resources, the technical capabilities, to just make you irrelevant overnight, right?
Every start-up, every small to medium business, goes through this challenge, right? It’s going to be the same with Amazon. Amazon, biggest E-commerce retailer in the world, or one of the biggest, certainly in the west. If they decide that they want to be selling wet wipes and you’re a wet wipe manufacturer, you better hope that you can get in Amazon’s good books and rank high on these SEO algorithms. Because if they decide actually no, they can make a penny more margin selling their own brand wet wipes rather than yours, that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to surface their own, right?
LH: That’s so true.
CP: Another reason to get your brand on the devices known now is because if you’re asking for Pampers wet wipes, for example, then obviously Amazon are going to have to surface the Pampers or the Johnson & Johnson skill, right, to service that request. But if you’re just asking for generic – I don’t know why I’m choosing wet wipes here.
LH: I was wondering the same but I like that you did!
CP: For some reason wet wipes or cookies. I’m not quite sure what the cookies thing is either. I’m going to go with the wet wipes thing, if that’s all right?
CP: I mean, we’re coming up to the season where, you know, being able to mop up spills is important.
LH: You run with wet wipes.
CP: I’m digging myself a hole here!
CP: So, wet wipes. Being able to sell your wet wipes, right, that’s the important thing here and Amazon want to sell their wet wipes.I’m just going to keep saying wet wipes.
LH: I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever heard wet wipes said so many times!
CP: Certainly not on a tech focused podcast.
LH: Who would have known?
CP: Tech wipes.
LH: Oh, that can be our next sponsor!
CP: Yeah. We should totally get that, wearing T-shirts, Pampers T-shirts.
CP: We’d have to get babies involved as well though, right?
LH: Oh my God! Baby tech podcasts.
LH: It’s been waiting to happen, hasn’t it?
CP: It’s effectively what it is now though, right, like, me waffling on for – it’s, kind of, getting to that point anyway.
LH: Yeah. And, I mean, that is niche so in terms of marketing - I can market that.
CP: Nailed it, right?
CP: That’s fantastic!
CP: It’s just so good. We should be writing these things down. Recording them maybe for a podcast.
LH: I know, yeah. People would love it!
CP: Shall we move on really swiftly?
LH: Really swiftly. So, shall we talk about Google Assistant’s new features?
CP: Oh yes, yes, yes, let’s do that. So, Amazon, Google, they’re in this competitive, cutthroat race – you know, to win in the living room, to get people’s mind share. So, they’re just barrelling features in but they’re really interesting. They’re not just doing the basic bare minimum stuff or the fixing the issues that people say they need to be fixed, which they are doing. They’re doing some really interesting things. So, Google Assistant, and Amazon as well now because it’s an arms race, have released this idea of your smart assistant rewarding you when you’re polite to it.
LH: Yeah, do you know what? I absolutely love that. It’s so important for children to learn that and I think because smart devices are becoming such a part of our everyday lives, like, why shouldn’t they have that?
LH: I think that’s fantastic.
CP: Yeah, absolutely. Because these devices right now they’re utilities. They’re things that you do a task on and you’re done, right? But they won’t be that way in the future. These will be “living” – in air quotes that you can’t see because this is an audio podcast – living, kind of, breathing personalities that will evolve with you over time and will learn from you like a human being does, right? This is where the personalities of these smart assistants will be growing. They will be actual virtual people in your house. So, it’ll be like a friend coming round but they live with you.
CP: I remember the first time we got Alexa. We got that sense in our house as well that there was another person there. There was another voice in the house. And it did take a couple of weeks.
LH: Did it?
CP: This was obviously years ago but it did take a couple of weeks with us going there’s someone else here!
LH: Did you feel like that?
CP: Yeah, genuinely did. Like, it was a, kind of, thing that just arrived. Obviously, that, kind of, goes away really quickly because you treat it like a light switch, right?
