Alexa meets Siri, starts platonic relationship
It is fair to say that Amazon’s Alexa has been a success. Intelligent speakers are proliferating following that accomplishment and third parties are building Alexa into other devices, including car manufacturers such as Volkswagen and Ford. Third party outfits such as Lenovo are building Alexa-capable speakers and LG is even producing a high-tech Alexa fridge. If you are a technophobe, now is the time to chill out.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s direct competitors have not been standing still. Google has Google Home, Microsoft is working on its Cortana platform and Apple is tipped to announce an intelligent Siri speaker next week.
At first I thought the Amazon Echo was a bit of a gimmick, but I have a couple — a full-size Echo and a speakerless Dot — and find them incredibly useful. I wrote about this a few months ago shortly after the parcel arrived from Amazon. The Echo in my bedroom gets most use — “Alexa, what time is it?, Alexa, wake me at 8.30 am, Alexa, remind me to buy a new toothbrush, Alexa, play some music”. In the time you are thinking about finding a pen and paper or getting out the smartphone, your wishes are communicated without spoiling the flow of thoughts.
As a fully paid-up member of the Apple ecosystem, though, I still find Alexa bit of an outlier. Her reminders, for instance, synchronise only with the Alexa app, Todoist and Anydo, a web-based app. So I have to open Todoist (which I don’t otherwise use) when I see a pending item and transfer it physically to my current task manager, Things. With Apple’s Siri, however, I can get reminders to transfer automatically to Things via Apple Reminders.
The reason for this lack of cross-assistant compatibility is pure cussedness, I am sure. Amazon didn’t want to make it too easy for Apple users in the hope that they would defect to non-Apple applications and services. Apple does the same by restricting Siri to Apple apps such as Reminders and Calendar. But this reserve is showing signs of crumbling. With a Siri speaker just around the corner, Amazon and Alexa have to look to their laurels. The billion Apple users around the world might well not buy Amazon speakers in the future when they can get something that integrates closely with their chosen ecosystem. I will certainly want to move to Apple and Siri unless Amazon starts up some serious cooperation.
For now, the first crack in the speaker firewall is Amazon’s decision today to permit linking to Apple Calendar. I can now add appointments by voice whenever I am near the Echo or Dot. I still cannot add reminders, but watch this space.
Voice interaction with intelligent devices is still in its infancy but Alexa, even more so than Siri, the pioneer, has shown the way. What we need now is a sensible approach to cross-platform cooperation.
[By coincidence, this article appeared several hours before the start of the Apple World Wide Developers' Conference where further Apple/Amazon cooperation was announced. About time, too...]