digital assistant

Siri, Alexa, Google Now or Cortana?

There is a land rush happening in the market for digital assistants (DAs.) Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft each hope their product, either an app, a physical device, or a combination, will become your ‘go to’ assistant for all the niggling things you could use a little help with. Apple’s and Microsoft’s DAs are phone based, and Amazon’s and Google’s are free standing.

A quick primer – Microsoft’s Cortana comes on Windows phones, Siri is on iPhones, Alexa is Amazon’s stand-alone digital assistant, and Google Assistant is a stand-alone DA.

Siri, introduced five years ago, was the first digital assistant but many just didn’t take to her. Alexa, Amazon’s more recent offering, has been a runaway success. Alexa is a free standing Bluetooth speaker for your home or office. It is easy to set up. Cortana was introduced by Microsoft for Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 10 in 2014. Google Assistant is a free standing Bluetooth speaker like Alexa.

What do they all do? All the above-mentioned digital assistants will tell you (bad) jokes, give you the weather for any location you want, play music, and answer trivia questions. Alexa will also purchase anything you ask her to from Amazon if you are a Prime member.

Like most gadgets, it can take a while to integrate new tech devices into our lives. Once we allow them in, we often wonder what we ever did without them. I confess that I’ve had Siri on my iPhone since she was introduced five years ago by Apple. I have ignored her for 4.95 years. Until last week, actually, when a friend introduced me to Siri’s ability to send a text for me while I am driving. How convenient! I have used that feature many times since I learned about it, but I still do not use Siri for anything else. Here are some of Siri’s skills that are wasting away in my iPhone, but other users find very useful.

Digital assistant, Siri

Siri works on MacOS Sierra, iPads, and the iPhone. She will play music for you, she will give you directions, she will remind you to do something, read aloud anything you ask her to find, and more. Siri cannot manage home appliances at this point, and she cannot be used on Android phones. Siri is included with an iPhone.

Digital Assistant, Alexa

Alexa, a cylindrical speaker, works with Amazon’s Fire line of devices and has a stand-alone app that works with iOS and Android. It will connect to a smartphone, tablet or any other mobile device, regardless of operating system or brand. It will be your personal assistant: create to-do lists, keep a running grocery list for you, act as a timer, get the weather, answer trivia questions and tell you a joke. It can also become your single home controller: manage light bulbs, Nest thermostats, smart switches, laptops, TVs, home cinemas, and more. Best of all, you can ask Alexa to order anything from Amazon or Domino’s Pizza.  She is also able to summon an Uber. Coming soon, Alexa will pair up with Orange Chef for cooking, with Sonos speakers and with Scout Alarm, a security system. Alexa costs $130.00 and is easy to set up.

Digital Assistant, Cortana

Cortana works on Windows Phones, Windows Desktop and Xbox. You can also install the Cortana app on iOS or Android devices. Cortana uses the Bing search engine to provide answers to questions. (If you prefer a different search engine that might not make you happy.) Cortana is great at managing your calendar, will read anything written on the web aloud to you, and tell jokes or answer questions. Cortana is included with a Windows phone.

Digital Assistant, Google Assistant

Google Assistant is a standalone device that activates when you say its name. Like Alexa you can ask it questions, play media, and control smart devices in your house. Google Assistant outpaces Alexa because it has a much larger user database from Gmail and Google Calendar. Google Assistant can connect to your Google account, access your Gmail, set alarms, check the weather, set reminders, send messages, give directions, and find places to eat and make reservations. $129.00.

So which DA is the best? This is a case where “best” is truly in the eye of the beholder. What mobile phone, tablet, or computer system do you prefer? Do you want your DA to manage other smart devices such as lighting or home alarm systems? And which of these products will add a killer capability sometime soon? As always with new tech gadgets, will the assistance that these DAs provide be worth the upfront investment of time required to learn to use them? So far, I have found that there are specific functions, such as voice-to-text, that I find useful, but no one of these assistants is a life changer. Where is Radar when I need him?