Banks are beginning to use facial recognition and embrace voice technologies

Banks are beginning to use facial recognition and embrace voice technologies

We’ve often said that navel-gazing in one’s home geography and not looking outside those borders can lead to missing inflection as well as tipping points. That’s especially so with our Disruptive Innovators investing theme given there tend to be some preconceived notions as to where those adoption points are likely to be. Fairly often, there tend to be a few surprises and we are seeing that today from the banking sector as one bank looks to utilize facial recognition to speed and secure ATM transactions, while another it implementing Siri in its mobile app. What Tesco Bank doesn’t point out is what’s the age of those willing to use Siri as part of their banking – if it’s older folks, it could be in response to our Aging of the Population investing theme…

Spain’s CaixaBank is launching automated teller machines (ATMs) that allow clients to withdraw cash using facial recognition instead of PIN codes, according to reports. The technology, which has been installed by the bank, was created with the help of FacePhi and Fujitsu. And the bank believes that the offering will have strong demand, with 70 percent of customers in a survey saying that they would tap into the service. Benjamí Puigdevall, who leads the bank’s digital business, said per reports, “In the current financial context of digital transformation, security and agility are key in transactions, and the incorporation of biometric technology at ATMs offers multiple benefits in these two areas.”

And the U.K.’s Tesco Bank unveiled Apple Siri functionality to help clients check the balances in their accounts in its mobile app, according to reports. The bank’s clients can enable the feature via the settings menu in the mobile app. Tesco Bank Digital Director Grant Bourbousson said, according to reports, “The addition of Siri functionality illustrates our commitment to deliver new services that utilise technologies that UK consumers really value, and which importantly meet our customers’ needs.” As it stands, the bank reportedly has had 1.2 million mobile app customer registrations.

Source: CaixaBank Brings Facial Recognition To ATMs | PYMNTS.com

Amazon and Qualcomm put Alexa assistant in more headphones

Amazon and Qualcomm put Alexa assistant in more headphones

It looks like we are approaching an inflection point with digital assistants as Qualcomm looks to expand where and how they are used by focusing on the wireless earbud market. The most recognized adoption of that technology for that purpose, which is in keeping with our Disruptive Innovators investing theme, has been Apple’s AirPods, which include connectivity with its own digital assistant Siri. To say the AirPods have been a hit would be an understatement, and while there are competitors in the wireless earbud market, it would appear the competition is only now going to heat up as Qualcomm brings Amazon’s Alexa into the playing field in a meaningful way.

It could be the enemy of my enemy is my friend given how Apple competes with Amazon in the digital assistant space, and Qualcomm is at odds over chips and royalties, but odds are it will foster more wearable digital assistant powered devices at better price points and hopefully foster far greater innovation as well. Underneath it all, Qualcomm is sticking with the strategy that made it a formidable mobile phone and smartphone chip company – being a merchant arms dealer that wins no matter who wins the war.

 

Microchip firm Qualcomm is joining Amazon.com to spread the use of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in wireless headphones, the companies said on Monday.

Under the deal, Qualcomm will release a set of chips that any maker of Bluetooth headphones can use to embed Alexa directly into the device. When the headphones are paired to a phone with the Alexa app on it, users will be able to talk to the voice assistant by tapping a button on the headphones.

The functionality would be similar to Apple Inc’s AirPods wireless earbuds, which enable users can tap the devices to talk to Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri.

Amazon and Alphabet’s Google, whose voice assistants have most often been found in their respective smart speakers for the home, are rushing to partner with headphone makers.

Models from Bose and Jabra feature Alexa built in, and Sony said earlier this year that a software update will make some of its headphone models work with Alexa. Google Assistant can be used on headphones from Bose, JBL and Sony, along with Google’s own Pixel Buds.

The Qualcomm partnership could expand that lineup. Qualcomm has developed a pre-made circuit that headphone makers can drop into their device to imbue it with Alexa.

Source: Amazon.com, Qualcomm to put Alexa assistant in more headphones

Having Siri and Alexa join you in the shower

It used to be there were a handful of places on could retreat to find some downtime, but it looks like we are on the verge of losing one as Moen is bringing the connected home and virtual assistant connectivity into the shower. Based on the price points, this functionality will mesh with our Affordable Luxury investing theme, but much like we’ve seen with cars the technology will trickle down to lower-tier offerings over time. How long until we can voice dictate messages? Better yet, how long until we can change the music?

