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Main article: Smart home

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Nest to require two-factor authentication starting this spring

17:51 | 11 February

Google Nest, the smart home brand for Google’s line of smart speakers, thermostats, smoke detectors, and more, announced this morning that it will soon require all Nest users to enroll in two-factor authentication to further protect their account. The feature has long been available to Nest users, but was previously optional. Given that most users only follow the default settings, they were putting their accounts at risk of being accessed by an unauthorized person.

Nest says the feature will be required for all users who had yet to turn on two-factor authentication or migrate their account to a Google account.

The move to require two-factor comes shortly after rival Amazon announced a similar plan for Ring, which will require two-factor to be enabled sometime later this year. Ring’s version will support codes sent over text messages, the company said.

In Nest’s case, when a new login to your account is initiated, you’ll receive an email from account@nest.com with a 6-digit verification code. This code is what you’ll provide to confirm it’s you trying to login — and if you can’t provide it, you won’t be able to access your account. Nest, of course, would prefer that users instead migrate to a Google account to take advantage of Google’s own security protections, which offer a variety of methods for authorizing your account and other benefits, like suspicious activity detection and its “Security Checkup” feature.

Smart home devices have made national headlines in recent months for account hacks, which greatly disturbed users. People said their smart speakers began playing music on their own, in some cases. Others reported people speaking through the devices, terrifying their children. Often, these sorts of breaches are due to users relying only on a username/password combination alone, which is far less secure.

Device makers like Nest and Amazon know that without forcing users to take the extra precaution, many will not seek out these extra security settings on their own.

While it’s good that companies are now waking up to the dangers of not making two-factor the default, they’ve already allowed the situation to get out of control, as these hacks indicate. That damages their brand long-term and makes people hesitant to buy. There’s really no excuse for not making two-factor authentication a requirement from the very beginning.

 


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Nearly 70% of U.S. smart speaker owners use Amazon Echo devices

22:56 | 10 February

Amazon’s dominant position in the U.S. smart speaker market will continue through this year and the next, with rivals like Google and Apple only making slight dents in Amazon Echo market share, according to a report published today by eMarketer. The analyst firm estimates Amazon will easily hold onto its top spot through 2021, when nearly 70% of total U.S. smart speaker owners will continue to use an Amazon Echo device.

Specifically, 69.7% of U.S. smart speaker users will use an Echo in 2020, down slightly from 72.9% last year. In 2021, the number will drop a bit further, with then 68.2% of U.S. smart speaker owners using an Echo device. Meanwhile, 31.7% of smart speaker owners in 2020 will use a Google-branded device, and only 18.4% will use some other brand — like Apple HomePod, Sonos One, or Harmon Kardon Invoke, for example. (The percentages total more than 100% because some smart speaker owners do own more than one brand, the report notes.)

These figures indicate the challenges ahead for Apple HomePod, Google Home and others in claiming a significant portion of the U.S. smart speaker market.

After all, once a consumer buys their first device they’re not as likely to change brands for their next one. Instead, the first device gives the company — like Amazon — a foot in the door to prove their smart speaker’s usefulness. When the customer is readying to expand by adding a new device for the bedroom or kitchen, perhaps, they typically return to buy the same brand again as devices are designed to work together across the home.

That’s not always the case, but it’s more often than not.

Amazon is keenly aware of this trend and has been practically giving away its entry-level device, the Echo Dot. The low-end device is currently selling on the retailer’s site for $29.99, and is often found on sale. During Amazon’s annual Prime Day sale, the retailer slashes Alexa device prices even further — making the Echo Dot a Prime Day bestseller for several years now.

Outside the U.S., however, Amazon’s Echo may not have the same advantages, the report notes.

The Echo is less competitive in some markets because it supports fewer non-English languages than major competitors, like the Google Home.

That said, the U.S. remains a key market for smart speaker adoption, so Amazon’s strengths here should not be discounted.

“Since Amazon first introduced the Echo, it has built a convincing lead in the U.S. and continues to beat back challenges from top competitors,” said Victoria Petrock, a principal analyst at eMarketer. “We had previously expected Google and Apple to make more inroads in this market, but Amazon has remained aggressive. By offering affordable devices and building out the number of Alexa skills, the company has maintained Echo’s appeal,” she added.

The firm also said it expects the number of U.S. smart speaker users to continue to rise over the next several years, but growth will slow. Currently, 28.9% of internet users also use a smart speaker. Next year, that number is expected to reach 30.5%.

