Robots have long fascinated us – whether in books, movies or radio. While robotics are quickly advancing, we can in the meantime sate our futuristic desires with virtual assistants. Many experts predict voice-controlled virtual assistants to play key roles in the home, in vehicles and even while walking. And even though Apple entered the field early with Siri, it now has formidable competition, namely from three of the ‘Frightful 5,’ Amazon, Microsoft and Google.
Amazon’s Alexa assistant, built into its sleeper-hit Echo speaker and an increasing number of devices, is the current front-runner. It’s friendly to developers and already has a rich library of ‘skills,’ ranging from playing music to hailing Uber rides and controlling a variety of smart-home devices. At a recent Code Conference, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed that more than 1,000 are working on Alexa and Echo.
Google is developing its Google Assistant & Google Home (an Amazon Echo rival), which it previewed at its recent I/O conference. Under new CEO Sundar Pichai, Google has made AI a huge focus. Google has the benefit of the world’s largest information database (Google search & its ancillaries) and processes a huge amount of personal information about many of its users.
At Apple’s WWDC, the company announced some sweeping changes to its software including iOS, but didn’t talk about how it was solving Siri’s biggest flaws with voice recognition. And these problems look even worse when you consider Apple’s full-fledged competitors in this space: Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s Assistant.
Walt Mossberg argues that the improvements to Siri — specifically the ‘Proactive Assistant’ feature, which makes Siri a bit more like Google Now — will not be enough. The ‘proactive assistant’ can glean local information stored on your iPhone and in Apple’s built-in apps, but it still won’t interact with the cloud leading Mossberg to call Siri “one of the tech world’s biggest wasted opportunities.”
Apple squandered its head start in other ways, too, because its competitors are building their assistant services into other apps and hardware now.
Will Apple continue to find itself in catch-up mode? Will Apple find its mojo again and be a key player in the IoT and virtual assistants?