Monday, January 9, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Voice-Based Personal Assistants

Spencer MacDonald:

The Alexa app on iOS is clearly a hybrid app, in fact I would say it is predominately web based. There are a few strange behaviours with navigation (sometimes you press back and it appears to pop an entire web view from the navigation stack, thus you actually go back multiple steps) and it doesn’t use native controls which can be quite jarring at times. The app works, but I’m pleased that besides the initial configuration you don’t have to use it. It does have a nice feature where it shows you all the events you have triggered, and also (rather creepily) allows you to playback the audio from any of your requests that triggered Alexa, which is good for when you ask yourself “Why did it do that?”.

[…]

Obvious I couldn’t review Alexa without making the comparison to the other assistant in my life, Siri. After living with the Echo for a few months, the detection and transcription capabilities of Alexa on the Echo is leaps and bounds ahead of Siri on the iPhone 7. Alexa is also better at answering general questions, like the weather, unit conversion etc. However I feel that Siri’s intents API implementation means that for the few supported domains (8 as of iOS 10), your interactions feel a lot more natural compared to when interacting with a Skill. In short they are both coming at the problem from different directions, Alexa is currently winning but in my opinion that has a lot to do with the hardware.

Ben Thompson (Hacker News):

In short, Amazon is building the operating system of the home — its name is Alexa — and it has all of the qualities of an operating system you might expect[…]

[…]

That leaves the business model, and this is perhaps Amazon’s biggest advantage of all: Google doesn’t really have one for voice, and Apple is for now paying an iPhone and Apple Watch strategy tax; should it build a Siri-device in the future it will likely include a healthy significant profit margin.

Amazon, meanwhile, doesn’t need to make a dime on Alexa, at least not directly: the vast majority of purchases are initiated at home; today that may mean creating a shopping list, but in the future it will mean ordering things for delivery, and for Prime customers the future is already here. Alexa just makes it that much easier, furthering Amazon’s goal of being the logistics provider — and tax collector — for basically everyone and everything.

Dan Moren:

As a happy Amazon Echo user for nearly two years now, you might think I wouldn’t be in the market for any other voice-controlled virtual assistant—and you’d be wrong. Dead wrong.

Upon returning home from my lengthy trip last month, one of the boxes awaiting me contained a Google Home that I’d ordered while abroad.

[…]

The other big comparison point against the Echo is sound quality. I don’t pretend to have an audiophile’s ear, but to me the Google Home sounded like it had a little more bass than the Echo but an overall muddier sound. While it’s definitely superior to the Echo Dot—low bar there—it’s certainly not too hard to find a better-sounding speaker than pretty much anything in this class.

[…]

In any case, voice recognition and synthesis are table stakes for these devices. The real question is whether or not the Google Home has any functionality so compelling that I’ll switch to using it over my Echo. The answer to that, so far, is…not really.

Khoi Vinh:

Alexa is clearly able to understand your commands—and act on them—better than Siri is able to, but it doesn’t feel leagues better. In practice, it’s not uncommon to have to issue commands three, four, five or more times before Alexa understands what you’re trying to say—or until you learn the way Alexa wants you to say it.

[…]

At home we also received an Echo Dot as a present, a product which I think could be a home run. For just US$50, you get everything that the Echo does except for the higher quality speaker (which means Amazon is basically charging you US$130 for the full fledged version’s speaker, when you think about it). At that price point, I could easily imagine having a Dot in each room of the house, which would make for a really powerful system.

[…]

And finally, design. The Google Home comes in a nicer package, is a much nicer form factor, and is just gorgeous. It’s a very handsome expression of impressive technology

Colin Cornaby:

Still finding that Alexa/Echo is horrible for home automation compared to Siri. Rare bright spot for Apple.

Stephen Hackett:

[Echo is] an open platform, meaning developers can write applications — dubbed Skills — that users can enable with just a tap in the Alexa mobile app.

[…]

HomeKit, on the other hand, is a closed system. Apple has a rigorous approval process before allowing a device or service to be listed as a supported partner. From a security standpoint, this is a big win.

rblatz:

People are all up in arms about headphone jacks, USB-C, and dongles. When the real issue is Apple completely missing huge new markets.

Apple had Siri out and was in the lead with voice control, then they wasted it. I never use Siri, she is nearly worthless, but I do use Alexa multiple times a day. Amazon is Leading the voice assistant market, and Google is right on their heels.

Home automation was supposed to get better with HomeKit but arrived basically stalled. They announced all these partners and sold their products at the Apple Store. Then when HomeKit finally was ready none of those products worked with HomeKit.

Steven Levy (via Dan Moren):

“That’s really important,” Schiller says, “and I’m so glad the team years ago set out to create Siri — I think we do more with that conversational interface that anyone else. Personally, I still think the best intelligent assistant is the one that’s with you all the time. Having my iPhone with me as the thing I speak to is better than something stuck in my kitchen or on a wall somewhere.”

Madison Margolin:

Gatebox is new holographic home assistant that’s similar to the Amazon Echo’s Alexa, only more anthropomorphic—and creepier. Made by the Japanese company Vinclu Inc, the device is a transparent, voice-activated cylinder that displays a tiny holographic character named Azuma Hikari (presumably, other characters can be added later). […] It seems designed specifically to appeal to lonely bachelors.

See also: Accidental Tech Podcast, The Talk Show.

Previously: Developing for the Amazon Echo, SiriKit.

Update (2017-01-10): See also: The Talk Show.

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