This year, the number of smart speaker users in the U.S. will grow by 13.7% to reach 83.1 million. But in 2021, growth will dip into the single digits, eMarketer forecasts.

That doesn’t necessarily mean those users aren’t using voice assistants, however. Instead, smart speakers will only be one way in which consumers interact with technology via voice. Over time, consumers will also begin to use voice assistant built into other devices, like vehicles, appliances, other smart home devices, and more. And let’s not forget that both Google and Apple offer smartphone voice assistants — Google Assistant and Siri, respectively — who’s usage numbers dwarf Echo adoption.

There are some half a billion plus Siri-capable devices out there, and half a billion Google Assistant users. In other words, people interacting with a voice assistant today are probably doing it on their iOS or Android phone, not by talking to Alexa. But on the flip side, it’s fairly remarkable that Amazon was able to create a new market for its Echo speakers, given the massive lead in voice assistants held by its rivals.

eMarketer’s report is not the first to estimate Amazon has claimed a 70% market share in the smart speaker market. A report last year by CIRP had also said the same.

 

 


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Google Nest begins testing HVAC alerts, partners with Handy for booking service calls

22:10 | 29 January

Google’s Nest is testing a new feature that will alert you to potential HVAC issues and even help you book an HVAC professional to fix it, thanks to a partnership with Handy. The company says the HVAC alerts are only available in select cities during the testing period. If you’re in one of the supported markets, the new HVAC alert email will include an additional link to a website where you can make an appointment with a repair professional.

Nest users have already been able to sign up to receive a monthly email, the Nest Home Report, which offers a summary of their home’s energy use, safety events, Nest news and information about other Nest products, among other things.

Users who had signed up for this email will be automatically enrolled to receive the new HVAC alert emails starting today, Google says.

Various events could trigger these HVAC alerts, but largely it’s based on warning signs that your Nest detects — like unusual or unexpected heating and cooling patterns.

For example, if the thermostat finds it’s taking longer to cool your home than usual, that could signal a problem with your AC system. The alerts aren’t meant to replace the need for regular HVAC maintenance or service pro expertise, but instead are meant to serve as a warning about a potential issue.

Nest will also take into account your area’s weather before making a determination about a potential problem, as something like an overnight cold snap could work the thermostat more than usual.

In the HVAC alert email, users will be informed as to what system (heating or cooling) experienced the issue. A link to an optional survey about how you resolved the problem, and what it turned out to be, will also be included. This data may be used to help the system get smarter over time, in terms of diagnosing issues.

Not all Nest alerts will mean there’s a need for a service repair pro to come out, of course. Sometimes the problem is as simple as a household member having left a door open, which allowed hot air in, for example.

However, if you decide a service call is warranted, Nest will also now be able to connect you to a local pro in your area. Of course, you can reach out to your original Nest installer (Settings –> Home info –> Nest Pro Installer), if you choose.

But in the test markets, Nest owners will receive emails that also include a link to a website where you can book a qualified HVAC pro. This is done via Handy, which Nest has partnered with on this new effort. That limits the feature only to select regions that Handy supports.

At launch, the Handy booking option will be made available to Nest users in 20 metro areas, including Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Las Vegas, and San Diego, and others. Over the course of the test, it will expand to more regions. Handy today supports a fairly large number of cities across the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

If you don’t want to receive HVAC alerts, you can opt-out using a link in the email.

While Handy is taking on the service calls from Nest users for the time being, Google could eventually choose to connect Nest users with Google My Business profiles in the future, if it chose, or even turn this into a new advertising destination for qualified HVAC pro’s.

To get started, users will need to first sign up for the Nest Home Report if they haven’t already. They’ll then receive alerts as necessary going forward.

 

 


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The robot homecoming is upon us

17:45 | 14 January

Robots were everywhere at CES, as has been the case for at least a decade. But there’s a different tenor to the robots shown off at the recent annual consumer tech event: they’re designed for home use, and they’re shipping products, not just concepts intended strictly for trade show glam.

Home robots have already had a few false starts, including some high-profile flare-outs like Anki and previous CES darling Kuri (despite the backing of global technology giant Bosch) . But other robots, including autonomous vacuums, have already carved out niches for themselves within the domestic milieu. Between slow-burn but now mature categories and the sheer volume of newer products jumping in to establish new beachheads, it now seems certain we’re on a path at the end of which lie hybrid companion and functional robots that will become common household items.

