Could Alexa and Siri Work Together?

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Apple is very rarely the FIRST mover in tech.

Usually, they come to the market with a refined version of existing technology, and crowd out the existing competitors with their high-end design (and the loyal fans in the Apple ecosystem.)

Siri was a bit of an exception. 
(NOTE: I started this post last week - before WWDC. It's clear Amazon and Apple are going to be frenemies moving forward, instead of straight-up enemies... but they're going to be competing in the connected speaker space head-on.)

The iPod wasn't the first MP3 player.

But who bought an Archos Jukebox after they'd seen what the iPod could do?

The iPhone certainly wasn't the first cellphone, and it wasn't the first smartphone. It was a total disruptor, and a major step forward (a phone with no buttons?) - and within a few years, the idea of a BlackBerry or a Palm Pilot seemed quaint. 

Apple enters a nascent market, offers a product with improved design and clarity of purpose - demonstrates how that product works in its already-existing ecosystem, and then dominates that market.  

With Siri, we've seen that story work in reverse.

Apple moved first.... and then its competitors entered the market, caught up to Siri, and passed it. 

Now, I'm not going to get into the relative virtues of the voice assistants on the market. Siri and Cortana and Alexa and Google Assistant all try to do different things, with varying degrees of success. 

(And even Apple fanboys are getting a bit tired of Siri in that regard.)

In this post, we're discussing how those voice assistants are packaged and used - and how they can - and will - interface with home automation.

Separately, or side-by-side. 

Siri vs. Alexa

Apple was the first tech giant to bring a voice assistant to market.

But Amazon's Alexa refined and built upon Apple's idea, sold a concept that was easier to use and simpler to understand - and has easily overtaken Siri in the hearts and minds of consumers. 

(Google Assistant has, too - but objectively, Amazon has captured the public imagination here.)

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant both have one major advantage - they "reside" on dedicated devices - networked speakers. 

Amazon's Echo is where Alexa "lives".

In practice, this means that Alexa is everywhere in your house - the user feels "surrounded" by Alexa. 

Just speak out loud, and receive an answer.  

Alexa isn't bound to any specific gadget -- if you want to extend Alexa's range, just add more Echo speakers. They all work together. 

Siri.... for the most part, still lives in our iPhones. 

If I want to ask Siri a question, I have to get my phone out, and go through some steps.

And at that point, it's usually quicker and easier to just type my question into Google.

Where home automation is concerned, phone-free voice control is a MUCH better solution than relying on an iOS app, or a phone-based voice assistant.

It just is.

My iPhone is usually on my person... but not always. 

If I want to turn out the lights in the basement, I don't want to rely on finding my iPhone. I don't even want to have to get my iPhone out of my pocket.

I want to yell "TURN OFF THE BASEMENT LIGHTS", and have it happen.

With Alexa voice-based home automation, that is possible.

Apple can't compete with that. 

However, there are encouraging trends on the horizon.

First, the warming relationship between Amazon and Apple, and the potential for cross-collaboration. 

Secondly, the Apple HomePod, which will bring Siri out of her iPhone-shaped prison. 

And third, we've seen new devices which are compatible with both HomeKit AND Alexa.  

Amazon and Apple

As we all saw on Monday, Amazon will be releasing a tvOS app for Amazon Prime Video - and even including its programming in Apple's TV app.

This is a win-win for Amazon and Apple. 

Amazon is making great content, and if that content is available to more people, some of those people will become Prime subscribers - which will help Amazon sell more physical products.   

As for Apple - they finally close a major gap in the content available on Apple TV.  

And I imagine that they'll sell some Apple TVs on Amazon, to boot. 

More news on the detente between Amazon and Cupertino - Alexa has been updated to allow iCloud Calendar integration

Moving forward, our Alexa devices will be able to alert us to upcoming appointments, and create new appointments on the family calendar via voice input. 

This was unexpected, especially given the announcement of....

The HomePod

Apple and Amazon made nice with the video content... and in the very same keynote, Apple announced their broadside attack on the Echo/Alexa ecosystem. 

HomePod is, basically, a Sonos PLAY:1 with voice control for Apple services.

iCloud Calendar integration would seem to be a pretty decent differentiator for the HomePod. 

The fact that Alexa will have the same capability demonstrates that Apple and Amazon are rowing in the same direction (at least more than previously.)

The HomePod is an acknowledgement by Apple that whole-home voice control is here to stay.

I expect the HomePod to do a LOT of the same things as our Echo devices - albeit with a focus on music, a prettier package, and Sonos-quality speakers. 

But the idea is the same - Siri becomes an always-on voice assistant. 

HomePod is music-focused, but just as important is the ability to control HomeKit devices. 

EcoBee 4 - HomeKit AND Alexa! 

We have been extremely happy with our Nest thermostat.

However, if you're a Nest household, you're NOT an Apple HomeKit household -- Nest is Google, and Google will not play nicely with Apple.

So, we'd been looking at the EcoBee 3- generally considered to be the best of the HomeKit-compatible thermostats.

EcoBee 4 recently launched, and like the EcoBee 3, it's HomeKit compatible.

The big update this time around - it's an Echo/Alexa device.

The EcoBee 4 has a built-in speaker and microphone - you can control it directly by voice, or through any other Echo/Alexa device by voice.

It can also perform Alexa's other functions -- answering general questions, and so on.

BUT... it's also HomeKit compatible. It can be controlled via the Home app -- and presumably, by voice through a HomePod.

I'm really curious about how this will work in practice. If I have a few HomePods, in my kitchen, I expect that I can tell Siri to turn up the thermostat, and the EcoBee 4 will respond.

I can ALSO tell Alexa to turn up the thermostat - through any Echo Dot I may have, or by directly saying "Alexa" to the thermostat itself -- and the EcoBee 4 will respond.

The EcoBee 4 will NOT respond directly to "Hey Siri", though. It will only answer to "Alexa..."

So for HomeKit - Siri - HomePod households... if we have an EcoBee thermostat, we're going to have Alexa in our lives, one way or another.

I expect this trend to continue -- HomeKit compatible devices, with Alexa control as an added bonus. Because... why not? Alexa control, Siri control - and Google / Nest waiting on the sidelines.

It's already a bit confusing, and it will likely get more confusing before this entire voice assistant / home automation format war plays out.

But it's better than the pre-WWDC status quo, which was "no real HomeKit devices, and Alexa running circles around Siri."

(I'm a bit worried about Sonos' future, though.)

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