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LIFX is one of the biggest names in the world around smart lighting. Big enough that a lot of folks might not realise they’re an Australian brand!

With that in mind, and with Australia Day just around the corner, we decided to have a chat with Marc Alexander, co-founder and CTO of LIFX, about the journey so far, his thoughts on how to get started with smart home and smart lights, and where things are heading next.

Why did you decide to get into smart lights at the very beginning?

We had this incredible – at that time) idea in 2012, to be able to use your smartphone in your pocket to change a light around you, and have that light so vibrant and colourful that it was better than any light before it.

That was the beginning of smart home for us and many others. We already had great app and hardware product development experience in the team, so it really felt like we could do it. We prototyped it, made a video for Kickstarter, and were blown away by the public response from around the world.

How big a deal was access to crowdfunding at that time?

Being able to access crowdfunding was one of the best things to kick us off. The launch was outstanding, going almost overnight from a small home invention to become a globally recognised business and leader in the smart lighting industry.

We benefited from ten thousand or so backers and pre-orders, were noticed by global retailers and were able to file patents and unique IP to our designs.

When I look at coverage of LIFX, colour seems to be a standout for your gear – why is that? What are you doing to make that a key LIFX feature?

We’ve always been passionate about the depth and richness of colour, how people feel about it, and what we do to achieve it.

Everything from special LEDs across LIFX products, having colours and whites mixed from four ‘channels’ of light blended together, to how high in quality and brightness our white light selection is.

With our new firmware, our lights show more than a trillion different colours (I’ll spare you the maths on that!), and thousands of tones of white. We have the deepest, richest colour spectrum among all our competitors. More vibrant reds, deeper blues, and we can also reach true cyan and a realistic warm incandescent white and amber, for example.

In technical terms of colour space, we have the largest CIE 1931 colour space of any consumer light we have seen or tested. And LIFX lights are modulated at a high frequency to support natural photography or videography without the usual flicker or rolling stripes seen often in other LED smart lights.

What’s been the biggest success for smart lighting so far? Has there been a ‘breakthrough’ moment yet or is that still ahead?

Beginning with our 2012 combination of Wi-Fi and internet-connected smart lighting “that works from any smartphone”, our step in growth was from zero to a global, Australian founded business, in our first year.

We’ve overcome a lot of tech challenges, and we are proud to have created a significant number of patents – in Wi-Fi and wireless smart connected lighting, thermal management, user interface, power control, and other smart home product categories (some yet to come to market).

Then we made more advances in our second and third generation of products, making them more compact, cost-efficient, faster, 30% brighter, and now using 30% less electricity than competing products.

Now we’re into our fourth and fifth generation of products, and have added unique feature lighting, blended colour zone Z Strips, Beams and Tiles. And, of course, we’re continuing to work closely in voice operation with Apple, Google, Amazon and many other smart home partners.

How do you explain where to begin to people who are still a little uncertain about where to start with smart lighting?

Start with just one light. With LIFX, you don’t need network cables, a hub or a bridge to set up your lights – so it is the perfect way to easily and affordably kickstart your smart lighting journey.

We suggest opting for a Mini Colour and experiencing it first in a lamp. It’s a perfect way to play around and feel how you can control your lighting near you and around you.

From there, expanding your collection is easy – just add to your smart lighting light by light, room by room.

Are straight up bulbs the most popular area still or are strip lights or tiles or other new product areas the biggest?

For gamers, LIFX Z strip lighting is very popular, and for our average customer, standard lights like our Mini Colour are the most popular.

Home decorators and people doing amazing things with their home’s rooms or an apartment will often use LIFX Beam or Tile as a special feature.

What’s the craziest setup or smart trigger arrangement you’ve heard about in the use of LIFX kit?

We’ve seen some very creative applications of our products, from practical uses that assist with accessibility to simply jaw-dropping desk setups.

One example of a very impressive smart trigger arrangement was from a customer who is hard of hearing. He had a lot of triggers set up, including flipping his phone over to trigger a dim light on, which then allowed him to talk with his wife! We are constantly learning about new ways our customers automate our products.

So what’s the ultimate mission? Every light a smart light or something else?

Part of our ultimate mission is to have every light a smart light – but with a purpose. To transform the space around you, share incredible experiences with light, and save energy with efficient design and automation.


Marc also sent me these links to some of his favourite office/gaming setups too. Now I want to run off and get the Byteside setup looking this cool.

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Wow.

The 2010s changed everything in tech. A little prior to the start of the decade we saw the launch of the iPhone and Facebook, but it was during the 2010s they took over the world. TVs got bigger, thinner and higher res, networks got faster, the cloud became a storage norm.

In 2010, we talked about tech in terms of what we gained in each new version, with big year over year gains in processing power and features. Reviews discussed tech for its own sake. But things have slowed down, and – with the exception of cameras in smartphones – it’s the software that drives innovation today.

Today, there’s a very good argument that over this past decade we let that magical combination of smartphones, networks and social platforms eat our attention and our presence. I don’t need to litigate that idea here. We feel it, whether in ourselves or those around us.

Tech should be a tool, not a time vampire. It should enable, not distract. So here’s a few of my own resolutions for the new decade.

THINK BIG

1. Scroll less
Mindlessly exploring streams of content has come to be defined by a single action – scrolling. Tech shifted from page-based exploration to endless scrolling, taking away that natural moment when we think “have I browsed far enough?” Let’s start using the search box more – every good service has one – to find things we specifically want to see. Search a topic on Twitter. Look up specific friends on Facebook. Just stop the fidget response and start using services with a little more intention.

2. Read deeper
We’ve become a society of skim readers. Glancing at headlines and opening lines before we jump in and share our own random and poorly informed comments about stories we think we have the gist of. Or maybe you’re the type who opens that story in a new tab and promises you’ll go back and read it later (that’s me). Let’s vow to read what we click, from start to finish, when we click it. If you don’t have time to read it, why were you skimming those headlines in the first place? Make time to actually catch up on news, and actually read what you find.

3. Track what matters
Use good tools to track your work, or your fitness, or your personal projects. I’ve been a big user of Todoist for quite a few years now. It works across phone/browser/PC so I have a trusted spot where anything I think is important gets written down so I know I don’t have to manually remember what needs doing. I also use fitness and food tracking tools to keep myself on target in those domains. I’m not religious about them, but I’ve learned that tracking what matters really does help to measure success and keep myself honest.

4. Be bored
I want to have more guilt-free downtime, when my mind can rest and explore that ‘default mode’ the pundits have started talking about. In my house we’re starting up screen-free Saturdays as a scheduled way to embrace this. For you maybe it’s a different day, or just one evening each week. Or maybe it’s just taking your lunch break and ignoring your phone while you do it. Just let yourself relax, and do it often enough that you stop feeling anxious about what you’re missing while you try to do it…

5. Stop being ‘busy’
“How are you?”
“Oh, so busy.”
“Yeah, same, really busy.”
Let’s stop ever using the word ‘busy’ to answer a question about how we are or how work is going. And when we’re feeling generically ‘busy’, let’s try to step back and double check what we’re doing right now and what we could be doing better or doing less of to make a little more time to let ourselves and our commitments breathe. I’m aiming to reduce distractions and have more focused time, while also adding more honest downtime into the mix of my day so I can let my mind rest guilt-free. This will help me to do more of the above – to read deeper and to be bored.

THEN GET SPECIFIC

6. Kill notifications
Notifications are, by definition, interruptions. We should only allow notifications in our lives for things that are emergency-level information. I’m going through my settings on my phones, tablets and desktops to ensure I’m only allowing the most essential tools to demand my attention in real-time. Then I’m deciding for myself when the right times are to go to those apps and services to find out what I need, when I need it.

7. Check the defaults
While we’re checking those notifications, we should be checking a lot of other default settings too. What are the privacy settings doing with my information? Can I enhance the security of this tool? Can I make the icon a nicer colour? Worst case, you learn a little more about how something works. Best case, you save yourself from misuse of your personal information.

8. Run the backups
For anything important, I’m checking that backups are working, that they are happening regularly, and that the backup itself is effective. And I’m double checking regularly. My cloud storage. My local network storage. And while I’m at it I’m consolidating backups – cleaning up some of the random USBs and drives that have been lying around for years, and getting photos and videos into modern, universal formats so I know I’ll have them for the long term.