It’s just a functional tool right now. I think yeah, for me, we’re at a very early phase of the development of these smart assistants, obviously. They’re all really dumb right now and they’re very characterless, but this is not the way that it’s going go.
This is my prediction for the future - Once Amazon and Google have got through their arms race on features, so both platforms can do, like, everything people would want, right? So, happy with the features, where do they go next? And this is where they’re going to go, I think, for personality development. You know the film, Her? Have you seen the film, Her?
CP: Oh, my – it’s, like, one of my top five films.
LH: Is it?
CP: Yes, of all time. It’s just gorgeous. It’s a gorgeous film. I would recommend to people – finish this podcast first obviously.
CP: And then the next thing you do is to go and rent Her and watch it. H-E-R. It’s a Spike Jonze film.
CP: But he used to be one of the guys who did Jackass with Johnny Knoxville.
LH: Oh, really?
CP: Yeah. So, you’d think of him as a bit of an obnoxious guy, but then he creates these wonderful arthouse films as well.
LH: Oh, that’s cool.
CP: It’s gorgeous. One for the Christmas watch–
LH: Yeah, I love a film recommendation.
CP: – if you’ve got a few hours over Christmas.
LH: I’ll watch that.
CP: It’s lovely. It’s a bit of a weepy one. It’s a bit of a slow one. But it’s set in the near future where the smart assistants become so personalised that they become a part of your life. And the story is – and this isn’t a spoiler because it’s in the trailer - the main character in the story falls in love with his AI. And it’s about that journey. It’s about how that feels. It’s about what that means to his life as well.
LH: Do you know what? That rings a bell now. When did that come out?
CP: Oh, a few years ago. Scarlett Johannsen obviously is the AI and she couldn’t be more perfect.
CP: Yeah. Because she nails the tone. It’s ever so slightly robotic still – but you can see where she would have been in the, kind of, smart assistant race where she would have been right now. But then, you know, I think she really nails that idea that this is where synthesise voice and synthesise personalities will be going in the future.
LH: I love that.
CP: She gets it spot on. And the ending to it is just glorious.
LH: Is it?
CP: Yeah. Just an amazing film. Super amazing. What was my point?
LH: So, we were basically saying that–
CP: Oh, God!
LH: I love our rambles though. We were just saying about it being another personality in the house really, and this leads me on to another feature by Google. The whole Read Along with Disney.
CP: Gorgeous this, isn’t it?
LH: I love this so much! So, for those who don’t know, basically pick up a Disney book, say to Google ‘Let’s read along with Disney’ and through voice it will pick up where you are in the book and it will basically create sound effects that are relevant to where you are in the story, which is so amazing for children. Imagine sat with your child and, you know, there’s, kind of, an action scene and then there’s bangs going on and crashes. It’s just amazing. I love it.
CP: It’s gorgeous and it’s a really great use case for voice.
CP: And it’s slightly tricky because some of the APIs and some of the tech that they’re using is not available to third parties. So, you couldn’t build your own version of this.
It’s because Google and Disney have integrated really deeply on this one. But it absolutely goes to show where these platforms could go in the future, you know, the kind experiences could go in the future. It’s just glorious. It’s a wonderful experience. And for the generation that’s coming along now where voice is completely normal to them, you know, absolute voice – you know, interface natives – this kind of stuff makes perfect sense for them. It isn’t advanced for them, this is what they expect, right?
CP: Every generation has their own thing that’s normal to them and normalised to them, and voice is going to be the one that for our kids.
LH: Absolutely. For young children now. What I think is really nice about that as well is it’s so intuitive - if there’s a pause it senses that there’s a pause and it just waits, you know? And then picks up when the speech starts again. It’s just – yeah. Super intuitive, awesome, love it.
CP: Yeah, beautiful. And then there’s the Calling Santa as well, a slightly interactive game. Now, Amazon have done this too.
LH: Oh, have they?
CP: Again, it goes back to the arms race. Yeah, Amazon have – and I think probably they’ve done it in a way that they’ve marketed it a bit better maybe as well.
