• Ahmad Alam

My two cents on voice activated devices

When I first got my Amazon Echo, just after it hit the market, I was nothing but filled with the excitement that usually accompanies a kid in a candy store - maybe a kid today needs a mobile store in order to get somewhat excited. I must say I really haven't been disappointed ever since (well maybe a couple of times when Ms Alexa couldn't play a Bengali song that I had asked it to play). Today obviously I have added few more of those voice activated toys like Google Home and of course iOS devices like the iPhone have become hands free with Siri voice activation capability. Besides turning on and off all my lights, Ms Alexa also turns on and off my oil diffuser that has almost become a necessity as far as my being in the now survival is concerned. Another self created and now essential necessity is my voice being able to command a machine to start brewing my coffee. There's nothing like asking Siri to take me home, or to Costco for that matter while driving and while we're at it ask Alexa or Siri to play music of my choice. The iRobot revolution when it comes to cleaning your home is also Alexa enabled. Being able to call hands free is another wonder that was introduced by Echo. Also being able to boss around Ms Alexa to tell me Chuck Norris jokes now and then definitely added some lighthearted entertainment to my otherwise mostly monotonous life. Since the on and off relationship between Amazon and Google has remained on for sometime now, my experience in being able to vocally request Alexa to start playing a YouTube movie has made my life quite a bit easier and more fun. Our house in St. Paul, MN is officialy a smart one now, with in addition to all the above, a smart thermostat, lock as well as security cameras situated strategically in various corners of the house have been put in place as well.

I know traditionalists will still keep saying that the Echo should be for those who are lazy and/or crippled, but there's nothing like being able to turn on and off lights in your house with a simple voice command. The options of controlling such as kitchen lights, living room lights, bedroom lights and so on along with outside lights, entire house lights or even individual lights make life a lot less hassle free at least to me. Even when I come home from outside in the dark, I can tell Alexa to turn on my lights using my iPhone.

As far as other devices like the oil diffuser goes, Ms Alexa still saves me the walk to it to manually turn it on. Just believe me, it is worth it - to order (okay maybe gently request) a machine to start vaporizing essential oils. Sounds really lame but it is nothing but - since the diffused oil is all about relaxing, what better way to have it start once you are already settled on a comfy chair.

Even though some purists would call this a "brew"haha amounting to much ado about nothing, I must say that being able to vocally start brewing a carafe of coffee is super convenient, especially when it can be done remotely. Of course all the work like cleaning the carafe, filter and then adding coffee and water still need to be done before the voice command can even come into play. Still the convenience in being able to start the brewing process while on bed and not having to even have to search and then type on a smart phone cannot be overstated. Also there's nothing like coming home on a Minnesota winter evening to a hot cup of coffee, the brewing process for which gets started by the voice.

Voice activated phone calls have also added an extra layer of utter comfort to the blanket of every day living. One might think that it is an overkill, but once experienced the joy of hands free calling is immense. For a frequent international traveler like myself the Echo and its family of devices come in really handy when it comes to making calls to the US. In some countries where VOIP is totally banned having devices like those can be the difference between having health insurance or not. Okay let me elaborate on this a bit. The deadline for healthcare insurance for my parents fell on a day when we all were in Abut Dhabi. Yes,I was in a country where VOIP is totally banned and had to make a call. The Echo Show came to the rescue as I could at least call and talk to a rep at MNSure and take care of the enrollment for my parents.

Having a voice activated stopwatch at your disposal is another of Amazon Echo's knight in a shining armor moment. Don't know how many times I asked good old Ms Alexa to set a timer so that my mom's biryani is cooked to perfection. Also the reminders that Alexa announces over the device are truly helpful. Again my mom who forgets to take her weekly meds now doesn't even miss a single time with Alexa's help.

Once while trying to go through my Friday afternoon routine (which is driving from Masjid-An-Nur after Friday prayers to Costco) I found that the route that I usually take to go to my destination was closed for construction. My first instinct was to go home. But instead I put Ms Siri to work this time. Asked her directly to take me to Costco and it did nicely. Again voice activated navigation tool is far more convenient than having to enter the point of origin and destination especially while driving.

When I asked "Nuru", the nickname for our iRobot, to start cleaning our house in St Paul, the ease with which "he" started "his" mission, meticulously cleaning every little corner of our house, made me a believer in an instant. Many naysayers would try to argue that a remote control could easily take care of Nuru's movements. Why need voice activation. My response would be one could be anywhere in the house and might not have access to the remote or one's smart phone.

Using voice activation in so many important devices have somewhat overshadowed the use of just asking - for example convert 97 kilograms to pounds or for that matter asking for a recipe. There are millions of questions one can ask the devices and get precise answers instantaneously.

I still remember the sheer joy gripping my entire being when for the first time ever all I did was ask Google Home to play the old Hindi movie "Mili" and it actually did on the tv. I could also tell it to fast forward and rewind.

Controlling the thermostat vocally is yet one more convenience brought to us by the likes of Ms Alexa and Google. The statement "Alexa, turn on the ac," on a hot summer morning is a guarantee for making someone's day. Also it's really cool (what the heck, pun is intended here since I'm from Minnesota) when I'm thousands of miles away from the "frozen tundra" I could still ask Alexa what the room temperature is in St. Paul.

Let's talk about smart locks now. After installing the August smart lock on the back door of our house we are finding it very convenient to be able to open or close the lock from inside and out with the voice.

The security cameras being linked to Alexa are nothing short of marvelous. When visiting Abu Dhabi this winter I put my Echo Show to work when I asked her from time to time to show me the front door, backyard, kitchen and the basement cameras of our house in Minnesota. The instantaneous nature of the response when it comes to seeing the cameras streaming live from a distant continent brought a sense of joy and satisfaction only gadgets like these can bring to a techie.

Again critics would say voice activation is an unnecessary addition amidst myriads of gadgets. But I would argue being able to do things hands free does have useful advantages. Even simple things like turning on and off lights with the voice not only makes life much easier but also introduces us to almost another dimension in modern living. Being able to start a timer with voice when my hands are tied up coloring my beard for example is another feature that has personally helped me quite a bit. The hands free gps capability via Siri is another must-have for motorists. So overall I must say my two cents on voice activated devices is that they are actually great after all.

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