The sci-fi vision of a connected home is quickly becoming a reality: both Amazon and Google have launched smart assistants, with an Apple offering based on the company’s HomeKit system is rumoured to be on the way.
These products are designed to act as standalone hubs for your digital life. Voice activation systems allow users to ask questions, perform tasks control their IoT appliances, without even having to touch their phones.
We look at how the three major smart assistant products compare to each other, based on the information we’ve currently got. We'll be updating this article as and when we know more so please stay tuned...
09/05/2017: Amazon has unveiled today the Amazon Echo Show, a voice controlled AI with a screen. It is displayed on the US Amazon website for $229.99 and comes in black and white. It's now available for pre-orders and will officially release on 28 June 2017 in the US.
It includes Amazon's Alexa but is unique as it has a 7 inch screen where you can watch videos, security cameras, photos and more. Amazon has included hands free video calls to family and friends who have an Echo too, or those who have the Alexa app. There is also a new feature called "Drop In' which seems to be a fast video call, for example when you want to let your family know dinner is ready or check in with a relative.
There are Dual 2 inch Dolby speakers located on the bottom of the device.There are eight microphones on the Show so the device can hear you from any direction, apparently even when music is playing. Interestingly, if you have more than one Echo Show, Echo, or Echo Dot, Alexa will respond from the Echo you're closest to.
It's size is 187 mm x 187 mm x 90 mm, it weighs 1170 grams, has a 5mp camera, supports Bluetooth so you can connect the device to your Bluetooth speakers and has an Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor.
The Amazon Echo is powered by Alexa, an AI core built on AWS' cloud infrastructure. It’s essentially a voice-operated digital assistant, but thanks to machine learning algorithms, it’s designed to get smarter the more you use it, adapting to your vocabulary, speech patterns, and usage habits.
Google Now has been part of the company’s ecosystem for a while now, but it’s now been upgraded to become the Google assistant. Like Google Now, it works across the whole Google portfolio, including Android, ChromeOS and the new Google Home. It’s designed to respond in a natural, conversational manner to voice queries, and is also powered by cloud-based AI technology.
Apple was the first major company to introduce a digital assistant into its devices, with the launch of Siri. iPhone users can interact with their apps through Siri, and as of recent software upgrades, can also use Siri voice commands to control their Apple TV. This is what is rumoured to be underpinning Apple’s smart assistant product.
At the moment, Google Now is the most useful of the current crop, with a wide range of commands, tasks and integrations with various services. However, the sheer scale of AWS’ compute power means that the potential for Alexa to adapt to users’ habits and increase its skillset means it could be a more promising option in the long run.
The Amazon Echo is designed primarily as a connected speaker, and that’s what it looks like – a smooth black cylinder, with a speaker grille around the lower half. Accented by a snazzy ring of blue light around the top, the Echo looks sleek and professional, and would be at home in either an office or a bedroom.
The company also offers the Echo Dot, a smaller and more affordable version, lacking the inbuilt speaker seen in the full-size Echo. This is similarly small and unobtrusive and looks like what you'd get if somebody pulled off the top two inches of the Echo.
Google Home, as the name would suggest, appears much more domestic in its appeal. It’s shorter and fatter, with a rounded base and a slanted top. The base will be available in different colours and materials, so you’ll be able to customise it depending on your interior decorating tastes.
In its current incarnation, Apple’s HomeKit system is software only. However, rumours have indicated that at some point, Apple will be unveiling a dedicated hardware unit in the style of Amazon Echo and Google Home.
What form this hardware will take, if it exists at all, is still unknown. However, given Apple’s design pedigree, we’d expect it to knock both its competitors into a cocked hat from a purely visual standpoint.