9. Subscribe on purpose
Video streaming. Music streaming. Software and storage services. I’m checking my subscriptions and I’m turning off auto renewals anywhere I can. I’m making a bookmark folder of things I’m subscribed to so I can go in and switch things on and off and stop paying my monthly lazy tax for things that I don’t use all that often. I’ll cycle through different video services – Netflix one month, Stan another, etc. If you cancel, the sub continues until the end of the paid month. Then pay again the next time you’re actively about to watch something. Even if that just saves a few days here and there, over a year across all services that’ll probably be an extra month or two of things you didn’t give free money to.

10. Rediscover email
I’m done with chasing Inbox Zero, but I’m also done just letting email become a waste basket. Using the tools now built into Gmail and desktop mail apps I’ll embrace email as a place where I let things arrive for my attention on purpose. I’ll delete the random repetitive junk mail lists I’m on and I’ll sign up to more things that deliver me things I know I want to see. This also means I’ll stop fidget checking email – just like social media – and give it due time in my daily routine so I ‘do email’ like I mean it each time I go there.

I got a new car recently. By recently I mean a year ago. I like cars, but I’m not a ‘car person’. I do my research ahead of time, but then I pretty much make my final decision based largely on how it just feels to be sitting in that driver seat taking things for a spin.

I like to think about car reviews when I think about how the tech I’ve often reviewed – phones, TVs, laptops – can get too caught up in year-over-year changes. Those of us living in the thick of the new things can get caught up in the tiny differences. But most people are upgrading a model they’ve owned for many years. My old car was over ten years old! For these buyers, almost every new model – including the inexpensive ones – will blow their minds.

When I bought my car (a Honda Civic), I didn’t pay any mind to features like cruise control. Any time I’ve driven a car with cruise control I’ve only ever tested it for the sake of checking what it feels like.

And I think it feels terrible.

I’m all for self-driving cars, and look forward to just having driverless cars on demand in our future. When cars truly drive themselves why should we even own them? But cruise control is the awkward teenager of vehicle automation. It takes the joy out of driving while putting you into a terrible realm where the car is speeding along without your feet being involved at all. Scary stuff.

Anyway, yes, my Civic has cruise control. But amongst the same set of controls, I discovered it also has a Limiter. And I adore it.

I use the limiter every single day, every time I’m in the car, and I tweak and twiddle the setting constantly. It’s brilliant.

So what’s a limiter? Like cruise control, you set a speed you want to ‘cruise’ at, except now it’s a speed you simply don’t want to accelerate past. With this setting in place, you are still doing all of the driving. It just stops the throttle from letting you push past the magic number.

Maybe that doesn’t sound too different, but it really is. Because while you would never use cruise control in a 50 or 60 zone, the limiter is perfect for these environments just as it is at home on the freeway at 110.

The limiter has helped me to do the single most important thing while driving. To keep my eyes on the road, surrounding vehicles, and overall conditions around me.

Having to constantly glance down and check speed to maintain a speed limit without speeding is a constant dance of the eyes. It’s fine, it’s doable. But now the limiter worries about that for me. I can just drive the way drivers should.

The limiter doesn’t brake for you, it only controls the accelerator, which means it can slide past the limit you’ve set if you are going down a hill. But if you do go three clicks above the limit you set you’ll get an audible alert to let you know it’s happening so you can react accordingly. And if you plant your foot hard to the floor it will also override the limit.

I feel like the limiter makes me a more active driver. My eyes are where they should be, and when I change speed zones I quickly tap and adjust the limit to reflect the change. Once set I can tap up and down to tweak the exact limit I’ve set, or cancel and reengage to whatever speed I’m driving at.

And, seriously, it makes me feel like an F1 driver leaving pit lane when I have my foot down cruising at 60 and get to cancel the limit as I enter a freeway on-ramp and feel the car just take off at the push of a button.

It also keeps my drive at a more constant, smooth speed than ever before, across all speed zones. I live outside the city, so I’m rarely stuck in traffic like some people. But I’m also in a regional town, so it’s not pure cruising. Over the last few thousand miles my fuel economy sits at around 6.3L/100km (a little ahead of the Honda claim of 6.4L).

I think no car should have cruise control. And I think every car should have a limiter. It’s active, it helps keep our eyes where they should be, and it helps maintain a smoother drive. I love it.

Check your car settings. Maybe you already have one too?

