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Siri vs. Alexa: Taking Measure Of Apple And Amazon's Living Room Smart Home Strategies

Mike Wolf Alexa Amazon Apple Apple TV Fire TV Siri

 

One of the more interesting battles in the smart home is how companies plan to leverage their position in the living room as part of their broader smart home vision.

Apple and Amazon both clearly see their footholds here as important ones, with each company, to varying degrees, starting to lay out arguments (from a technology, if not positioning, perspective) for why their TV boxes could conceivably make for very capable smart home hubs.

For Apple's part, the new Apple TV has largely been positioned as a TV-first proposition, at least to this point. Perhaps they learned a lesson from Microsoft's rollout of the Xbox One, one of the more confused messes in terms of market positioning as there has been in recent history (Is it a game console? A futuristic set-top? What is Kinect again?).  Despite the initial foot forward by Apple here, make no mistake, the Apple TV has all the technical underpinnings to be a really interesting smart home device with HomeKit integration, Siri and more. But, as with all things Apple and smart home, the vision will be rolled slowly and deliberately. 

In the Fire TV, Amazon has an interesting device, but one that is almost an afterthought compared to another device in their smart home arsenal, the Echo. But let's call the Echo what it is: a clever vessel for Alexa and a smart home connection layer for it's own storefront, third party services and connected devices in the home. Fire TV has really been positioned fairly straightforward, as a low-cost streamer and Amazon Video storefront. (Interesting side note: Echo and Fire TV were developed by the same hardware team at Lab 126, but the Fire TV used a third party voice control technology, while the Echo used Amazon's own technology in Alexa - built with a combination of acquisition and internal development - for the Echo).

But now, with this week's news that Fire TV's latest OS uses Alexa, it makes things a bit more interesting.  Next to the arrival of apps, the possibility of what you could do with Siri has always been the most intriguing thing about the new Apple TV, and now with Alexa heading to Fire TV, it puts these devices on par in terms of voice control and virtual assistant technology.

In the end, however, I still sense some reticence from both companies when it comes to smart home. Apple is definitely smart home curious, but I'm not entirely sure there's complete buy in. All of it feels almost like a hedge. With Amazon, I think the buy in is there, but as you'd expect from the western world's biggest e-commerce site, every strategy here is measured against how much they can increase the total spend through things like Amazon Prime, which naturally puts efforts like Dash Replenishment as a higher priority against less direct routes to monetization like adding smart home capabilities to its TV streamer.

Bottom line: 2016 will be an interesting year to watch how both companies flesh out their smart home vision in the living room. 

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  • TechPaul64 on

    Setting aside the lack of HomeKit compatible products, I’m beginning to think that Apple realizes they don’t quite have the experience with Siri control of connected devices quite where it needs to be. My experience with HomeKit products have left me feeling like the service isn’t quite fully baked. Mainly because there is a lot of hierarchy and naming to manage (without a centralized app) and getting Siri to execute a command relies on using very programic speech. So I could see Apple deciding that they need to focus on improving the core experience before expanding the interface to additional products like Apple TV. They don’t seem to be in a rush and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more Siri related acquisitions. I’d like to see Siri become more intelligent and able to interpret the variety of complex commands that are meant for HomeKit MFi hardware. Amazon on the other hand is getting rave reviews for echo and Alexa and perhaps that feedback coupled with Alexa’s ability to work with existing hardware (unlike HomeKit) has motivated the extension to fire tv. My guess is that we will still have these same questions for both companies for at least the next six months.

  • Michael Wolf on

    Wayne – nice to hear from you! I remember the old Home RF days still :)

    I think Apple is reticent, but they probably know the difficulty of transforming this market. Hence the slow rollout of their HomeKit efforts. I am not convinced their heart is in it, and hence the reason I call it a hedge.

    This is a ten year market transition, where incremental changes across core technology frameworks will adjust as market demands force them to, and ultimately manufacturers and associated partners transition business models around a service-centric framework that is foreign to them today.

    Lots of work to do, but like I said, incremental change will happen and in a decade, a variety of new use-cases centered around new suites of products from major companies will see fairly substantial adoption.

  • Wayne Caswell on

    I’ve seen no evidence of any company, including Apple or Amazon, truly understanding what it will take to make a mainstream market out of the Smart Home concept, which seems just as disjointed today as when RCA-Whirlpool demonstrated their Miracle Kitchen in 1957. Watch their demo and read my commentary at http://mhealthtalk.com/elusive-smart-home.


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