CP: Certainly in the UK anyway because I know everyone I speak to has gone oh, have you tried calling Santa on – it’s asking for how many sleeps it is until Christmas.
LH: Okay. Yeah, because this one’s a bit of a funny one, isn’t it? You call and Santa says that he’s rehearsing for a show but he only knows one song or something and then the child has to teach him songs.
LH: Which is cute but a bit random.
CP: It’s a little random, yeah. But, you know, I imagine there’s some, like, Googlers in a room somewhere going oh, and it’s Christmas time. Right, what we can do? Let’s create an artificial Santa!
LH: Yeah, totally.
CP: And get the kids singing to him.
LH: It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?
CP: Yeah, fascinating. Really, really cool.
LH: Cool. What do you want to talk about next?
CP: Let’s talk about Apple Music.
CP: Apple and Amazon - Worlds colliding.
CP: So, this is – yeah. A big news story. I certainly wasn’t expecting this. Were you expecting this?
LH: No, not really.
CP: This has, kind of come out of the blue really. It’s odd for both sides but it makes sense if you think it through. So, this is Amazon Music, second biggest streaming music service in the world – actually in the US Apple Music and Spotify are level-pegging. They are, I think, 50/50-ish market share wise.
LH: Oh, are they? In the US?
CP: Yeah, in the US. Around the world obviously it’s a bit of a different story. Spotify are obviously in the lead. But for the second biggest music streaming provider in the world to now come on to Alexa, I think shows a couple of really interesting things. So, first of all Apple, realising that their HomePod isn’t the best – isn’t the only channel to market you know, to get that service out there.
They’re obviously quite ruthless as well with their music streaming service. They’re committed. They’re in the game for the long-haul as well. You know, there’ve been rumours for quite a while now about their subscription content branching out from music going into other types of media as well.
Apple wanting to push into the Netflix type space. I think we’re going to talk a bit about that in a second. From Amazon’s side though, this is a really, really interesting commercial play. Apple and Google are never on the best of terms at the best of times anyway, a really, really interesting ally in this space.
Apple and Amazon on one side against Google and their media services on the other side. Google really can’t compete when it comes to media. Obviously, they’ve got their own music streaming service as well, Google Play, and they’ve got video streaming as well. Google have got the services and they’ve got books, they’ve got music, they’ve got videos, but they cannot compete with Apple and they certainly can’t compete with Amazon’s scale and penetration in the market as well. So, for these two companies to come together to produce this kind of experience is really interesting.
LH: Yeah. It’s a hell of a tag team.
CP: It really is, if I was Spotify, I would be genuinely a little bit worried right now.
LH: Would you?
CP: Yeah. Because I think yes, you’ve been on these devices for years and years and people – you know, you’re the default provider on both platforms, right? When you set an Alexa device up, when you sign in with a Spotify account you can set that as the default music streaming provider. But it’s super easy for consumers to change, right?
LH: It is. And I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but when I use Spotify on Alexa, or Google actually, I always find that it finds the strangest albums. So, you know, like, I love Little Mix.
CP: Obviously. That’s natural.
LH: Obviously, they’re amazing! So, if I ask Alexa to play Little Mix on Spotify, it actually finds the most obscure album or weird remixes that I’ve never heard. It won’t find the standard album.
LH: So actually, I think that Spotify – I don’t know whether it would be Spotify or Alexa would need to sort that out – but that needs to be optimised better.
LH: And I imagine – I mean, I don’t know – but I imagine Apple would be a little bit more intuitive than that.
CP: I’m a subscriber of both services. Spotify and Apple Music. I personally find Apple Music to be fantastic, when you’re getting those kind of recommendations, you know? I’m using that through the HomePod right now at home.
LH: Are you?
CP: Yeah. And 100% of the time it pretty much nails that kind of stuff. The algorithm is really good.
LH: You see, I don’t use Apple Music, I always use Spotify. But I’m frustrated pretty much daily with it.