Industrial to residential

One of the biggest signs that home robotics is gaining credibility as a market is the fact that companies which have found success in industrial technology are branching out. At CES, I spoke to Elephant Robotics founder and CEO Joey Song, who was at the show demonstrating MarsCat, a fully developed robotic cat designed to be a companion pet with full autonomous interactivity, similar to Sony’s Aibo.

 


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Gift Guide: 10 gadgets for a smarter Smart Home

01:00 | 19 December

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2019 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

When it comes to smart home stuff, once you start, it’s hard to stop. As soon as you’ve got one light that you can turn on and off from your phone, you’ll want five.

As such, smart home gear can make great gifts for anyone who’s already started making their way down that rabbit hole.

Alas, there’s a lot of bad smart home hardware out there — mystery devices from brands no one has heard of, with apps that hardly work out of the box and will probably just silently stop working altogether the next time there’s a big iOS or Android update.

Looking to help someone make their already smart home a little smarter? Here’s some of the stuff we liked this year:

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

TP-Link Kasa Plug

Smart plugs are a great way to introduce a person to the connected home. The TP-Link Kasa plugs are inexpensive but work with every popular voice assistant and smart phone. Smart plugs let you turn a basic lamp or coffee maker into a smart device without replacing the things they already own.

Price: $28 for a two-pack on Amazon

Wyze Cam Pan

The Wyze Cam Pan packs a lot of features for the price. At $35 the small 1080p camera pans, tilts, and zooms, and sports a low-light mode. Best of all, the Wyze cam works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for things like “Alexa, show me a view of the living room on my office TV”. It’s by far the best smart home camera for the price.

(If you don’t need it to tilt/pan/etc on command, there’s also a $25 version without all that.)

Price: $35 on Amazon

Echo Dot with Clock

The Echo Dot with Clock is part of the Amazon Alexa family. It’s slightly more expensive than the ubiquitous Echo Dot… but it has a built-in clock! The clock makes this thing way more useful when you’re not actually talking to it — and, fortunately, unlike the Echo Spot, there’s no built-in camera to make it extra weird to put on your bedside table. One catch: these keep going in and out of stock, so they might be a pain to get this late in the game.

Price: $35 on Amazon

Nanoleaf Canvas

The Nanoleaf Canvas is a new type of wall art. It’s an interactive, fun way to splash a wall with light and design. The panels snap together allowing the owner to create and recreate designs to fit their life and space.

Price: $180 for a starter kit of 9 tiles

Ember

The Ember is a smart coffee mug. No, really. The Ember uses an internal heater to keep the drink at an ideal temperature as set by the user via a companion app. If the coffee drinker in your life is more of an all-day coffee sipper, the Ember should bring joy to their life.

Price: $100 on Amazon

Dewplanter

Some people love plants but hate watering. That’s where the Dewplanter comes in by capturing and filter water in the air. It works as dehumidifier — but instead of dumping excess water into a bin, it waters a plant. A control panel allows the owner to set the desired water amount. Set it and forget it and get a green thumb without any skill. Low maintenance plants like evergreens, ferns, violets and aloe plants work best.

Price: $50 

Furbo

It’d be nice if we could all be home with our dogs 100% of the time — but for most people, that’s just not the case. Furbo is part web cam and part treat dispenser. Using a smartphone app, dog owners can monitor and interact with their pets, remotely tossing out treats when your pup does something good. Dog-friendly color signals and sounds are designed to get attention, while real-time updates and a camera let owners gain insight in their pet’s life from afar. Need to know when Mr. Boots starts barking so the neighbors don’t complain? Furbo can listen for barking and send you notifications accordingly.

Price: $134

iGrill

The Weber iGrill is a fantastic thermometer designed for grilling. Wireless connectivity brings the grill into the modern era, allowing the user to check the meat’s temperature from a smartphone and without opening the grill. A magnetic base sticks the control unit to the side of the grill and the probes are designed to withstand searing heat.

The iGrill Mini is around $50 and includes Bluetooth connectivity. The slightly more expensive iGrill 2 adds a LED display to the base unit and an extra probe, while the priciest model, iGrill 3, has more battery life and the extra probe but is only designed to be permanently mounted directly on the side of specific Weber grills.

Price: iGrill Mini, $45 on Amazon | iGrill 2, $65 on Amazon | iGrill 3, $80 on Amazon

Casper Glow Light

The Casper Glow Light makes going to bed and waking up a bit easier. The light is warm, and gradually dims to assist in falling asleep. Likewise, there’s an alarm function that slowly turns on to help knock the sleeper out of a deep slumber. The $129 Casper stands apart from other light alarm clocks in several ways. One, it works as a lantern, allowing the owner to carry it throughout the home and recharges using a bed-side dock. The Glow Light’s design is simple and durable; it can likely survive a fall off a table. Most importantly, the clock is managed with a smartphone app eliminating the need to use clunky, on-device controls.

