Welcome to our Smart Home discussion of Personal Assistant based home automation eco-systems
The two most, well known, geared for the mass market personal assistants developed at this time, are Amazon with their Alexa assistant, and Apple, with Siri. Microsoft and Google have joined the party more recently, so other than a couple quick mentions, and future articles, the focus will be on our A players – Apple HomeKit, and Amazon Echo.
Apple integrates HomeKit into it’s overall eco-system, so it differs in that it’s less open structure than the other three. There are, of course trade-offs which we will discuss here. (Think iOS vs Android, but only in some ways.)
Amazon with it’s Echo device (and Dot, and Remote…) with Alexa was definitely the first major personal assistant available with limited (beta) shipments going back over a year and a half. Basically Cortana and Google starting to play catch up. That’s not to say there haven’t been other solutions that could do some control by voice prior to Echo.
Personal Assistants and Home Automation - HomeKit/Siri and Echo/Alexa
I use both Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. They are similar in some ways, very different in others. Microsoft has launched Cortana, and Google is just getting going too, but I’ll concentrate on Apple and Amazon here.
HomeKit is Apples name for their home automation environment. Apple does not have a central piece of hardware. So far, it’s primary about using Siri to control products from 3rd parties.
You probably know this by now, but just in case; Echo is Amazon’s name for a device, which is the “hub” of their solution. Most folks think of it first, and formost, as a speaker system. Alexa is the name you speak for Amazon’s personal assistant. Echo like a wifi streaming stick, supports a lot of channels, music, news and so much more.
“Alexa what’s the news today” and it will default to reading you news from NPR, as one small example. Need movie listings or the weather? just ask. More and more capability will be added over time, of course.
BTW Apple Siri can do the same (with your Apple Watch, iPhone, etc), pulling from its own knowledge base, or you can ask it to search the web… but no central device yet, the equivalent to Echo. That may soon change, as back in late May (ahead of Apple’s big WWDC developer conference), all the Apple related publications were abuzz that Apple is planning a “speaker system” that will likely rival Echo in many ways (at least one rumor indicated it will also have a camera, hmm!)
But let’s stick to home automation and talk about the differences.
At this point Alexa can control far, far, more devices than Siri. Wondering why? Easy, Echo and Alexa behave – when it comes to home automation – much like an accessory – one that they work to “talk with” Z-wave and Zigbee hubs, Wifi devices, etc. They don’t demand much, just a basic communications between it (over Wifi) and those hubs and devices. And then a basic “script” it can recognize, such as “Turn on bedstead lamp” Dim, LIFX Living Room lights to 30%, or “Unlock the Front Door.” Nice, simple, it works. I like it.
Apple has taken a different approach, in terms of “who’s in charge” (For that reason, it will require a few extra paragraphs here.)
Apple of course is legend for their eco-system which makes phones, tablets, laptops desktops, watches, etc. work similarly, and inter-reacting with each other, to provide what is generally considered the most friendly environment around, especially for the least techie among us.