CP: But they’ve been doing personalised music profiles for years. Spotify have been doing this pretty much as long as anyone else has. They just aren’t nailing it. It just isn’t as good as it could be.
LH: They’re really not nailing it, which is surprising because I feel like there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be. They’re the frontrunners. They should be absolutely nailing it.
CP: Second biggest use case for voice assistant, voice speakers as well, smart speakers, is listening to music, right? That’s, like, consistently up there as the thing people use their devices for. You can see Amazon know that as well because their new range of devices is optimised for really good sound. You know, all the devices across the board have got better sound now.
CP: Spotify have not changed their experience in all those years and they’re not delivering on the, kind of, consumer experience that people are expecting now of these devices. And it just takes one checkbox in an app to configure a different service rather than Spotify, and what do they do? It’s their game to lose. It’s – yeah, a really, really interesting time for them.
LH: It is, yeah. Because they’ve got 87 million paid subscribers and 191 million just active monthly users. So, obviously they’re probably sat there thinking this is sweet. We’ve got this down. But Apple are coming to get them because at the moment they’ve only got 56 million subscribers totally. They’re going to catch up.
CP: Where’s their voice experience as well? Where’s their speaker? For years there were rumours of Spotify coming out with their own hardware, you know, so that they could have a presence in the living room. And, you know, they could try and own that space as well.
LH: Yeah. That’s a no-brainer for them.
CP: It seems like a no-brainer.Maybe even, you know, a cheap one as part of a subscription.
CP: You know, so you’re paying your £9.99 a month, and here’s the differentiator because £9.99 music streaming is the same across the board. Everywhere you go you get the same kind of thing, right? Same 20 million track catalogue, so they’ve got to differentiate somewhere. Imagine if you got a speaker with your subscription that was voice activated.
LH: Yeah, that’d be great.
CP: Amazing, right? So yeah, that’s Apple Music coming to Alexa. Hell has frozen over – or maybe it hasn’t. But again, right – and we spoke about this last time – only in the US. Amazon, please stop this, you naughty people.
LH: I know!
CP: It’s not right. You know, you’ve got a massive subscriber base outside of the US. I know that you’re experimental and you want to try pushing features out to the market quickly. But look, you’ve got the UK, Germany, you know, really mature markets now. Push these features out like Google are. Push these features out to everyone at the same time. I’m an Apple Music user.
LH: When do you think we’ll see this?
CP: It’s been the case for Amazon all the time that they’ve – you know, for years and years that Echo has been out. Features come to the US first.
LH: Do you think it’ll change?
CP: I don’t see why – I don’t know if it will. I’m not sure if it will change in the near term because that’s their process, you know? They get to market really quickly, that’s fantastic, right? Experiment in the market, you know, anyone who creates digital products knows that’s exactly the way to find user value. Get into market as quickly as possible and test it there with real people’s real money. But you’ve got to have a fast-full op strategy to get that rolled out at scale. They certainly have the resources to do that. I mean, there are thousands of people working on the Alexa team.
LH: Oh, yeah.
CP: Like, an insane number of people.
CP: I don’t know. I’m just a bitter UK Alexa owner. There’s these exciting new features and I’ve got to look over the pond at all my US friends and go oh!
LH: Yeah, but you’re bound to feel like that. It’s frustrating.
CP: In this information age where you can hear about the features regardless of where you are in the world - not being able to then access them straight away, that’s going to have an impact on how you feel about the platform generally, right?
LH: Yeah. I wonder whether they’re doing it on purpose to keep the other markets hungry for more.
CP: Really interesting, yeah. Google aren’t though. Google are going yep, 60 markets, there you go. You know, we can roll out to most of the big ones at the same time. It’s not a technical limitation. This is about people making product choices where they want things to be rolled out around the world.
LH: Yeah, absolutely. Shall we start chatting about some good Christmas presents?
CP: Oh, it’s that time of year!