Price: $129 

Sonos Move

Sonos Move 11

For the Sonos lover in your life, the Move speaker fills a massive hole that existed in Sonos’ lineup for far too long: portable speakers. The Move brings all of Sonos’ features to a speaker designed to move around the owner’s house. And it sounds great, too, with full, expansive sound able to fill any room. At $399 the Move is more expensive than competitors, but for someone who has already embraced the Sonos concept, the connectivity and ecosystem is worth the price of admission.

Price: $399 on Amazon

 


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Amazon, Apple, Google and Zigbee join forces for an open smart home standard

18:11 | 18 December

The biggest names in the connected home category are reaching across the aisle to create an open source standard. Marquee names Amazon, Apple, Google and the Zigbee Alliance are leading the charge here.

There are a number of key partners on the board, as well, including IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify (nee Philips Lighting), Silicon Labs, Somfy and Wulian.

The goals certainly seem solid from the outset. The Connected Home over IP project seeks to create a connectivity standard designed the increase compatibility across companies and devices. The landscape is pretty scattered at the moment, with each player digging pretty heavily into their own standard and forcing many smaller third-party players to pick sides.

There will no doubt continue to be a degree of that, but more devices can speak to one another, that would certainly appear to be a net positive for the consumer. The aim is to make it easier for hardware makers to build devices that work with Alexa, Assistant, Siri and the like.

“The project is built around a shared belief that smart home devices should be secure, reliable, and seamless to use,” according to the joint release. “By building upon Internet Protocol (IP), the project aims to enable communication across smart home devices, mobile apps, and cloud services and to define a specific set of IP-based networking technologies for device certification.”

Security and privacy ought to be pretty high up on the list, as well. These topics are of utmost and increasing concern as we surrender more of our square footage to connected products.

 


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The iRobot Roomba s9+ and Braava m6 are the robots you should trust to clean your house well

17:29 | 19 November

This holiday season, we’re going to be looking back at some of the best tech of the past year, and providing fresh reviews in a sort of ‘greatest hits’ across a range of categories. First up: iRobot’s top-end home cleaning robots, the Roomba s9+ robot vacuum, and the Braava m6 robot mop and floor sweeper. Both of these represent the current peak of iRobot’s technology, and while that shows up in the price tag, it also shows up in performance.

iRobot Roomba S9+

The iRobot Roomba S9+ is actually two things: The Roomba S9, which is available separately, and the Clean Base that enables the vacuum to empty itself after a run, giving you many cleanings before it needs you to actually open up a bin or replace a bag. Both the vacuum and its base are WiFi-connected, and controllable via iRobot’s app, as well as Google Assistant and Alexa. Combined, it’s the most advanced autonomous home vacuum you can get, and it manages to outperform a lot of older or less sophisticated robot vacuums even in situations that have historically been hard for this kind of tech to handle.

Like the Roomba S7 before it (which is still available and still also a great vacuum, for a bit less money), the S9 uses what’s called SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), and a specific variant of that called vSLAM (the stands for ‘visual’). This technology means that as it works, it’s generating and adapting a map of your home to ensure that it can clean more effectively and efficiently.

After either a few dedicated training runs (which you can opt to send the vacuum on when it’s learning a new space) or a few more active vacuum runs, the Roomba S9 will remember your home’s layout, and provide a map that you can customize with room dividers and labels. This then turns on the vacuum’s real smart superpowers, which include being able to vacuum just specific rooms on command, as well as features like letting it easily pick up where it left off if it needs to return to its charging station mid-run. With the S9 and its large battery, the vacuum can do an entire run of my large two-bedroom condo on a single charge (the i7 I used previously needed two charges to finish up).

The S9’s vSLAM and navigation systems seem incredibly well-developed in my use: I’ve never once had the vacuum become stuck, or confused by changes in floor colouring, even going from a very light to a very dark floor (this is something that past vacuums have had difficulty with). It infallibly finds its way back to the Clean Base, and also never seems to be flummoxed by even drastic changes in lighting over the course of the day.

