January 3, 2017 Last Updated 10:16 am

Smart speakers, smart TVs, soon smart newspapers, magazines?

With CES to open this week, tech companies are starting to unveil their latest consumer ‘smart’ products, but the publishing world generally lags far behind when it comes to adding new tech capabilities

The media world is hardly where tech trends are seen first. Despite Apple launching the App Store in 2008, it really took the launch of the iPad two years later for many newspapers and magazines to begin to launch their first mobile apps. In fact, when TNM launched as a blog in 2010, most of the first tech stories involved newspapers launching their very first apps.

Today, the hot new trends involve VR and smart speakers. Lenovo today announced that it would launch their first smart speakers in order to enter the market. Of course, there are two things that any smart speaker must have: good speakers, and a reliable digital personal assistant. Lenovo isn’t going to enter the DPA market, though, it has wisely decided to team up with Amazon and use its Alexa voice services.

“Our goal has never been to simply build smart home devices for the sake of advancing technology alone,” said Johnson Jia, Lenovo’s senior vice president, PC & Smart Device Business Group. “In the same way a person’s IQ is measured by applied knowledge, we believe products are ‘smart’ to the degree they’re actually understood and applied to daily life by their users.”

Early reviews say the smart speaker has very nice sound – which really is, for most users, the priority. Only a small percentage of users actually use the voice features regularly, though I think that will increase over time. But Lenovo is really an assembler, so its high quality version of the Smart Assistant speaker is called the Harmon Kardon edition and uses their speakers. In other words, Lenovo is just piecing this together using third party elements, not reinventing the smart speaker.

Amazon probably had to decide whether licensing its service was a good idea. But it likely thought “what would Apple do?” and then did the opposite. Apple, of course, is known for going it alone, and as a result Siri is exclusive to Apple, as is the Mac OS.



Publishers are not likely to start creating “smart” versions of their newspaper and magazines anytime soon, though there are vendors out there really trying to push them along. Many publishers have tried gimmicks before like augmented reality and other things, but could never really get readers to use them. The reason is that they usually involved third party apps, or some hardware piece that was very inconvenient.

But here is where digital editions really could have been the answer. By incorporating the capabilities of the mobile OS, or other third party apps, a digital edition could certainly be “smarter” than just a PDF replica… or print.

One area I naively assumed publishers would move into was translation. There have been several really good two and three language digital editions, but these were created the old fashioned way, having either translators on staff, or having different editors for each language edition. Expensive and hardly automated.

Another area involves deep search, the ability to not only search the edition in front of the reader, but the archives of the title. We get close when one sees a company name also being a link, then the reader gains access to other stories about that same company. But there are other, and better ways to use search, including allowing for voice activated search – a la Alexa or Siri.

But the big publishers don’t see themselves as tech companies. This is ironic, because they at the same time accuse the big techs of being media companies – something the techs want to deny.

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