LH: It is!
CP: How sorted are you with your Christmas presents this year?
LH: Oh, you know if you’d asked me that this time yesterday, I would have said I hadn’t bought one thing. After work yesterday I went to TK Maxx and I just walked in and decided that that was going to be my one-stop shop.
CP: Just nailed it.
LH: So, I’ve pretty much nailed it, I’m not going to lie. I’m not showing off but–
CP: You’re just putting it out there but–
LH: It’s in the bag! No, I’ve got a few more bits to buy but things have been crazy this year. I’ve just moved into a new flat–
LH: – literally two days ago. So, all my stuff has been just in boxes. I haven’t had any time so yeah, convenience this year. Just bam, let’s go. What about you?
CP: I’ve, kind of, bought a few bits. Amazon, I, you know, love them just because they can deliver next day, Prime.
LH: Yeah, I’ve bought a few things on Amazon.
CP: The number of times that next day Prime has saved my life. It’s worth it’s its weight in gold, right? If only they could drone stuff to me on Christmas morning.
LH: That will be happening!
CP: Ah! I’ve forgotten someone’s present! A quick whisper into Alexa, hey Alexa, drone me a – I don’t know – very expensive gift that my mum’s going to like. There it is!
LH: God. I need that in my life.
CP: It’s going to happen.
LH: 100%, yeah.
CP: Can you imagine that’s what Christmas day will be - just be the sky will be filled with drones, delivering really odd presents to people.
LH: You can totally see it though, can’t you? That would be crazy!
CP: Because it’s really quiet normally, isn’t it? Christmas morning, Christmas day, roads dead.
LH: It’s so chilled.
CP: It’s going to be replaced by drones.
LH: Can you imagine?
CP: Knock, knock, knock. Hello?
LH: Yeah, the peacefulness has gone.
CP: Christmas day! Yeah, I’m alright this year. I’m the most difficult person to buy for though.
LH: I bet you are.
CP: Imagine it, right?
LH: I feel like, from what you’ve said, you’ve just got everything.
CP: I pity everyone around me, my family.
LH: What do people buy you?
CP: Nothing. It’s so difficult because I’ve got very specific tastes. And I love a bit of tech, right? But tech tends to be quite expensive and it’s too much usually to ask for people to get you as a gift.
LH: It sounds like you’ve got a lot of tech.
CP: I’ve gone through quite a lot, yeah. I mean, obviously part of my job is to know what’s going on, you know?
CP: Like, to try the products out first hand. So yeah, I don’t mess around with that. I, kind of, commit and I go. So yeah, I’m really sorry for people. I suppose just socks – standard, right?
LH: Yeah. I mean, everyone loves socks though, right?
CP: You can’t beat a good sock.
LH: No, you can’t.
CP: Like, a proper woolly one, right?
LH: Yeah. Or the bamboo ones. I love the bamboo ones.
CP: Hey, bamboo. Big fan of that. Renewable fibres. You know, great future resource. We’ve got to be moving towards something that’s more sustainable in terms of, you know, agriculture and–
LH: I’m all about that.
CP: Have you seen the bamboo shop here in Bristol?
LH: No. I’m never in Bristol to be honest.
CP: Oh, it’s lush. It’s got a bamboo bike.
LH: Aw, how lush.
CP: Because it’s a really amazing substance, isn’t it?
LH: Oh, it’s incredible. Absolutely incredible.
CP: Naturally antibacterial and really tough.
LH: Unbelievably strong and really quick to grow. It grows insanely quick.
CP: Yeah, amazing. Takes really little water to grow it. It’s a shame we can’t eat it. If we could eat it, like a panda. It’d be nice to be a panda actually.
LH: I’d love to be a panda. If you were an animal, what would you be?
CP: What would I be?
LH: Off topic again. Sorry guys.
CP: Obviously I would say a shark being the alpha male that I am, right?
LH: Right, yeah.
CP: Definitely not a shark.
