Language Assistants: Siri, Alexa and Co.
Turn on the washing machine while cooking or play your favourite playlist? Smart speakers literally listen to the word. iStock.com/Daisy-Daisy
Isabel was not sure: Is a language assistant useful? Will I be overheard by him? But curiosity prevailed. Now she shares her personal experiences with us. Isabel tested Siri, Alexa & Co. for us.
We have been operating light switches for about 135 years. Nobody – not even Isabel – has ever got tired of them. Nevertheless, she was tempted by the idea of using a speech assistant to control her light sources. This is now possible from the comfort of the sofa, but also, for example, on cold winter days without having to get out of bed. And it’s not just the lights that can now be controlled smartly: coffee machines, suction robots and heaters now also respond to calls. If you like, you can even lock your electric door lock by voice. Even though Isabel initially had reservations about data protection, she dared to take the step into the age of the smart speaker. But first the question had to be clarified: Which voice assistant is right for her?
Which language assistant is right for me?
Isabel has been an Apple user from the very beginning. She has trusted the tech-aesthet from Cupertino with her laptop for more than ten years. When she held her first iPhone in her hand in 2011, at that time the iPhone 4s, Siri became an integral part of the Apple cosmos for the first time. Since then, Isabel has followed the development of the language assistants with great interest – Google and Amazon now also offer their own language assistants. Microsoft with Cortana and Samsung with Bixby also offer voice assistants. However, Isabel quickly realised that Cortana and Bixby cannot keep up with the three big top dogs.
Her best friend Daniel, on the other hand, is on fire for his Alexa. He bought the Smart Speaker Amazon Echo Dot 3 a year ago and since then has been controlling many everyday situations with his voice. “It sounds funny, I know, but it’s actually reassuring when I can still talk to someone in the evening when I fall asleep,” he confesses somewhat embarrassed. But in fact, he appreciates Alexas humor the most – Amazon’s language assistant can learn to tell jokes through a skill selection. Daniel also likes the wake-up function, likes to have an overview of the daily news while brushing his teeth in the morning and asks Alexa to play his pasta playlist while cooking. He may have called his last crush by mistake once, but at least that led to a spontaneous date.
If you already live digitally in the Google universe, then logically the best way is to use its assistants. The software accesses the search engine giant’s comprehensive database and is therefore ideally informed about the life of its user. With the Google Home speaker, you can plan your daily routine, select a movie via streaming service or operate the intercom. To control the vacuum cleaner robot or a cooking thermometer all you need is an “Okay, Google”. According to a report by the US investment company Loup Ventures, the Google Assistant scored best among its competitors: 88 percent of all questions and commands were correctly answered and executed by the Internet company’s assistant.
The Google Assistant moves into your home with Google Home Mini from 50 GBP.
Apple’s language assistant works similarly to those of the competition, but has a unique selling point. As Siri has been deeply integrated into the IOS operating systems, it enables flawless operation of the corresponding Apple HomeKit devices. It is also possible to create so-called scenes with Siri. For this purpose, certain actions are linked together and assigned to a higher-level voice command. When called “Siri, movie night”, Siri can, for example, dim the lamps, bring the thermostats to a comfortable temperature and, thanks to smart sockets, activate the kettle for a cup of tea or the popcorn machine. The more up-to-date the operating system of your Apple device, the more Siri can do for you.
Siri already found its way into the everyday life of all Apple fans in 2011 with the iPhone 4s. Apple HomeKit can be used with iOS 8.1 or newer operating systems. The smart speaker counterpart Apple HomePod is available from 329 GBP.
In factory condition Alexa only answers simple questions: When is sunset? How will the weather be tomorrow? However, if you connect Amazon’s language assistant with your contacts, music accounts, a calendar or even the smart microwave, the virtual assistant unfolds its full capabilities – from shopping lists to waking up in the morning with your favorite song bin to warmed lasagna in time for lunch. With the so-called Alexa Skills, apps for the speech software, you can also create a function package tailored to your needs. You choose from more than 50,000 skills that Alexa should be able to master: whether telling jokes, checking the pollen count or reciting the recipe for a pina colada. In addition, there are currently over 20,000 devices that can be controlled via Alexa’s smart speaker series Echo Dot.
The Amazon Echo Dot 3 is available from 50 GBP.
Siri provides party atmosphere and a warm apartment
But Isabel demands Siri more than Daniel demands his Alexa. Practically speaking, she doesn’t need to buy a Smart Speaker because everything works on her iPhone and MacBook – both are up to date and therefore meet the standards for Apple HomeKit products. “At the moment I’m making love with the HomePod because I don’t have a sound system. The many positive reviews on the sound and the Apple HomeKit compatibility have made me want to use the speaker. It would also allow me to control my HomeKit products remotely,” says Isabel.