So it’s smart, but does it suck? Yes, it does – in the best possible way. Just like it doesn’t require stops to charge up, it also manages to clean my entire space with just one bin. There’s a lot more room in here thanks to the new design, and it handles even my dog’s hair with ease (my dog sheds a lot, and it’s very obvious light hair against dark wood floors). The new angled design on the front of the vacuum means it does a better job with getting in corners than previous fully round designs, and that shows, because corners are were clumps of hair go to gather in a dog-friendly household.

The ‘+’ in the S9+ is that Clean Base as I mentioned – think of it like the tower of lazy cleanliness. The base has a port that sucks dirt from the S9 when it’s done a run, shooting it into a bag in the top of the tower that can hold up to 30 full bins of dirt. That ends up being a lot in practice – it should last you months, depending on house size. Replacement bags cost $20 for three, which is probably what you’ll go through in a year, so it’s really a negligible cost for the convenience you’re getting.

Braava m6

The Roomba S9’s best friend, if you will, is the Braava m6. This is iRobot’s latest and greatest smart mop, which is exactly what it sounds like: Whereas Roomba vacuums, the Braava uses either single use disposable, or microfibre washable/reusable pads, as well as iRobot’s own cleaning fluid, to clean hardwood, tile, vinyl, cork and other hard surface floors once the vacuuming is done. It can also just run a dry sweep, which is useful for picking up dust and pet hair, as a finishing touch on the vacuum’s run.

iRobot has used its unique position in offering both of these types of smart devices to have them work together – if you have both the S9 and the Braava m6 added to your iRobot Home app, you’ll get an option to mop the floors right after the vacuum job is complete. It’s an amazing convenience feature, and one that works fairly well – but there are some differences in the smarts powering the Braava m6 and the Roomba s9 that lead to some occasional challenges.

The Braava m6 doesn’t seem to be quite as capable when it comes to mapping and navigating its surroundings. My condo layout is relatively simple, all one level with no drops or gaps. But the m6 has encountered some scenarios where it doesn’t seem to be able to cross a threshold or make sense of all floor types. Based on error messages, it seems like it’s identifying some surfaces as ‘cliffs’ or steep drops when transitioning back from lighter floors to darker ones.

What this means in practice is that a couple of times per run, I have to reposition the Braava manually. There are ways to solve for this, however, built into the software: Thanks to the smart mapping feature, I can just direct the Braava to focus only on the rooms with dark hardwood, or I can just adjust it when I get an alert that it’s having difficulty. It’s still massively more convenient than mopping by hand, and typically the m6 does about 90 percent of the apartment before it runs into difficult in one of these few small trouble areas.

If you’ve read online customer reviews fo the m6, you may also have seen complaints that it can leave tire marks on dark floors. I found that to be true – but with a few caveats. They definitely aren’t as pronounced as I expected based on some of the negative reviews out there, and I have very dark floors. They also only are really visible in direct sunlight, and then only faintly. They also fade pretty quickly, which means you won’t notice them most of the time if you’re mopping only once ever few vacuum runs. In the end, it’s something to be aware of, but for me it’s not a dealbreaker – far from it. The m6 still does a fantastic job overall of mopping and sweeping, and saves me a ton of labor on what is normally a pretty back-hostile manual task.

Bottom line

These iRobot home cleaning gadgets are definitely high-end, with the s9 starting at $1,099.99 ($1,399.99 with the cleaning base) and the m6 staring at $499.99. You can get a bundle with both staring at $1439.98, but even that is still a lot for cleaning appliances. This is definitely a case where the ‘you get what you pay for’ maxim proves true, however. Either rate s9+ alone, or the combo of the vacuum and mop represent a huge convenience, especially when used on a daily or similar regular schedule, vs. doing the same thing manually. The s9 also frankly does a better job than I ever could wth my own manual vacuum, since it’s much better at getting into corners, under couches, and cleaning along and under trip thanks to its spinning brush. And asking Alexa to have Roomba start a cleaning run feels like living in the future in the best possible way.

 


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Amazon Ring doorbells exposed home Wi-Fi passwords to hackers

17:43 | 7 November

Security researchers have discovered a vulnerability in Ring doorbells that exposed the password for the Wi-Fi network it was connected to.

Bitdefender said the Amazon-owned doorbell was sending its owner’s Wi-Fi password in cleartext over the internet, allowing for nearby hackers to intercept the Wi-Fi password and gain access to the network to launch larger attacks or conduct surveillance.

Amazon fixed the vulnerability in all Ring devices in September, but the vulnerability was only disclosed today.

