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Voice-assistant speakers giving Canada a pass so far

Amazon Echo and Google Home are not yet available despite reported functionality.

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Voice-Assistant Speakers:

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There’s no doubt about it: speakers with built-in voice assistants are the hot, new thing. At the Consumer Electronics Show last week, at least two major brands announced they’re following Amazon and its hot-selling Echo device.

Lenovo’s Smart Assistant also runs Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence tool and is much like the Echo, but at $129 (U.S.) it’s $50 cheaper. It also comes in a range of colours.

Toy maker Mattel is also getting in on the action with Aristotle, another Alexa-based product – but one that’s aimed at kids. Rather than just a generic voice-assistant speaker, the $300 Aristotle is intended to be more of a colleague or tutor. Mattel says it can read bed-time stories help kids learn.

Both products are of course following the launch of Google Home in the fall, which is itself a response to Amazon Echo. In all cases, the devices listen to users’ requests and can answer questions, control smart home products and, of course, play music.

It’s all happening because, as The Economist recently noted in a cover story, speech recognition and voice control have finally come of age. The technology has progressed to the point where it finally works most of the time – or at least well enough that it doesn’t frustrate users into giving up on it.

There’s one problem for Canadians – none of these products are available in Canada.

The new devices can be excused, since they’re not even out yet – Lenovo’s Smart Assistant isn’t due till May while Mattel’s is scheduled for a June release. But what about the Amazon Echo itself and Google Home?

An Amazon representative did not return a request for comment, while a Google spokesperson said she had no information to share about the Home’s Canadian availability.

Gadgets often see a U.S. release before Canada, but it’s odd to see an entirely new category – which voice-assistant speakers assuredly are – give the country a miss for this long. Amazon’s Echo has been available down south for more than two years and could logically have been released in Canada along with the company’s expansion of Prime Video last month, but no dice.

Early adopters have thus had to buy Echo and Home speakers in the U.S., and then import them. What’s extra frustrating are the reports from such buyers that the speakers have just about full functionality in Canada.

“Basically the Echo can do almost everything in Canada that you can do with it in the U.S. You can set it up with smart home products and even use a Canadian Spotify account,” says Patrick O’Rourke, editor of MobileSyrup.com.

“What doesn’t work is integration with the Amazon store where you can order products with voice commands. I’ve tried to get it to work, but can’t get past the shipping address issue. I’ve never understood why they don’t launch it in Canada and have always assumed it’s a French-language-related issue.”

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