 

Plumbing hardware giant Moen is building out its U by Moen smart shower system with the latest virtual assistant technology from Apple and Amazon, allowing users to turn on fixtures, adjust temperature settings and more with their voice. U by Moen saw release last year as a digitally controlled smart shower and valve system that lets users preheat shower water, adjust temperature settings for up to four outlets, set timers and remotely start or stop water flow via a touchpad or connected app.

Announced at CES on Sunday, the latest iteration of the U system integrates voice control through Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistants. Alexa compatibility arrives in the first quarter as a third-party extension, while Siri and HomeKit will see integration in quarter two. Moen showed off U in a demonstration, explaining that users simply ask the assistant of their choosing (Alexa on the show floor) to turn on the shower head or set a desired temperature. Water begins to flow from the outlet until a desired temperature is reached, then the system pauses, waiting for a user to enter. Other commands include macro presets that can be customized in the U by Moen app. For example, a multi-fixture spa setup might include different temperatures for separate water outlets like a shower head, hand wand or side sprays. Pricing varies, but a basic controller and valve system comes in at $1,160 with included shower head and wand, while a four outlet spa style arrangement goes for $2,200.

Source: Moen wants you to take a shower with Siri and Alexa

Barclays combines Disruptive Technologies with Cashless Consumption for voice payments

Barclays combines Disruptive Technologies with Cashless Consumption for voice payments

Several quarters ago we shared our view that after capacitive touch, voice would be the next interface to watch. We’ve seen adoption growth in smartphones with Apple (AAPL) and Siri, Microsoft (MSFT) and Cortana, and then in intelligent speakers like Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa powered Echo products. We’ve even read about licensing deals between Amazon and appliance as well as auto manufacturers for the Alexa technology. Now Barclays (BCS) is combining this Disruptive Technology with our Cashless Consumption theme to enable voice payments.

If you have a Barclays bank account, you can now make payments simply by instructing Siri to do it.

The feature, added to the latest version of the company’s iOS app, uses the Siri integration for payment apps Apple introduced with iOS 10.

PayPal took advantage of this last November, but banks have been slow to do so …NordVPNMaking a payment is as simple as ‘Hey Siri, pay John Appleseed $10 with Barclays.’

As with PayPal, the exact wording shouldn’t be important so long as you specify the person, the amount and Barclays.

To prevent someone picking up your unlocked phone and asking Siri to make a payment to them, Barclays says several protections are in place. First, you need to opt-in to the feature.

Source: Barclays bank now lets customers make payments via Siri | 9to5Mac

Voice Recognition Technology Hears Whispers of M&A

Voice Recognition Technology Hears Whispers of M&A

Earlier this month we had CES 2017 in Las Vegas, a techie’s mecca of new whiz-bang products set to hit the market, in some cases later this year, but in others in 2018 and beyond. A person tracking the CES trade shows over the years likely remembers the changes in inputs from clunky keyboards and standalone number pads to rollerball driven mice to laser based ones, which gave way to trackpads and touchscreen technology. Among the sea of announcements this year, there were a number that focused on one aspect of our Disruptive Technology investing theme that is shaping up to be the next big change in interface technology — voice recognition technology.

Over the years, there have been a number of fits and starts with voice technology dating all the way back to 1992 when Apple’s (AAPL) own “Casper” voice recognition system that then-CEO John Sculley debuted on “Good Morning America.” As the years have gone by and the technology has been further refined, we’ve seen more uses for voice recognition technology in a variety of applications and environments ranging from medical offices to interacting with a car’s infotainment system. As far back as 2004, Honda Motor’s (HMC) third generation Acura TL sported an Alpine-designed navigation system that accepted voice commands. No need to press the touchscreen while driving, just use voice commands, (at least that was the dream — but for those of us that tried to change the radio station and ended up switching the entire system over to Spanish, it wasn’t so useful!)