CP: It’s more like a whale, right? I’d quite like to be in the sea, I think.
LH: Yeah, that’s calming.
CP: You know, there’s a lot of water.
CP: You can get around quite easily. You can travel quite a lot. I like travelling. I think yeah, a whale’s quite cool. The great thing about a whale is you can talk to people around the world really easily just by [makes noise].
LH: So true! Just like that.
CP: Just like that. In fact, we’re talking to whales right now. I’m not sure if the microphone can pick up their reply.
LH: I mean, maybe it can!
CP: Through air! I’m just going to go and nip in the harbour for a bit, have a quick chat. I’ll be right back.
CP: So, you’d be a panda, would you?
LH: I mean, yeah, I like pandas. I feel like I could be a good panda.
CP: Who doesn’t like pandas though? You’d be a pretty maladjusted individual not to like a panda.
LH: Aw, they’re so nice. What else do I like? Oh, I’m thinking of getting myself a tortoise. I’m not saying I’d want to be a tortoise, but I’m getting one.
CP: That’s amazing! That’s really good. A great pet.
LH: Really excited about that.
CP: To keep in the house?
CP: A house tortoise?
LH: A little house tortoise.
LH: A dwarf one, the tiny ones.
CP: Wow! Actually, my next question was going to be the kind of tortoise that you can put stuff on and it can carry around for you, but that’s probably not–
LH: No, I think you’d crush it. I’m thinking of getting it one of those mini skateboards. A little mini skateboard, so if it wants to move fast it’s got the option.
CP: I don’t know how to react to that! I think you might have just blown my mind!
LH: Oh, really! Oh, good!
CP: So, tie that back to tech for a minute–
CP: – would it be a little electric skateboard? Or it’d be a scooter, right, if it was on trend right now.
LH: Wow! It would be, yeah. I was thinking just, you know, get it a little skateboard and it can go at its own pace. But then, yeah, you know, I could get an electronic one and scoot it around.
CP: For anyone who’s listening in your family, I highly recommend they buy you a Scalextric track.
LH: Oh! Mum, dad…
CP: Then you could put your little tortoise on one of those cars and give it the ride of its life!
LH: I’m so going to do that!
CP: I might get reported to the RSPCA here. I’m pretty sure that’s some kind of cruelty.
LH: Is it?
CP: Unless you loved it, right?
LH: I think I would bring it a lot of joy.
CP: I’d love it. If I was a tiny tortoise living in your massive house, like, the first thing I’d want to be doing after eating lettuce is to get on a – we’re way off topic.
LH: Yeah. Oh, my goodness. Okay.
CP: We were actually talking about–
LH: Christmas presents - it kind of, fits in because I think I’m going to buy a tortoise for myself for Christmas.
CP: Love it!
LH: So yeah, we’re still on topic, kind of. Anyway, right, you know, come on start reeling off some of the top gifts that you think.
CP: Right. I lose my keys on a regular basis, to the point where I wish I could just print keys everywhere so that I had a key everywhere. And at that point it defeats the point of having a key, right, because then someone could just get in. I’ve been looking at – eyeing this up for a while – this is from a company called Tile or a company that makes something called a Tile product. And this is a tiny little Bluetooth LED device you attach to something that you want to keep hold of – it doesn’t have to be a key. It could be a small jug, it could be a tortoise.
LH: It could be.
CP: And it will let you keep track of that thing. Now how do you find that? Would you like that as a little present for Christmas?
LH: Yeah. Honestly, I was reading about it yesterday. It sounds brilliant. And actually, it’s everywhere. There’s a lot of sites that are advertising this.
CP: Yeah, absolutely everywhere. It does say something about the person giving you the present though, right? Doesn’t it? Does it not say you’re really forgetful and you need to sort your life out?
If someone gave that to me, I’d be, like – ah! Because it’s tech obviously. And then my next thought would be oh, you think I’m really unorganised, do you, and I forget my keys all the time? That’s really rude.
