In the past few years, personal assistants have become a pretty big deal. It started with Apple’s Siri being announced in 2011. At that time, it was a pretty revolutionary product, on the iPhone 4S. Siri allowed you to do things like set your alarm, ask questions about the weather, sports scores and much more. It was something we hadn’t really seen before. Two years later, Google brought us Google Now. It wasn’t quite what Siri was at the time, considering Siri was more of a voice-activated personal assistant, whereas Google Now was a visual personal assistant. Google Now brings in all sorts of information that you need or may need, into one place. Google Now is able to scan your email for things like package tracking, calendar events, travel information and much more. Over the years, both Google Now and Siri have evolved into becoming an integral part of their respective mobile operating system. In fact, Google Now has been renamed and upgraded to Google Assistant, which the company announced at their developer conference last week.
In 2014, a new competitor came. And it was from an unlikely source. Amazon. Although it wasn’t immediately a competitor to Google Now and Siri, Alexa has grown to become a huge competitor to these two personal assistants which are baked into the most popular mobile operating systems – Android and iOS. Alexa is slightly different than Google Now or Google Assistant and Siri, though. Alexa is built into a speaker (launched with the Amazon Echo, but now is available in the Amazon Tap and Echo Dot), and is voice-only – similar to Siri. Alexa isn’t limited to just Android or iOS either, which is arguably a big feature for Alexa. With Alexa, you can do everything that the Google Assistant and Siri can do, but more. Alexa is able to get you an Uber, with your voice. Alexa can also order you pizza from Dominos, again with your voice. Just to name a few things.
Google basically upgraded Google Now at Google I/O last week, to Google Assistant. The Google Assistant is built into a number of products that Google has coming this summer. Including Allo and Google Home. This new virtual assistant is a conversational assistant, according to Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai. During the keynote speech at Google I/O, there were demos using Google Assistant, which allows you to ask about your team’s score from last night’s game. And then follow that up with questions about a player on that team. Google Assistant knows you are taking about that specific player – even if you gave it just a first name – because it is conversational. Pichai said that they wanted “users to have an ongoing two-way dialog” with the Google Assistant.
That’s not all for Google Assistant either, it also works in Allo, the company’s newest messaging app. Google basically took a personal assistant and bots and rolled them into one product, which is Google Assistant. In Allo, users will be able to ask it questions – either typing or via voice – and get responses back. This includes asking things like “who directed Captain America: Civil War” and get an answer fairly quickly. Again this is conversational, so you could follow that up with “who starred in it?” and get a list of those that starred in that particular movie. The Google Assistant can also get you movie times and purchase tickets for you. Especially helpful if you’re in a rush and need to get tickets for the upcoming Central Intelligence movie before they are sold out.
With Siri and Alexa, they can’t do the majority of this, yet. Right now, Siri is just a personal assistant that can answer some questions and do a few simple tasks. Although that is likely to change in the very near future – we’re talking next month, at WWDC. Earlier this week, a report surfaced that Apple is looking to open up Siri to third-party developers and create their own Siri-powered speaker. The bigger news there is that they want to open Siri up for third-party developers. Since Siri debuted in 2011, it has been closed, and only Apple could add features to Siri. And that was arguably a big downfall for Apple. And by opening it up – of course, we have zero details on this right now – Apple could add in all sorts of functionality. Where the big thing in Silicon Valley right now is bots, we wouldn’t be surprised to see bots available to work with Siri. Ones that could buy movie tickets, order flowers from a nearby florist, and much more. Something that Facebook and Microsoft announced at their own developer conferences earlier this year. But as for now, Siri is still fairly limited. Which shows how behind Apple is, in the world of artificial intelligence.
Alexa, on the other hand, maybe be ahead of Google Assistant in some areas. For one, Alexa is actually available. The Google Assistant won’t be available until later this summer, according to Google. Alexa also already has a slew of integrations with companies like Uber, Dominos, Philips, Belkin, IFTTT just to name a few. Google has a few integrations, but not many. One thing that they did mention is that Google Home – which has Google Assistant built in – will work with Nest. Not that surprising, given the fact that Google owns Nest. Alexa shares a lot of features with the Google Assistant, and it’s going to be interesting to see how Amazon continues to evolve Alexa over the next few months and years.
The Google Assistant isn’t a huge change from what we have now with Google Now. Although it is a bit smarter. Arguably its biggest feature is the fact that it is integrated into Google Home, which is going to act as a bridge for everything that is connected in your home – almost replacing your Google OnHub router. Google has always prided themselves on their place in the world of A.I. or Artificial Intelligence, and Google Assistant is a prime example of just where they are in that world. Right now, there’s not a whole lot known about the Google Assistant, but it does seem that Google may bring it to other platforms in some form. As it looks like Google wants this to be the back-bone for all of the services you use in the Google ecosystem.
Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant are all made for different users and different platforms. However, it is nice to finally see these personal assistants begin to evolve more now. When they first launched, they were seen as more of a joke, than a serious feature. Especially Siri and Google Now in the early days. Many would brag about how they could talk to their phone and it would tell them the weather, or the score from last night’s game, and even the age of the President of the United States, among other things. Now, years later, these personal assistants are beginning to get a lot more personal. Something that has needed to happen for quite some time. The only company left out right now, is Microsoft. While they do have Cortana, it definitely isn’t on the same level as Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri.