AI Assistants are the key to building a smart, connected home or workplace. But with so many to choose from, how do you decide?
AI assistants have become an integral part of the modern PC and smartphone experience. Now that they’re here and we’re able to integrate them into our homes, we can use them to simplify our lives. There are five main competitors in the AI assistant field. These are:
Siri (iPhone / Apple)
Of course, many other competitors have emerged. These include Lyra, Jarvis, Hound, Robin, Sherpa and so on and so forth. These aren’t too bad and each has its own quirks and strengths. The increase of competition has led to overall improvements across the board, so even though we won’t be talking about these competitors today – they’re worth checking out.We're going to take a (very brief) look at the Big Five. But first…
How Do We Choose An AI Assistant?
Understandably, many assistants have a lot in common. They share several of the same features and capabilities, because they all need to serve the same functions. The base experience is very similar, so it’s the littledetails which will sway you. Here are some of the features and capabilities which all good assistants offer:
Users are able to access them with the push of the button or by calling out their name.
Most are built into their respective operating systems, and usually operate best in their own ecosystems. For example, Google Assistant works best with Google devices, including Android smartphones and Google Home. Alexa works best with the Echo devices or Amazon Fire tablets. Cortana works best on Microsoft, Siri on Apple and Bixby on Samsung.
They can all perform web searches, or offer additional information on the weather, time, global news, reminders, restaurants, entertainment or navigation.
So, a large part of choosing an AI assistant to meet your needs will probably depend on whether or not you’re a fan of those brands. If you’ve always been a fan of Apple, and avoid the others, then you know that you need to utilize the apps and supporting devices for Siri.Of course, many of these assistants will work across other devices. You can get Cortana on an Android device, for example, but this doesn’t mean that she’s going to function as she should.But, let’s not complicate things.We will say that it is better to choose one system which works for you and stick to it. It will save you a bunch of time and money.
Everybody loves Alexa. What really sets Amazon’s AI assistant apart is the level of customization afforded to the user. Amazon allows you to install additional skills, each of which could dramatically increase functionality – and the fun factor. There are literally thousands to choose from.This way, you could pretty much build the exact assistant you need and want. In terms of functionality, this also gives her the potential to do a lot more than all other AI assistants.The Amazon Echo is also, without a doubt, the best smart speaker currently available. Not only can you send messages and make calls via voice commands, but you can also receive calls from other Echo devices. Other smart speakers don’t have this function.Another great feature is the ability to request songs via third-party music services, such as Spotify. The Apple HomePod, for instance, doesn’t allow you to do this. On the HomePod you can only request songs via Apple-approved music services.And we’re all familiar with how that goes.
The Amazon devices, such as the Fire and Echo, all work together without a glitch. The only downside here is that this is where Alexa’s reach ends – with Amazon devices. There just aren’t enough available right now.
Samsung has certainly exceeded expectations with their latest smartphones – and Bixby has gone down fairly well with the latest Galaxy S and Note ranges. It works on the Android operating system, just like most of the other assistants, but for now it is exclusively available on Samsung devices. We may see it roll out across other Android devices later this year.
As far as criticism goes, we have noted that Bixby sometimes struggles with direct commands until you have provided the proper context. Which is annoying. But it has to be said that once you know how to interact with it, it works surprisingly well. So, the only real criticism is reserved for the fact that it is only available on a handful of devices.In order to access the home automation features, you’ll also need to invest in a pricey Samsung hub. Considering that Samsung offers some of the better household items around, it probably makes for a good investment.
Anybody who has ever played Halo on Xbox will recognise Cortana. If you’re not that into gaming, you may also recognise her as the default voice assistant for Windows.Here’s what makes Cortana great – she’s everywhere. Cortana is available on more devices than any other personal AI assistant we could find. You can get Cortana on Android, iOS, Windows 10 and even the Xbox One.With the mobile app, the interface gives you all the information you need right off the bat. It immediately makes itself useful. The PC app, on the other hand, is the dullest most uninteresting thing you could imagine.
Besides the lack of language features on mobile, there’s one big problem with Cortana. When it comes to third-party integration – such as YouTube – or performing more advanced tasks, the assistant falls a little short. Cortana certainly has a ton of potential – she belongs to Microsoft for crying out loud – but we’re yet to see any great innovation.Luckily, Microsoft is currently working on an entirely holographic AI assistant. In the near future, Cortana could be striding around your home performing a variety of functions, just like a butler.For now though, we’ll have to settle for something on a smaller scale.
Of all assistants featured, Google Assistant probably has the most potential, given the seemingly unlimited resources of the giant tech company.It excels at interpreting what you’re trying to say. So much so that you could probably be quite drunk and try to order an Uber or a Pizza and Google Assistant would know what you’re saying.This seems like a small thing. But, other assistants often require that you’re very specific with your demands or requests. This is one of their drawbacks. With Google Assistant, conversation feels a little more natural.As far as the mobile app goes, the interface is clean and minimalist, without any bells and whistles.The Google Home smart speaker also allows you to send messages or emails and even make calls via simple voice commands.
Unfortunately, many of the fun features which Google Assistant offers are reserved only for the Google Home device. If these features had been rolled out evenly across all devices and phones, Google Assistant may very well have been the undisputed best of the lot.That’s just one of the major Android flaws, though. While updates arrive thick and fast, not all devices will receive the exact same features or functions.Also, unlike the Amazon Echo, the Google Home smart speaker can make calls, but is unable to receive any.
Apple has done a great job of keeping Siri competitive, and she’s a solid contender. Apple, of course, has a huge cult-like following. So, for those who have a Mac at home or use an iPhone or an Apple Watch – Siri is without a doubt the most natural choice.If you’re among the Android fanatics out there, Siri probably wouldn’t be enough to tempt you into switching. Google Assistant holds up strong enough all by itself.She is impressive, though, and one of the best things about the system is the backwards compatibility. This means that even if you’re still using an older gen iPhone – if it can run the newer, updated iOS with Siri support, it’ll work.Although we can agree that Apple just isn’t for everyone, the tech giant has to be commended for rolling out features across all devices which are more or less consistent.
Siri now has her very own smart speaker, called the HomePod. While this is a step in the right direction, it just doesn’t measure up to its competitors – the Amazon Echo or Google Home.One of the small problems with it is that the HomePod can’t differentiate between user voices, unlike the iPhone. The Echo and Home, by contrast, both have voice training capabilities. This means that while anybody can use the speakers, Alexa and Google Assistant learn to differentiate between voices and that specific person will get customizable responses.That depth of personalization is a nice touch, which the HomePod doesn’t offer. Also, unlike the competitors, the HomePod doesn’t allow you to make or receive phone calls. Instead, you have to accept the call as you normally would on your iPhone, and then link the call to the speaker.