If there is one aspect of voice control/personal assistants that really stood out in terms of announcements, it was the number of companies now supporting Amazon Alexa.
This is a world where the major players are Amazon Echo/Alexa, Apple HomeKit/Siri, and newer, less talked about, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s new initiative, simply named – Google. There are also a number of smaller companies trying to establish themselves with their own voice systems. I think though, with these big players all vying for attention, the little guys are going to have to come up with a far more intuitive voice control system than anything we’ve seen so far.
Apple is encouraging companies to make their product meet HomeKit standards which offers some real pluses, Amazon’s Alexa is more about easy interfacing to others standards. In other words, it’s relatively easy to for companies to work with Alexa, compared to Siri.
As those of you who follow our site know, I’ve got products from at least a dozen companies running in our “dream home” project (my house) that I can talk to through Alexa. That’s probably 3X the number that respond to Siri, although some/many of those companies are committed to supporting HomeKit right now.
Both, for example, work with Lutron’s Casseta’ which uses a proprietary system. I have 8 assorted Lutron dimmers and switches, and several of their remote control switches (very cool). Both Personal Assistants work great with Lutron. On the other hand, the WeMo products from Belkin ar easily controlled by Alexa, but do not support Siri.
What I noticed at this show, however, was that a number of big league players have added Alexa support, including big name “old school” (aka expensive) home automation companies such as Crestron (missing from this year’s CEDIA) and Control 4. Add to that Savant. LeGrand systems can be controlled by Alexa, though the SmartThings hub. Of course we’ve long ago reported that Philips Hue, and LIFX’s lights, SmartThing’s and Wink’s (Z-Wave/Wifi, etc.) hubs can be controlled by Alexa. A goodly number of other companies, large and small – some old school, some newer, crowdsourced companies, were proudly announcing Alexa compatibility.
On the Apple Siri side, Crestron has long been supporting Siri, but no direct support yet from Control4 (there is a HomeBridge work around, I believe, but I’ve never tried it). For lighting Philips Hue is a yes, LIFX says they are committed with future products, but not their current smart lights. Osram Sylvania’s Lightify lights, another yes if you use their bridge, but not if you use the WeMo one which also works with Lightify. For testing purposes, I have some Lightify lights using each.
My impression is that Apple has the clout to be highly successful running your house, despite the slower start in terms of products. Their success, of course, will be due, in part, to having an incredibly loyal base. So while Siri is (pretty) sure to be a big success in penetrating and controlling people’s homes, it’s starting to look, right now, that Alexa is the 800 pound Gorilla (no offense to the noble gorilla), when it comes to voice control of your Smart Home. Barring a major screw up, Alexa will be a dominant player for at least the near future. 2025? Who knows.
From a practical standpoint, I have an Amazon Echo in my home theater, and I placed one of their Dots where our kitchen opens into a large living room, plus we have one Amazon voice remote.
I use Alexa more than Siri, simply because Siri can only control about 1/3 or so of my devices, while pretty much all of them can be controlled by Alexa either directly or through my SmartThings hub. I tend to use Siri primarily in parts of the house where my Amazon products are just too far away. That includes a number of bedrooms, my testing room, and a small office. I also can’t “reach” Alexa from much of my living room unless I really shout, which is rude! In our house, to really cover it all with Alexa, I would need 9 or 10 Alexa devices to speak to, plus two for the outside (nothing waterproof yet that I’m aware of).
On the other hand, while I don’t own an Apple Watch to control Siri, my iPhone is always on me. So, for example I can adjust my Lutron and Lightify outside lighting with Siri, without going inside. Since my phone is in my pocket normally, I do have to pull it out to “Hey Siri” or hold down the button to activate Siri. Still that beats having to walk to a different room. I haven’t yet put a Dot in the bedroom, I can Hey Siri my iPhone charging on the stand next to the bed, if I remember something I need to adjust before hitting the sack!
In other words, Amazon needs perhaps some additional Alexa devices, theirs, or third parties, to handle outdoors, and additional room in most people’s homes. Personally, I plan to add at least one more Dot, to fully cover my living room.
Security, is of course an issue. With Alexa, there’s always the possibility of a weak link in terms of hacking, for example SmartThings had an issue earlier this year, that was, of course, patched.
Apple, on the other hand also has a particular weak spot, and that is their lack of support from several of the major Z-Wave hubs out there, such as Samsung’s SmarThings which I’m using and reviewing, and the WINK hub which Dave just reviewed, after owning it for more than a year. WINK says they are following developments, but have not committed to HomeKit. One major hub maker, though, is supporting HomeKit Siri, that is SmartHome’s Insteon’s hub (one of the better known ones), which controls devices using own proprietary “protocol, as well as Z-Wave, etc., SmartHome is not to be confused with us – SmarterHomeAutomation – different folks. They are, however located less than 15 miles away from us, just up the freeway. Their hub may possibly gain a lot of traction from folks choosing a hub, simply because they are the ones supporting Apple.
On the plus side, with Apple, improved security is one of the things they are apparently demanding from partners. So, much like iPhones being considered far more secure than Android phones in general, the same could prove true of Siri vs Alexa, in terms of home security. A last thought, re Apple Siri. A few months ago, Apple introduced a new developer kit (at WWDC I think), that will likely make it easier for companies to offer HomeKit compatible products. That’s just general speculation, time will tell.
Interestingly, Amazon had a booth at CEDIA just for Alexa. I didn’t notice any other presence for Amazon there other than signs of support for Alexa in other companies’ booths. Also though, an Amazon exec – Charlie Kindel – did Friday’s keynote speech (which I missed, sorry). I wanted to check out Amazon’s booth, but it wasn’t a very large booth, and it was packed every time I walked by.
It certainly looks right now, that Alexa and Siri are dominating voice control, but Amazon is way out in front in terms of the number of devices controlled. Apple, of course, never seems to worry about being first, rather they are more about getting it right. Apple, this time, though, really has it’s work cut out to not let Amazon pull too far out in front. That I and some other Apple fans use both, should worry the Apple folks at least a little. Of course the Kindle came out long before the iPad, so, “ya never know!”
Two different approaches, an uncertain outcome, but both Alexa and Siri are likely to be the dominating players when it comes to controlling our homes, no matter what it is we want to control.
BTW we aren’t writing off Microsoft, Google or some smaller companies’ voice control/personal assistants. We will cover any of them that look to be able to capture at least a small slice of the voice controlled smart home pie.
Look for more updates relating to voice control and personal assistants as that market continues to grow. Alexa, turn off the theater lights! Siri, set the thermostat to 70 degrees! Ah, it’s so easy with voice control. Just remember, these assistants are about controlling the devices. Setting up your devices, though, is still a matter of using Apps.