Every week we bring you a selection of the most buzzworthy headlines on voice-first and related topics. Here's the news roundup for April 12-18, 2019.

Amazon: Releases Free Ad-supported Music Streaming; Launches New AWS Certification Program

"Alexa, play music." Amazon announced that beginning April 18, Alexa customers in the U.S. who do not have a Prime membership or a subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited will be able to listen to an ad-supported selection of top playlists and stations for free with Amazon Music on compatible Alexa-enabled devices. (Day One Blog)

Amazon launches certification program for Alexa Skill developers through new AWS Specialty Certification. (Alexa Blogs)

Facebook Working on Voice Assistant

A Facebook team based out of Redmond, WA, is working on a voice assistant, reports CNBC. They've been spearheading the effort to build the new AI assistant since early 2018, but there's no release date yet. Initial speculation revolved around whether or not it as meant to rival the likes of Amazon's Alexa, Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant.

Tech Times confirms that Facebook is indeed making a voice assistant, but clarifies that it might not be intended to compete with Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri after all.

Some members of the voice-space shared their thoughts on this with Forbes in "Why Facebook's Voice Assistant Will Succeed (And Fail)"

Google: Free Ad-supported YouTube Music Streaming, Rebranding Google Home Hub to Google Nest Hub

"Hey Google, play music." YouTube Music is free on Google Home, if you don't mind ads. Starting today, YouTube Music is offering a free, ad-supported experience on Google Home speakers and other Google Assistant-powered speakers. This comes in right on the heels of Amazon's free music streaming service announcement. (Engadget)

9to5Google reports that rumors of Google rebranding the Google Home Hub to the Google Nest Hub are true. Google accidentally leaked the names of both the Pixel 3a and the yet to be released Nest Hub Max last week. They also accidentally revealed it would potentially rebrand the smaller Home Hub to the ‘Nest Hub,’ which has now been confirmed. Digital Trends published their own hypothesis the reasons for Google's rebranding decision. They believe that Google wants to focus on the fact that the Google Home Hub can manage other smart home devices.

Microsoft Joins Hearables Race

Microsoft to Take on AirPods with Surface Buds, according to Thurrott. Microsoft to join the hearables race with wireless Surface-branded earbuds. They're currently being worked on under the codename Morrison, very likely after The Doors frontman  Jim Morrison. The timeline or release date are currently unknown.

Voice First: Global Smart Speaker Market to top 200M units by end of 2019;  Voice Set to Replace Keyboards; Alibaba Developing Connected Cars; Webby Awards now includes Voice Experiences among categories

The global smart speaker market could top 200 mil units by the end of 2019, according to analysts at Canalys. The U.S. will retain its installed base lead thanks to 46% growth in the coming month. However, we'll see an upsurge in China, South Korea, and Japan with 166% growth, 132% growth, and 131% growth, respectively. It also expects smart speaker ownership to overtake that of tablets by 2021, predicting unit sales close to 600 million. Canalys’ findings largely correspond with numbers released by Voicebot.ai and Voicify this last March. Canalys: 200 Million Smart Speakers will be Sold Before Year-end (Venture Beat)

"Writing by speaking has quietly revolutionized how I work... it has expanded my canvas: I can now write the way street photographers shoot — out in the world, whenever the muse strikes me[...]" Farhad Manjoo makes it sound possible that we'll soon be able to conduct much of our digital life screen-less in Opinion: I Didn’t Write This Column. I Spoke It. (The New York Times)

Earlier this week, Alibaba announced at the annual Shanghai Auto Show that they're developing connected car apps that will let you find restaurants, order food, and more using voice commands, reports Tech Crunch.  

In an interview with CNBC, venture capitalist Mark Tluszcz, who invested in Skype and Wix, predicts that voice-enabled technology will end the need for keyboards within five years. He suggests that investors should put their money into the voice space.

This year's 23rd Annual Webby Awards now include a ten new categories dedicated just for voice. They've even written a post, "The Best of This Year's Voice Experiences" which informs fans of the Webby Awards' first-ever class of voice nominees. There are nineteen Alexa skills among the nominees.

Save the Date

Seattle- Join Women in Voice for Voice AI Design Thinking & Pitch Workshop on April 29, 5-7:30pm at Create 33. Expert judges Rebecca Lovell, Director of Create33, MariadelMar Gonzalez, Ph.D. of Pulse Labs, Surbhi Rathore of rammer.ai Techstars, Sarah O'Sell of anim8 collective, and Stephanie Blucker of Microsoft. Women and Allies invited. Tix limited. Register now!

Alexa Live, Free online conference for voice developers. May 2, 2019, 9 am-1pm. Alexa Live brings you 4 tracks and 15+ in-depth technical sessions.  We'll be presenting "Alexa Skill Developer Tools: Build Better Skills Faster" Register now!

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