Siri, the first real digital assistant, appeared only six years ago, as a feature in Apple’s iPhone 4S in October of 2011. Since then many others have imitated Siri. Some, like Google Now were limited to smart phones and were not very good. But in 2015 Amazon broke through with the release of the voice activated Amazon Echo, an outstanding dedicated free-standing device and home automation hub.
Since 2015, the competition has really heated up. Almost all of the major technology players are now on the digital assistant bandwagon.
Here are the major players:
• Amazon with their line of Echo devices using the voice of Alexa
• Google with their Google Assistant currently found in their Google Home free-standing device as well as their Pixel phone
• Microsoft with the integration of Cortana, their voice assistant into Windows 10
• Samsung with the introduction of Bixby, the voice assistant coming to the Galaxy S8
• Apple who continues to improve Siri so that she can now control many Apple Home Kit devices. Apple’s Home Kit has garnered many influential partners and a dedicated device is expected very soon.
Besides free-standing devices, digital assistants have moved back to mobile phones. You can now control your Google Home devices with your voice through the Pixel phone. In a surprising move, Apple allowed the Amazon shopping app for the iPhone and iPad to let users access Alexa.
So if you have an iPhone you can now use the Amazon shopping app to access Alexa just as you would on an Echo device. You can even control your home devices with your voice through the app. Just click on the microphone icon shown below. You don’t even have to say “Alexa”. Just press the microphone and verbally ask your question or give your command. Alexa will answer you just as she would if you were using an Echo device.
Alexa is also currently on the Huawei Mate 9 smartphone and will be making a debut soon on the Moto Z smartphone.
Yet, free-standing devices are also front and center in the home. As you know the current Amazon Echo and Google Home, the two free-standing devices currently on the market are selling like gangbusters. Since Amazon had a lead on Google, you can easily find Alexa on devices ranging from smart TV to automobiles to home alarms. Google is forming partnerships to do the same.
Just recently Amazon announced two new Echo devices. The first is the Echo Look which will have a camera geared toward taking full-length selfies with the background automatically blurred. Besides the picture-taking and fashion software, the Look will be able to answer questions and perform tasks just like the current Echos. This is the device that will help both male and female fashionistas look their best. It is not surprising when you realize that Amazon is currently about to overtake Macy’s as the largest apparel provider. The Look is currently available by invitation only.
Amazon is also releasing a new Echo device called the Echo Show. This will have a 7” touchscreen that will be able to display videos and information. The Show will also let you make hands-free video calls to friends and family who have an Echo Show. They can also make voice calls to anyone who has an Echo or Echo Dot or the Alexa App. As with the Look, the Show will be able to perform all of the functions of the regular Echo. Amazon has also updated current Echo devices so they can also make voice calls.
Others are also announcing stand-alone assistant devices. Harman/Kardon, which is owned by Samsung, recently announced that their Invoke desktop speaker and device-controller will be available this fall. Surprisingly, it will use the artificial intelligence and voice of Microsoft’s Cortana.
Microsoft seems to be covering their bets on digital assistants. This fall Windows 10 will be updated to include the HomeHub which will allow Cortana in Windows 10 devices to control internet-connected devices. Like with other devices this will give easy access to voice search, calling, and smart device control. The HomeHub will also integrate with Skype video calling. A major feature is expected to be a new welcome screen that includes an “always-on” digital corkboard to let families use to-do lists, calendars, and notes
You get the picture. Within a few months, digital assistants will be everywhere. Not only are they appearing in free-standing devices, but very interestingly, they are appearing in computers, automobiles, appliances and just about any device you can think of. We are already beyond the first steps. Digital assistants will soon be ubiquitous.