We’re still in the early stages of voice assistant technology so we can’t declare a winner yet, regardless of which you prefer. Based on what we’re seeing, however, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are putting Apple’s Siri in a serious catch up position.
Apple, Google, and Amazon are all pushing their voice assistant platforms as a tool for interacting with our tech. Microsoft is trying to get a foothold, too, with its Cortana platform.
Alexa’s Race for Voice Assistant Dominance
Alexa is available on Amazon’s own Echo devices, as well as a long list of third party speakers and devices. Amazon also offers Alexa apps for iOS and Android.
If developer activity is any indication of platform success, Amazon’s Alexa is doing well because as of now there are over 40,000 available Skills. Alexa could get even more enticing for developers because now they can offer in-Skill purchases, too.
Alexa Skills are like plug-in modules that add new functionality to the voice assistant platform. Adding the ecobee Skill, for example, lets you control your smart thermostat with your voice. Without the Skill, Alexa doesn’t know how to turn your heat up or down.
Skills are the reason why Alexa is such a versatile voice control platform: Anyone can code a Skill to add new features to Alexa. That openness means there’s a good chance whatever smart device you want to control in your home has some level of Alexa support.
Cross device integration isn’t always strong with Alexa, but the diversity makes it a go-to choice for many smart home enthusiasts.
Google Assistant: Your Data Keeper
Google Assistant’s strong suit is information. That includes personal information, like appointments and interestes, along with information queries such as weather reports, sports statistics, and movie times.
Google is gaining ground in the smart home space, too, with support for more than 200 devices.
This year’s Google I/O event highlighted a feature that isn’t available yet: Google Duplex. The feature acts as a personal assistant that can make calls and schedule appointments for you.
In the demonstration, Google Duplex scheduled a hair cut and made a dinner reservation while sounding and acting as if it were a real human. That’s amazingly powerful, and concerning at the same time.
On the amazing side, Google Duplex could be empowering for people with physical disabilities. Someone who’s hearing impaired, for example, could use Google Duplex to make calls and set appointments.
On the concerning side, Google Duplex essentially hid the fact that it wasn’t a real human during the demonstration calls. Since it acted as if it were human was there a responsibility to disclose it wasn’t during the conversation?
Also, since Google Duplex tries to perfectly mimic a real human, there’s the possibility someone will exploit that to manipulate people. As personal entertainment, that could be cool. In a business or political scenario, however, that’s actually pretty scary.
Siri’s Hope for the Future
Siri stands in contrast to Alexa and Google Assistant. It was first on the scene, but seems to have fallen behind the competition.
Siri with HomeKit offers the tightest integration between smart home devices—a big plus if you’re trying to automate your home. What you don’t get with Siri on HomePod, which is where voice assistant comparisons are happening right now, is the deep information integration you see with Alexa and especially Google Assistant.
You can get your daily schedule by asking an Echo or Google Home, for example, about your appointments. With Siri on HomePod, you can’t.
I like to think Siri’s apparent lag is because Apple is taking time to make sure security and privacy are integral parts in the platform’s growth. When Apple gets that part right, we’ll see big leaps in Siri’s capabilities.
I also like to think we’ll get a taste of that at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in June. Apple shows off the upcoming versions of iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS at the event, and often highlights new technologies, too.
WWDC would be a great opportunity to introduce new Siri capabilities even if they aren’t ready to ship yet. Siri doesn’t need to be a trivia-bot, but it does need a feature boost to wipe away the perception that Alexa and Google Assistant have left it in the dust.