More recently with Siri from Apple, Cortana from Microsoft (MSFT), Google Assistant from Alphabet (GOOGL) and Alexa from Amazon (AMZN) we’ve seen voice recognition technology hit the tipping point. Each of those has come to the forefront in products such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home that house these virtual digital assistants (VDAs), but for now, one of the largest consumer-facing markets for voice interface technology has been the smartphone. Coming into 2016, market research and consulting firm Parks Associates found that nearly 40 percent of all smartphone owners use some sort of voice recognition software such as Siri or Google Now.

In 2016, the up and comer was Amazon, as sales of its Echo devices were up 9x year over year this past holiday season and “millions of Alexa devices sold worldwide this year.” If you’re a user of Amazon Echo like we are, then you know that each week more capabilities are being added to the Alexa app such as ordering a pizza from Dominos (DPZ), calling for an Uber, checking sports scores, shopping with your Amazon Prime account, hearing the local weather forecast and getting the latest news or perhaps some new cocktail recipes.

Not resting on its laurels, Amazon continues to expand Echo’s capabilities and announced that Prime members can voice-order their next meal through Amazon Restaurants on their Alexa-enabled devices including the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot. Once an order is placed, Amazon delivery partners deliver the food in one hour or less. Pretty cool so long as you have Amazon Restaurants operating in and around where you live. We’d point out that since you’re paying with your Prime account, which has a credit card on file, this also expands Amazon’s role in our Cashless Consumption investment theme as does Prime Now which lets Prime members in cities in which the service is available get deliveries in under two hours from Amazon as well as from local participating stores.

But we digress…

Virtual digital assistants cut across more than just smartphones and devices like Amazon Echo and the Google Home. According to a new report from market intelligence firm Tractica, while smartphone-based consumer VDAs are currently the best-known offerings, virtual assistant technologies are also beginning to emerge within other device types including smart watches, fitness trackers, PCs, smart home systems, and automobiles – hopefully, this time not switching us into Spanish.

We saw just that at CES 2017 with some landscape changing announcements for VDAs such as withAlphabet that had several announcements surrounding its Google Home product, including integration into upcoming Hyundai and Chrysler models; and acquiring Limes Audio, which focuses on voice communication systems, and will likely be additive to the company’s Google Home, Hangouts and other products. Microsoft also scored a win for Cortana with Nissan.

While those wins were impressive, the big VDA winner at CES was Amazon as it significantly expanded its Alexa footprint on deals with LG, Dish Network (DISH), Whirlpool (WHR), Huawei and Ford (F). In doing so Amazon has outflanked Alphabet, Microsoft and even Apple in the digital assistant market, but then who doesn’t find Siri’s utility subpar? To us, that’s another leg to the Amazon stool that offers more support to the share alongside the digital shopping/services, content, and Amazon Web Services businesses.

To be fair, Apple originally did not license out its Siri technology. It was only in June 2016 that Apple announced it would open the code behind Siri to third-party developers through an API, giving outside apps the ability to activate from Siri’s voice commands, and potentially endowing Siri with a wide range of new skills and datasets, potentially making a mistake similar to the one that originally cost Apple the Operating System market to Microsoft. Amazon, on the other hand, has been eager to bring other offerings onto its Alexa platform.

Tractica forecasts that unique active consumer VDA users will grow from 390 million in 2015 to a whopping 1.8 billion worldwide by the end of 2021 – Juaquin Phoenix’s Her is closer than you’d think!  During the same period, unique active enterprise VDA users will rise from 155 million in 2015 to 843 million by 2021.  The market intelligence firm forecasts that total VDA revenue will grow from $1.6 billion in 2015 to $15.8 billion in 2021.

In the past when we’ve seen new interface technologies come to market and move past their tipping point, we tended to see slowing demand for the older input modalities. Case in point, a new report from Technavio forecasts compound annual growth of just 3.63 percent for the global computing mouse market between 2016-2020. By comparison, Global Industry Analysts (GIA) expects the global market for multi-touch screens to reach $8 billion by 2020 up from $3.5 billion in 2013, driven by a combination of mobile computing and smart computing devices. For those who are less than fond of doing time calculations, that equates to a compound annual growth rate of 11 percent. We’d also point out that’s roughly half the expected VDA market in 2021.