Steve and Jony have left the building.

Today’s Apple event, launching iPhone 11, Apple Watch Series 5 and a new iPad, really did feel like the beginning of a new era. It’s been eight years since Steve Jobs passed, and a couple of months since Jony Ive left the building. But today was the first major event where the dulcet tones of Ive were no longer present to explain to us why a device was worthy of our hard earned.

That connection between the voice of Ive and the mind of Jobs was a long and powerful thing. And there was something about Ive’s presence in the design department that made it feel like Steve was somehow still around, especially when the tone of launch events continued to include that warm British voice that was allowed to say the word ‘aluminium’ inside an American company. He had Permission. He oozed Authority.

So today was the first time it felt like we had a truly Tim Cook keynote event. Yes, he’s been calling the shots for a long time. But no more Jony meant we had a full slate of produced videos telling the stories of the latest devices. Not a narrated piece of tech porn that upheld an Apple tradition.

These new videos reflect a style that has started to move further into the foreground in Apple’s new era of brand identity. Videos that aim to tug at the heartstrings around ‘The Power Of Apple Technology’ while also having a healthy dose of whimsy.

Here’s the official Apple summary of the event, for example:

There’s an air of fun. We’ve had skits at other recent events like when Cook tweeted ahead of the event as if something had gone wrong, a lead in to the intro video of someone racing to deliver him something.

We’ve had fun videos at WWDC about the hidden life of code compilation that only developers understand.

And we’ve had energetic ’60s cinema vibes proclaiming the joy of a new Apple announcement.

There’s a clear sense of fun mixed into the polished delivery under Tim and his team. Here’s two more from this year:

A fun take on why privacy matters? It works. No one else is having ‘fun’ with privacy messaging. And two more from today:

Jobs had a sense of humour, but his focus at a launch was on gravity. That whatever was being announced that day was the pinnacle of technological innovation up to that moment.

Today we saw an event that did miss the gravitas of an Ive introduction. And the new devices are evolutionary in a way that might suggest Ive knew the age of consumer tech revolution has run its course (for now). So it was hard to think what his voice would have added to today’s line up of designs.

It does mean the devices must stand a little more on their own. The renowned Reality Distortion Field era is over. It was heavily attached to Jobs but Ive carried that torch a little beyond his direct presence.

What becomes clearer is that Cook adheres to classic Apple secrecy as much as possible but come launch day he likes to show his working. We don’t just get “A13 Bionic is the fastest chip in a smartphone ever”. We get a detailed breakdown of what it does and why it does it, a kind of surface level proof that this chip is the bees knees. A pitch not just to the casual fans but some extra talking points for those who know they’re going to have to justify why an Apple phone is worth the extra bank.

Tim Cook’s Apple feels more personal. It remains high-end – sometimes wildly so – but it has a clear sense of how every person, every pocket, every household, is a little bit different. On stage, Cook doesn’t try to command the audience. He shares the stage with various Apple product leaders and development partners. It’s not all about him, it’s about the people who run things telling you why their thing is a cool thing.

Apple is in the midst of a shift toward being a more and more service driven company. Remember that during Cook’s time macOS has gone from a product we had to pay for at each upgrade to a platform we get for free. The hardware is a gateway to an Apple software and service ecosystem. Privacy itself is becoming a service offered through Apple software and service options (when compared to its advertising-driven rivals).

All this is to say that, with the voice of Ive now removed from the Apple launch process, the last vestige of the old order is gone. Today we truly see the future of Apple.

A little less gravity, a little more personality.

The best lesson I’ve ever had in what I should try to take pictures of, and how I should take them, was when I spent a week scanning over 5,000 family photos from across my childhood to young adult life.

Hardware talk: Epson FastFoto FF-680W

I recently tested the Epson FastFoto FF-680W photo scanner, an impressive system that makes quick feeding large sets of photos a breeze. It uses a sheet feeder system, rather than a flatbed, so you can drop in stacks of photos at a time – roughly in line with a roll of film worth of prints.

Over thousands of photos it jammed just a small number of times, never damaging the photos in the process, just a quick open, check and reset the remaining prints. It easily adjusted all final outputs so that any time a photo was slightly askew or in a different ratio or format it came out in the scan with the image captured just right.

