The future, as told by Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri: giving your fingers a rest
LOS ANGELES — Typing is so yesterday. Why write it when you can say it?
This week we turned our attention to a different way of talking — to our phones and home speakers. And if Google’s any guide, that will be the story (digitally synthesized in a computer’s best dulcet tones) for the next months and probably, years.
The Google Assistant, the tech giant’s answer to digital assistants Siri and Alexa, came to the iPhone and really showed up both Apple and Amazon with better, chattier results.
Meanwhile, Google Home, the $129 speaker that promises answers to hard-core queries while also acting as an audio remote control for playing music and TV shows, announced a new, coming skill. Later this year, you’ ll be able to make phone calls to landlines and mobile phones via Google Home. This follows Amazon’s lead with its Amazon Echo, which could already make phone calls.
Google made these announcements at its I/O developer conference, where it touted cool things Google had in store to whet the appetites of developers. They are the people who create the apps that appear on Android phones and tablets and skills (Google calls them “services”) for Home and the Assistant.
Here’s a discovery: The digital assistants these coders are trying to make more human don’t act the same when they hop from device to device.
The difference between Google’s Home (the speaker) and its Assistant on the iPhone is maddening, we found in tests this week .
For instance, we asked Google Assistant on the iPhone to send a text to this reporter’s wife. It composed it, and offered us a check mark to send it off. But when the question was posed to Home, Google Assistant said, “I can’ t send texts yet.”
What Google Assistant could do well on both iPhone and Home speaker is tell us about our next flight, make dinner reservations via Open Table, announce movie showtimes and of course, do some hard-core math like 21% of $3,456. ($725.76, in case you were wondering.)
In our A/B/C tests, Assistant and Apple’s Siri could both send out texts, but Siri could open up Apple apps on the iPhone (which Google couldn’t do) . What Siri couldn’t do was show me a picture of my Mom on the iPhone—Assistant could, via the Google Photos app. (The best Siri could do–display photos of Judy Garland when we asked, many times over, for Judy Graham.)
Alexa and Siri couldn’t translate “Hello” in Korean or French audio—but Assistant could. Amazon’s Alexa had more games and skills than either.
After doing these A/B/C tests (hear it for yourself on this podcast) we’ re feeling good about Google’s superiority in voice computing—on the phone, but not on the speaker.
The bottom line: assistants are way better on the phone than on speaker devices, thanks to visuals. Which makes us salivate for Amazon’s new Echo Show, coming in June, with a video screen.
The highlight of the I/O was the demo showing Google Assistant results beamed to the TV. Want to know the weather? Here’s a 5-day visual. What’s a good local restaurant? Here are several of them, complete with ratings and reviews.
So we can only imagine how the video screen could bring Alexa to the next level.
Even if you can’ t fathom it today, we will all be using our digital assistants in so many different ways in the coming years. So you better get used to barking orders to your phone.
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