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Google Home vs Amazon Echo vs Apple HomePod: Amazon Echo Show offers Drop In snooping

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 Siri was announced at WWDC 2017.

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...

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28/06/2017: The Amazon Echo Show could offer friends and family a little more than they bargained for, with the Drop In feature that allows people you know to watch what you're doing as and when they like.

However, Amazon will give you a bit of warning, blurring you out for ten seconds before you must decide whether to ignore the call, disable the camera or accept - if you're not doing anything too dodgy at the time.

Unsurprisingly, this has triggered privacy concerns, although you will have to turn it on from the settings menu of the touchscreen speaker-come-smart home device because it's turned off by default.

You can also pre-approve those who are allowed to just 'drop in', so it could be wise to limit the people who can watch you while you're showering, getting dressed or doing anything else private to those that know you best (and maybe not your mum, either).

"Drop In is an optional feature for Alexa customers to enable and use," an Amazon spokesperson told CNBC. "If customers decide to enable it, they have the option to turn on Do Not Disturb on one, or all, of their devices, which will block calls and messages from coming in. Customers will know when they are in a Drop In call as they will first hear a 'chime' and the green light on their Echo device will rotate throughout the call"

The company added Drop In could be useful to use as an intercom in a household, for example, to check in on an elderly relative, or to monitor a child being babysat if the parents are out for the evening.

26/06/2017: Google beats Amazon in home assistant trivia

Google Home is better at trivia than Amazon's Alexa, according to a competition between the two voice assistants run by marketing firm 360i. 

The New York agency developed its own software to pit the two AI-backed helpers against each other in a battle of their wits, asking each 3,000 unique questions. Google Home ran away with the competition, getting the correct answer six times more frequently than Amazon's Alexa, according to a report in AdWeek.

It's unclear whether Alexa was tripped up by its requirement to install "skills" before some questions can be asked, or if Home simply does better with search queries thanks to Google's rather extensive background in the subject. 

The results may lead trivia hungry smart assistant shoppers to favour Home, but so far Amazon's Echo leads the real battle: sales. Marketing research suggests 70% of smarGt assistant speakers will use Alexa in 2017, not Google Home or Apple HomePod. 

08/06/2017: Get live UK general election results through Alexa

Britain goes to the polls today to choose a new government to navigate the challenges ahead. Rather than staying glued to Jeremy Vine's graphic visualisations on election night, however, Amazon Echo owners can simply ask Alexa for an update.

Amazon's voice assistant will be able to provide a rundown of current polling information, as well as a summary of opinion polls, news and information on the major political parties and their respective leaders.

Users can also ask general questions about the election, such as who is eligible to vote and who can call a general election, as well as asking for the latest news and headlines surrounding the campaign.

When asked by the Independent if the information would come from Amazon internally or from third-party sources, the company said that the polling data "is part of Alexa's knowledge graph".

Once the ballots close, users will be able to receive live information on the results as they come in, including the results in specific regions, current seat totals for each party and the current overall winner.

Operating system

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.

iPhone 7 Siri iOS 9

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 underpins Apple’s HomePod, allowing users to ask questions, control music playback and interact with HomeKit devices.

At the moment, the Google Assistant is the most useful of the current crop, with a wide range of commands, tasks and integrations with various services. It also understands context, meaning you can string consecutive requests together. However, it loses points for its speech engine, which doesn't sound quite as smooth and fluid as Alexa.

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