The included software made it easy to give each batch of photos metadata related to content or theme, and date data could be applied either as a specific date or as a month/year or even a season (though the season system was northern hemisphere specific so best stick to months if you’re using this down under).

One particularly clever feature was to also scan the reverse side of the photos, with sensitivity settings available to help tweak how sensitive it should be to automatically identify whether there was something worth capturing, like handwritten notes. Lots of false positives here but easy to delete those (captured as a second ‘b’ image) while it was lovely to have a few of those notes captured alongside the photos in question.

The biggest nuisance was some all too frequent nagging from the software to keep cleaning the scan head. But it’s a valid nag. Old photos carry plenty of dust and a quick wipe with the included cloth seemed to help ensure things stayed as clean and clear as possible.

Overall, this $699 unit is an impressive option for quickly getting through those family archives. As mentioned above, in that one week of effort I got through five boxes of old photos, with a final tally of well over 5,000 photos scanned.

It’s one of those jobs that’s just too easy to keep putting off (even with the scanner here I spent a month not getting around to it), but now it’s done it feels great to have those memories in digital format, ready to share with family and enjoy again. And it gives a warm fuzzy feeling to know that they’re backed up in a secure cloud storage (not from Epson, my own cloud service) ready to stand the ongoing test of time.

The photography lessons

What I thought I was going to learn was really just a question of scan quality and scanner performance. But as I went through the photos I found myself critiquing the decisions I had made at the time I was taking those photos. The photos that seemed were the ‘right’ photo at the time felt too obvious and over composed now. And today my favourite photos were the ones that captured life warts and all.

So here then are the things I came to realise about how I should take photos today having explored the photos of my past…

1. More people
The places I’ve visited over the years have been beautiful. It’s nice to still have those images of the cities and countrysides I backpacked through and visited all those years ago. But all those shots with no one I care about in them feel sterile.

Unless I captured the perfect frame, they’re just empty. It makes a lot of sense why selfies have become such a big deal today. Memories are a lot more interesting when we put ourselves in the frame.

2. More normal life
So many photos, entire rolls of film, were focused around fancy parties and dinner functions, large gatherings of friends dressed up in fancy clothes. It’s nice to have some of that, of course. But so many?

What I didn’t see as much of was time sitting at home with friends and family. But when I did see those moments, unposed normality, so many more memories came flooding back. The unanswered questions of everyday life – Which house is that? When would that have been? What were we looking at? What music was playing?

The parties had clear answers but few memory triggers. Normal life delivered a flood of half remembered sound, scent and scene that made my brain work to rebuild the moment. It was magical and I want more of that in my future and for my children’s future.

3. Less generic wide shots
When we were shooting film, our own images were one of the best ways to remember the places we’d travelled and the things we’d seen. But now a quick search can reveal thousands of photos of anywhere we like.

Memory triggers run like water on the web. But details are personal. The things that catch our eye that only we will care about, or the weird things we noticed that made us laugh. A photo of a detail that means nothing to most people is the kind of photo that means a lot more when we capture it for posterity.

4. Stop forcing those smiles
It doesn’t take long skimming old photos to notice that same “I’m happy” pose appear again and again and again. The photos that feel special are the ones when we’re acting a bit silly, or pulling a stupid face. A jump. A twist and look. A Blue Steel. The ones where we did anything but stand carefully to deliver generic attention to the camera. These are the photos that bring a real smile to my face here in the future while looking back on the past.

5. Take more photos
We have more photos now than ever before. But I’ve realised that I’m still mostly taking photos of what feel like photo moments. I’m going to try to make a habit of capturing things just because. To make a quick snap a better fidget response than pulling out my phone to check social media.

If my phone is in my hand, look around for something to capture. Not to share immediately. Not to send a friend. To treat my photo library like a time capsule of random moments that might not mean much today, but might make an older Seamus, when his memories begin to fade, smile at a half-forgotten moment that didn’t seem like much at the time.

Starting August 10, incredible Augmented Reality (AR) experiences will be offered in six major cities around the world in a collaboration between Apple and New York’s New Museum.

The AR[T] project sees special experiences available as a walking tour from Apple Store locations in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo, featuring artists Nick Cave, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Cao Fei, John Giorno, Carsten Höller and Pipilotti Rist.

A giant AR figure stands on a city building
Nick Cave reimagines his iconic “Soundsuits”
AR words float in the sky over a city park
John Giorno’s “Now at the Dawn of My Life”
An AR installation in a park
Cao Fei’s “Trade Eden”

According to Apple:

The three new sessions include an interactive walk featuring works by some of the world’s premier contemporary artists, an in-store session that teaches the basics of creating AR using Swift Playgrounds and an AR art installation viewable in every Apple Store worldwide.

While these installations are in select locations around the world, every store can experience a work called “Amass” by American artist Nick Cave.

A Nick Cave AR art experience inside an Apple Store
“Amass” by Nick Cave, available in every Apple Store worldwide

iOS 13 has some particularly exciting new AR tools coming to iPhone and iPad, which will make creating experiences more accessible than ever. So the timing feels particularly exciting to encourage people to see what’s possible and explore ideas of their own.

I first covered Gogoro nearly four years ago for CNET while in Taiwan for Computex. The Taiwanese electric scooter company was designing beautiful scooters but had also devised a battery swap platform around the city to make charging a non-issue.

At the time the company was open about trying to make its battery service something that other companies could interoperate with. In countries where scooters are everywhere but no one has a garage to do their own recharging, it was a great idea and if it operated independently across different makes and models it would be a great service for all.

Now Techcrunch reports that Gogoro has new partners on board. Yamaha, Aeon Motors and PGO are all about to launch new scooters to work with Gogoro hardware.

I’ve always hoped the company would succeed. Such a great concept and it would be a shame for others to fight to control end-to-end instead of join forces and make EV more viable for the scooter industry across South-East Asia.

Glad to see it’s happening.

USB-C hubs are finally starting to pick up some steam, and as the range of options grows we’re seeing some well thought out (but not overcooked) versions hit the market.

I’ve loved TwelveSouth accessories for many years. From the classic BookBook cases that made your iPhone or MacBook look like an old leather-bound volume; to the gorgeous Compass iPad stands; to the rest of their stands and accessories for Macs, iPads and iPhones. Yes, they’re all about Apple stuff.

The company’s StayGo USB-C hub features all the key ports you want. 3x USB-A 3.0 ports (one does fast charging); 1x HDMI port; 1x SD + 1x micro-SD slot (not a shared slot); Gigabit Ethernet; power input and power passthrough. All in a subtle dark grey package.

The extra details relate to the way it is setup to give you the cables you need for core usage both at your desk and when you’re on the road. Thus the StayGo. Get it now?

There’s a storage slot for a 6-inch USB-C cable so you’ve always got that main connector cable with you when you need to grab and get gone already. The hub itself is metal and TwelveSouth says the design for this cable should keep the cable (and the hub) nice and protected in your bag.

Here’s the video if you want to see the TwelveSouth pitch.

In Australia the StayGo sells for around $179.99.

If a robotics company closes its doors, but its servers are still on, are its robots alive or dead? My lame 21st Century zen kōan is actually a three-month and counting reality for owners of Vector.

Anki, the company behind a range of entertaining toy robots with some clever cloud-based features, is gone. Yet its biggest initiative ever, its cloud-based Alexa-friendly Wall-E-like robot Vector (which only launched in October 2018), is still out there. Still driving around coffee tables and kitchen benches. Still recognising faces, telling its owners the weather, answering Amazon Alexa queries.

Anki’s Vector servers remain. For now. But the Vector community is worried. It’s scrambling to reverse-engineer Vector, to find a way to make Vector ready to talk to personal servers they could start running when the official Anki servers eventually switch off. That’s an interesting technical project for those with the skills to do so.

But what about everyone else? Those who bought a fun – and expensive – toy robot that just needs an app to do its thing? When those servers go dark and Vector’s cute little eyes stop responding, can they demand a refund?

But most of all – is it OK to keep selling Vector when all this looms over the product’s future? Read on…

Alexa not doing it for you? Now you can ask Google to help you out via your Sonos speakers instead. The new features landed in an update on Tuesday night.

Alexa has been available since last year for Sonos One and Sonos Beam speakers. And while you can’t have both at the same time on the same single speaker, if you have more than one of either, or both, or whatever combo, you can have both Alexa and Google Assistant in different parts of the house and they can work together relatively seamlessly.