LH: Would you feel like that?
CP: No, probably not.
LH: I was going to say - sensitive soul!
CP: Obviously massively sensitive soul here. I should get over myself, right?
CP: The really clever thing about this is that if other people have got Tile accounts and are running the Tile app, if your keys goes past one of those people’s phones it will check in and report the location.
LH: That’s brilliant.
CP: So, the challenge with this device is it’s not got GPS in it, right? Our cellular it’s not got a data connection so it’s got no way of reporting where it is live, like your phone would be if you lost it.
So, if you’ve lost it lost it, you don’t know where it is, right? But this is the way they’ve solved it, really, really clever. So, the more people buy it, the better the network of people that have got these devices and can detect where it is has become and the better the experience becomes, right?
LH: Yeah. I think that’s great. I think it’s just the perfect little stocking filler, isn’t it? How much are they again?
CP: So, it’s fairly cheap. $20 for it or a pack of two $35.
LH: That is perfect.
CP: That’s pretty good, isn’t it? That was a Black Friday deal but I’m sure you could get that around Christmas time for the same kind of price.
LH: Really nice.
CP: What else? I’m a big fan of the Google Home Hub.
Actually, we mentioned that a little bit last time. Basically, one of those old school photo frames but done really well. You know, who’s not going to love that, right?
CP: Again, bringing all of Google’s wonderful AI tech to bare here in a proper, you know, really useful consumer product. From the reviews I’ve read, this thing is uncannily good at surfacing great pictures. So, you know, if you use Google Photos, if you’ve got them on an android device, or even if you’re using Google Photos but you’re on IOS, all uploads to the cloud.
Google will then trawl through all those photos looking for interesting, what they call interesting, photos. It knows who’s in the photos, it knows what they’re doing, it can find interesting activities, action shots, pictures with your kids. Important events as well.
It’ll just find them and then it puts them on this screen. It’s actually a really cheap device. It’s like £140 – well, I say really cheap, you know - you’d buy it for a close family member. But the tech that that gives you is pretty astonishing for the price.
LH: I agree.
CP: The only thing it doesn’t do very well is audio apparently. The sound quality of its little speaker isn’t great.
LH: Yeah, it’s more for the visuals, isn’t it?
CP: More for the visuals, yep. Anything else that’s caught your eye?
LH: Do you know what’s suddenly caught my eye? For motorcyclists, randomly, there’s a helmet accessory called Domio Pro Helmet Audio. So, it transforms all full-face helmet into a surround sound system.
LH: I know! So, you put it on the outside of the helmet and it uses, like, a proprietary vibro-audio technology to vibrate through your bones.
CP: Oh, yes! Okay.
LH: How incredible is that! And that actually reminds me – so, I was looking at those and I was, like, that is so brilliant for a motorcyclist. And then I remembered last year, at OiConf (a conference run by our sister company; Coup Media), there was a company called Voxos, and they created sunglasses and headphones in one device. They were incredible, like, honestly. You put them on and it would vibrate the songs through your cheekbones. And the sound quality was insane and it was just one of those really – have you tried anything like that?
CP: No. The bone conducting stuff I’ve not tried yet.
LH: Honestly, it was such a surreal experience because when you put them on, I couldn’t quite believe that I was hearing it. Obviously, it was Little Mix. And I was, like, one minute – how can I hear it? You know when you’re, like, how am I actually hearing it? It was was really good quality, beautiful – just a beautiful accessory.
The controls are on the side of the glasses, you just tap the side to change volume or song.
CP: That’s good.
LH: So, yeah, the helmet’s $199 and you can find them at domiosports.com. And the VOXOS glasses and they start from £199. But yeah, honestly, absolutely brilliant.
CP: That’s lovely. That’s really interesting. Last device. If you want to, you know, really treat your family member and you just have a casual two grand lying around.