One potential wrinkle in that forecast is the impact of VDAs. Per eMarketer, 31 percent of 14-17-year-olds and 23 percent of 18-34-year-olds regularly use a VDA.

Putting these two together, we could see slower growth for touch-based interfaces should VDA adoption take off. Looking at the recent wins by Amazon and Google, factoring in that Apple and Comcast (CMCSA) are favoring voice technology in Apple TV and XFINITY TV and growth in the smartphone market is stalling, there is reason to think the GIA forecast could be a tad robust, especially in the outer years.

Turning our investing gaze to companies that could be vulnerable should the GIA forecast prove to be somewhat aggressive, we find Synaptics (SYNA), whose tag line is “advancing the human interface,” and the “human machine interface” company that is Alps. Both of these companies compete in the smartphone, wearables, smart home, access control, automotive and healthcare markets — the very same markets that are ripe for voice technology adoption.

From a strategic and thematic perspective, one could see the logic in Synaptics and Alps looking to shore up their market position and customer base by expanding their technology offering to include voice interface. Given the head start by Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Facebook, while Synaptics and Alps could toil away on “made here” voice technology efforts, the time-to-market constraints would make acquiring a voice technology company far more practical.

Here’s the thing, we’ve already seen Alphabet acquire Limes Audio to improve its voice recognition capabilities. As anyone who has used Apple’s Siri knows, it’s far from perfect in voice recognition and voice to text. In our view, this means larger players could be sniffing around voice technology companies in the hopes of making their VDAs even smarter.

In many respects we’ve seen this before whenever a new disruptive technology takes hold alongside a new market opportunity — it pretty much resembles a game of M&A musical chairs as companies look to improve their competitive position. In our view, this means companies like Nuance Communications (NUAN), VoiceBox, SoundHound, and MindMeld among other voice technology companies could be in high demand.

Disclosure: Nuance Communications (NUAN) shares are on the Tematica Select List. Both Nuance Communications and Synaptics, Inc. (SYNA) reside in Tematica’s Thematic Index.

Hyundai The First To Embrace Amazon’s Alexa? 

Hyundai The First To Embrace Amazon’s Alexa? 

The Connected Car market lurched forward as Hyundai now offers the ability to use Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa voice interface to control the car. Voice controls inside the car have been around for some time in products from the Honda Motor Company (HMC) and others, but the voice technology has made even Apple’s (AAPL) Siri look like a winner. Aside from Alexa’s high marks for understanding the user, it also brings the ability to send commands from other Alexa powered devices – imagine sending a shopping list to the car before you head out! While Hyundai is the first, we rather doubt this is an exclusive arrangement and odds are we will soon see similar announcements – Alexa powered or not – from the likes of Ford (F), General Motors (GM), Volkswagen (VLKAY) and other car manufacturers.

Hyundai’s luxury car division, Genesis, said Thursday that its currently available G80 and soon-to-be-available G90 will be the first cars to allow owners to control a number of the car’s functions using Alexa, the voice recognition program from Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN).

To take advantage of the system, the car’s owner can issue commands to Amazon products like the Echo, Echo Dot and Tap that will then be transmitted to the car and executed. For example, an owner can say something like, “Alexa, tell Genesis to unlock my car,” and presto!

Source: Amazon’s Alexa Hits the Road With Hyundai – Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) – 24/7 Wall St.

Forget The Finger, It’s Becoming All About That Voice

Another data point that the input interface is moving past hardware (keyboard, mouse, trackpad and screen) to voice. If you’ve been cooking and your hands are coated in raw chicken meat, you know the power of the voice interface associated with Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s Siri. We see far more potential as the Connected Home and Connected Car markets mature.

Amazon, though, has much bigger plans for the technology behind Echo. It wants the Alexa Voice Service, which powers Echo, to be an ingredient in devices around the home and beyond, even if they aren’t made by Amazon.

The vision of an omnipresent intelligent assistant is one Amazon shares, in one form or another, with most other big technology companies, including Apple, Google and Microsoft. Along with a handful of start-ups, these companies see their intelligent assistants as powerful new ways for users to interact with devices and internet services — just as smartphone touch screens were.

Source: Amazon Has Big Plans for Alexa: Running the ‘Star Trek’ Home – NYTimes.com