It’s another example of smart home technology suffering from security issues. As much as smart home devices are designed to make our lives easier and homes more secure, researchers keep finding vulnerabilities that allow them to get access to the very thing they’re trying to protect.

Earlier this year, flaws in a popular smart home hub allowed researchers to break into a person’s home by triggering a smart lock to unbolt the door.

Amazon has faced intense scrutiny in recent months for Ring’s work with law enforcement. Several news outlets, including Gizmodo, have detailed the close relationship Ring has with police departments, including their Ring-related messaging.

It was reported this week that Ring had bragged on Instagram about tracking millions of trick-or-treaters this Halloween.

 


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Google makes moving music and videos between speakers and screens easier

20:04 | 8 October

Google today announced a small but nifty feature for the Google Assistant and its smart home devices that makes it easier for you to take your music and videos with you as you wander about the different rooms in your home.

‘Stream transfer’ as Google prosaically calls it, allows you to simply ask the Assistant to move your music to a different speaker, or — if you have the right speaker group set up — to all speakers and TVs in your home. All you have to say is “Hey Google, move the music to the bedroom speaker,” for example. In addition to your voice, you can also use the Google Home app or the touchscreen on your Google Nest Home Hub.

This will work with any source that can play to your Chromecast-enabled speakers and displays.

It’s all pretty straightforward — to the point where I’m surprised it took so long for Google to enable a feature like this. But maybe it just needed to have enough devices in peoples’ homes to make it worthwhile. “Now that millions of users have multiple TVs, smart speakers and smart displays (some in every room!) we wanted to make it easy for people to control their media as they moved from room to room,” Google itself explains in today’s announcement.

 


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Amazon makes it easier for smart home devices to alert customers to low supply levels

17:38 | 26 September

Alongside all the new Alexa-powered consumer devices Amazon introduced yesterday, the company also unveiled a new set of tools for the makers of smart home device skills that will allow them to tap into Alexa to re-order their supplies. Think — things like printer ink, air filters for smart thermostats, detergent for washing machines, or anything else that has replaceable parts.

This is an area Amazon has focused on before, by way of the Dash Replenishment Service, or DRS. Devices that use the service’s APIs can automatically re-order their supplies, after a customer sets up their account and selects the product they’ll want to be shipped when they run low.

The new set of tools is an extension to that earlier service, as it will allow the device makers to alert their customers they’re low on necessary supplies by way of Alexa’s skills.

This will work by way of a new set of inventory sensors, due to launch soon, in Amazon’s Smart Home Skill API. There are three different types of sensors to choose from, depending on the device’s needs.

DARTpic.png. CB452512254

The first to arrive sometime later this year is the Alexa.InventoryLevelSensor. This will address the needs of devices where the consumable product is stored internally — like the batteries in smart cameras or printer ink, for example.

Next year, two other sensors will launch. The Alexa.InventoryUsageSensor will work when the product is not stored internally, but the device can determine when a certain amount of consumable inventory is used. In this case, good examples would include a smart coffee pot, washing machine, or dishwasher.

The third, Alexa.InventoryLevelUsageSensor, can be used when the consumable product is stored internally, and the device can report on its usage rather than its current state. For example, a smart thermostat could report the fan time to let customers know it’s time to change the air filter. Or a vacuum cleaner could alert customers to replace a dust bag.

By using these APIs, Alexa can help the customers manage their household supplies, by letting them know they’re low or helping them to set up automatic re-orders in the Alexa app. If the customer chooses to set up smart re-ordering, that’s when the Dash Replenishment Service will kick in. Unlike Amazon’s “Subscribe & Save” shopping feature, these smart home supply re-orders will only be placed when the consumable item is running low.

The benefit of this design is that it can help nudge smart home device users to place orders — from Amazon, the company hopes, just by having Alexa remind them. And it can also work even if the customer doesn’t want to set up automatic re-ordering for some reason — perhaps because they shop for supplies locally or want to comparison shop online.

Amazon says August, Blink, Ring, Schlage, and Yale are already working on including inventory sensors to report battery levels from their skills, and Coway is working to report the usage of air filters.

In addition to helping their customers manage their household, the new feature will also enable smart home kill developers to establish recurring revenue streams associated with their devices. When a customer signs up for Dash Replenishment, Amazon pays out a one-time referral fee. And then as the re-orders come in, developers will earn a revenue share on all the orders placed — even if ordered manually following an Alexa notification. Of course, if the device maker is selling its own manufactured products, they’ll earn even more.

Amazon says all U.S. developers will be able to use the new inventory sensors soon.

 


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