CP: Who doesn’t nowadays? You can invest in one of the new laser projector devices that are coming on to market now. Now, I saw some of these at IFA this year and they are super exciting. Pretty much every vendor, every big manufacturer, LG, Samsung, all the big vendors, Sony, have got this new wave of projectors that don’t require any cast distance. So, if you’ve ever had a projector you know that you’ve got to put it a long way away from the screen, right? But it means that that’s quite a difficult thing to, kind of, manage in a living room space.
LH: Yeah. And people are up and down and back and forth.
CP: In the way of it–
CP: – you’ve got something hanging from the ceiling–
CP: – you know, and all that kind of stuff, right? So, this is short throw laser projectors. So, you basically put the device just below where the screen is that you want to project onto and it will broadcast the view, the display, up on to the wall. And it’s 4K it’s ultra HD, you know, it’s massive throw distance as well. You can cover, you know, the same kind of space you would expect to be doing with a normal projector, an old school projector, but they sit really, really close. And they’re small, they don’t take up as much space.
You haven’t got bulbs, you know, massively expensive hot bulbs that could go and cost you a lot of money. Really, really interesting new tech that’s coming into the projector space as well. So, we have LG Cinebeam 4K Ultra HD laser projector here that we’re talking about. This is the £2,000 device. It’s so small that they’ve actually made it portable. It’s got a little handle on it.
LH: That’s brilliant!
CP: You can carry it around with you. You can cast to it over all the standard streaming, you know, network, it connects to wifi, and you can just broadcast over that way as well. So, just being able to rock up at someone’s house and, like, just take over a wall of their living room with a movie.
LH: That is so brilliant! I mean, obviously quite pricey but awesome.
CP: Like all new tech it’ll come down in price eventually as the mass market take adoption of it and then we’ll be getting it for Christmas next year.
LH: Absolutely. Just one more thing quickly that I think is a really good purchase as well for just £55 on Amazon, is the Belkin boost charge power bank. So, it’s aimed at iPhone and iPad users. It’s the first power bank that connects to lightening rather than USB.
LH: It can be bought with a lightening dock for cable free charging, but it also has two USB ports for headphones and other things. So yeah, I think that’s just a really handy – like, I really need one of those. I’m always running out of power. Yeah, just a really handing thing to have for just £55.
CP: That’s pretty good, isn’t it? Everyone needs a battery pack really.
CP: You know, batteries are the bane of our lives. If you’re into tech you need battery power. Actually, I’ve been searching for ages for a decent battery pack for my MacBook Pro.
LH: Oh, really?
CP: Because these things consume a lot of power and charging them as well, you need a special brick to charge them, right?
LH: Yeah, they do.
CP: And this moves towards USBC and, you know, charging standards. I bought a fairly basic battery pack, tried to plug it in and it wasn’t powerful enough to charge the MacBook’s battery.
LH: Oh, really?
CP: Yeah. So, I went on a little scouting project and I found something. And it’s just this big – it’s quite chunky actually, but it’s the kind of thing that’s going to get you out of a bit of mischief. It’s going to get you out of trouble some time when you need it the most.
LH: Yeah. That’s the other great thing about this one, it’s really, sort of, slim. It’s a really, like, lovely little just throw it in your backpack.
CP: Perfect. And Belkin are great manufacturer of accessories, right?
CP: You know it’s going to be good quality.
LH: Cool. So yeah, I hope that you’ve enjoyed all of those Christmas tips. As always, let us know what you think using #thebotcast. Actually, later on today, Craig, I’m interviewing Natalia Solnica.
LH: Yeah, who’s the product director of Beamly. So, that episode will be airing actually in early Feb. Yeah, she’s super interesting. We’ll be talking about how virtual reality was, sort of, the buzz word of 2018. But actually, augmented reality is going to be changing the face of commerce in 2019. So yeah, that’ll be really interesting. Stay tuned for that. And until our next monthly botcast digest, good to see you.
CP: Have a great Christmas!
LH: Thank you. Yeah, Merry Christmas everybody!
CP: See you in the New Year.