Siri’s No Amazon Alexa yet, but Give Her Time

3 minute read
| Editorial

Apple is losing the home, one competing virtual assistant at a time. These disembodied aides have become a big part of our daily lives. Cupertino’s competitors recognize that fact. This is why we saw Amazon Alexa and then Google’s assistant enter our living rooms. Now Cortana is set to arrive in our homes, courtesy of the Microsoft Invoke. When will Apple provide a full-fledged Siri device that we don’t have to take out of our pockets or raise our wrists to use?

Can Siri be the answer to Amazon Alexa?

A Siri Speaker makes perfect sense in a world where we want to talk to our virtual assistants like we do live people.

An Inconvenient Convenience

I realize this falls squarely within the category of #FirstWorldProblems. I have two ways to talk to Siri right now – by pulling out my iPhone and saying, “Hey Siri,” or by saying the same thing to my Apple Watch. That’s more than a lot of folks can say. Be that as it may, it’s just not good enough for me and for many others. Right now, Siri is an inconvenient convenience, because we can’t just walk around talking to thin air and getting things done. With Amazon Alexa, we can do just that.

Inside our homes, we don’t want to have to pull our iPhones out of our pockets every time we want to ask Siri to do something or answer a question. To be sure, we want an ubiquitous personal assistant waiting to answer our call without any action on our part other than speaking to that disembodied aide. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft all recognize this. Despite my colleague John Martellaro’s disagreement, I think Apple does, too.

The Case for Apple HomeBase Responding to Amazon Alexa

First of all, no, I didn’t come up with that name In fact, almost none of the rumors I’ve been privy to about the Siri speaker call it that. The name was penned by Brian Roemmele, editor and founder of Read Multiplex, among many other hats the man wears. Mr. Roemmele wrote about a “Voice First” revolution, in which the devices themselves aren’t nearly as relevant to our lives as is the voice-based artificial intelligence that gets to know our needs.

Why do we need a Siri speaker? Mr. Roemmele describes one important aspect of this reason, to

replace the mechanical aspects of everything we have been acclimated to perform with computers, including typing and gesturing on glass. We will gain back our time as our contextually aware systems “know” what we are looking for and allow us to move to other things.

True, it doesn’t take much time to remove my iPhone from my pocket and speak to it. It takes even less time to raise my Apple Watch to my wrist. However, think about what you do when you ask your spouse, significant other, child, or some other member of your household a question. Do you physically rise up from where you’re sitting, walk over to that person, and then ask them your question? Of course not.

Similarly, you don’t walk to your Echo to ask Amazon Alexa a question, because the personal assistant is akin to a member of your family. As our personal assistants become more a part of our household, we need (want?) to be able to ask things of them without any other action.

Our Lives As Foretold by Star Trek

I’m not sure when the idea of a disembodied personal assistant like Siri or Amazon Alexa first entered our awareness. However, my first recollection of such technology came from the science fiction television series Star Trek. I, and many others, have memories of wishing we could call on something like the Enterprise’s computer just by speaking our commands or queries. That’s what Star Trek promised us, and it’s what many of us are waiting for.

We’ve already seen a number of Star Trek predictions come to fruition. Tablet computers, flip communicators, Bluetooth headsets (Uhura had one), transparent aluminum, and automatic doors are just a few of them. And, of course, Siri was the first successful attempt at a voice control computer, complete with a female voice like the ship’s computer on board the Enterprise.

Apple Will Develop a Speaker for Siri, Hopefully Soon

I have no doubt that Cupertino is actually working on this project. Engineers at Apple are probably working on that project as I type this missive. When it’s ready, the Apple HomeBase will arrive. That’s just Apple’s way. Perhaps Cupertino will announce the product in June at WWDC, but only if Apple has the product as ready as it thinks the Siri speaker needs to be.

My hope is that Cupertino gets it right sooner rather than later. I resisted, at first, moving control of my smart home devices from Alexa to HomeKit. In some ways, a few of the bugs in HomeKit make me occasionally wish I hadn’t made that move. Echo Show and Microsoft’s Invoke are entering our homes to allow us voice control without physical action.

Apple may be slowly losing the home, but I don’t think the battle is over just yet. I believe that a product, perhaps called the Apple HomeBase, will be announced in the near future. With it, I presume, will come dramatic improvements to Siri. Those improvements will allow Cupertino’s virtual personal assistant to become a part of the family. Siri will learn with us and help improve our daily lives.

All that’ll be missing then is my jetpack.

5 Comments Add a comment

  1. geoduck

    Two issues with this personal assistant. First is that you’d need one in every room. My wife and I are already becoming that couple. You know, she’s in the office and shouts “Can you bring me a coke?” Me in the kitchen either doesn’t heart her or shouts back “A joke? What do you mean a joke?” And on it goes. So I figure we’d need about five of these devices to cover our house. At the current price of the Amazon thing, I think ~$200, we’d need about a thousand dollars to make this truly useful. I’ll put up with a lot of inconvenience for a grand. I’ll pull my phone out for the next decade if the alternative costs me a grand.

    The second issue is Siri itself. It has gotten better. Actually it has gotten much better. But it’s still like talking to a robot. It’s very literal and very limited. You ask it a specific thing and it answers, usually. “Siri, what time is it.” “Siri when do the Twins play today.” “Siri will I need a coat.” “Siri, set a timer to go off in ten minutes.” Really, these AI assistants won’t really take off until I can say, “Siri, I’m board” and it will come back with “The Twins game is on channel 12” or “Do you want me to play some music?” or “Your cousin Mike’s band is playing at the pub.” or even “Want to talk about it?” And I’ve seen demos of AIs that were just about that good. Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and the rest have to get to that point. The point where you feel like you’re talking to someone, not just barking orders to a machine.

  2. Jeff Butts

    @geoduck: Agreed that Siri needs to get quite a bit better. However, consider this for your household coverage. I’ll even round up 😉

    * Amazon Echo Show in your living room ($230)
    * Amazon Echo in your kitchen ($150)
    * Amazon Echo Dot in your other three rooms ($150, minus $20 for the current deal Amazon is offering)

    You’re at $510 for full coverage of your house. After all, you won’t really need the touch screen everywhere. You might not even need the full Echo in your kitchen, so you might be able to shave off another $100.

    I think Apple needs to follow a similar paradigm. A display-enabled device for the main room, and “satellites” that are much less expensive for other rooms of the house.

  3. John Martellaro

    …we don’t want to have to pull our iPhones out of our pockets every time we want to ask Siri to do something or answer a question.

    Sure, because that would strain our arm muscles.

  4. mjtomlin

    That’s weird… because it really doesn’t matter where I am in the house, I can say, “Hey, Siri” and one of my devices answers. So, I’m not sure why Apple needs a stand-alone device to do the same thing? Apple needs to drop the price of the 7″ iPad, build in “Hey Siri” functionality and create a speaker stand for it… And there you go, nothing else needed. And you have a device with A LOT more utility and functionality.

    I’d be willing to guess that an order of magnitude more people use Siri than ALL these other AI devices combined.

  5. davidneale

    You’re at $510 for full coverage of your house.

    But it still wouldn’t bring him his Coke.

Add a Comment

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter, Facebook) or Register for a TMO Account