But Isabel mainly uses Siri for everyday tasks. She equipped her home with a control unit for lighting elements. “With it, I can adjust my lamps individually, design lighting groups and control everything conveniently by voice,” reports Isabel enthusiastically. Isabel Siri is also responsible for switching lights on and off, dimming and changing from warm to cold light. She becomes her own light choreographer: “When I come home, I call: ‘Hey Siri, I’m home’. Then the indirect lighting switches on. So when I come home, I have exactly the brightness I want.” With a “Hey Siri, good night” all the lights in her apartment turn off again. And when Isabel says “Hey Siri, activate the scene ‘party'”, her disco ball also turns.
Isabel now also controls her heating with Siri. The smart radiator thermostats recognise when Isabel is at home and then switch themselves on. Isabel is also considering buying an Apple HomePod: “It would be even more comfortable. I could use it to preheat the apartment on the way home from work. Then I’d have a warm place to stay and save on heating costs during the day.
Language assistants as practical household helpers?
When Isabel’s washing machine gives up the ghost, she also checks appliances with smart functions. Apple doesn’t offer HomeKit partners yet, but her eye falls on a washing machine that can be controlled with Amazon’s Alexa – just like an oven and a dishwasher. Here you could activate the program selection and start time with just one announcement. But does this really save her time? She still has to put the laundry into the drum herself. And the cake must also be mixed and put into a mould before it can be baked in the oven. Isabel talks to a friend Martina, who lives with her partner and two children in a two-storey apartment building. “Then I wouldn’t always have to climb all the stairs down to the cellar when the last member of the family has finally put his clothes in the washing machine. I imagine it would be practical if I could comfortably ask Alexa from the study to start the 90-degree cotton wash cycle,” says Martina.
Siris product categories
- Air conditioning
- Air purifier
- Security Systems
- Garage doors
- Lawn sprinklers
Alexas Product Categories
- Lighting and sockets
- Heating and cooling
- kitchen and household appliances
Google Assistants Product Categories
- Lamps, lights and light switches
- Home appliances
- WLAN thermostats and room air conditioners
- Smart locks and doorbells
- Security camera
- Security systems and alarm systems
- WLAN sockets
- Streaming services
But despite the relief in the household Martina is sceptical. “I believe I would feel constantly eavesdropped. Who can guarantee me that there won’t be constant recording?”
Security: Are Siri, Alexa & Co. really listening in?
Isabel also had concerns at first that Siri was listening in. “There was even a phase when I had consistently disabled Siri on all my Apple devices.” She informed herself and came to a conclusion she can live with: “The speech assistants’ microphones listen all the time, but they don’t record anything, they only listen to my cue. Then the recording of voice commands begins.” With Daniels Alexa, for example, you can see this from the shining blue ring. If Alexa sometimes thinks it’s too strange, he switches off all the microphones in the Echo Dot 3 – via voice command or manually by pressing a button. “Siri knows nothing more about me than my payback card. Especially when shopping and surfing the net, we leave behind many digital traces that clever corporations can exploit by analyzing our data. For me, the advantages of smart speakers outweigh the disadvantages, but this is my personal opinion. But I do understand the scepticism and I also understand friends who don’t bring smart helpers into the house for data protection reasons,” Isabel sums up.
Google Assistant privacy
- Stores all data that is generated when you interact with Google services
- Additionally accesses the Web History (Google search history, locations, YouTube videos etc.)
- com: View Web History (including interactions with Google Assistant)
- Recording of usage data from third-party services and connected devices
- Recorded data must be removed independently
- Data is added to the Google profile
Privacy at Alexa
- From codeword “Alexa”: Storage of voice entries in Amazon Cloud
- Additional content storage (music, to-do and shopping lists)
- Recording of usage data from third-party services and connected devices (e.g. surveillance cameras or intelligent sockets)
- No limitation on data retention
- Data is added to the Amazon customer profile
Privacy at Siri
- From code word “Hey Siri”: Send the voice data and location information to
- Voice recognition by “Hey, Siri” not in the cloud, but locally (subsequent recording and sending to Apple servers)
- No linking of Siri data with the Apple ID
- No recording of usage data from third-party services and connected devices
- When Siri is addressed, the data is stored next to There
- Up to two years of data storage (partial deletion afterwards)
What do I have to consider when buying?
If, like Isabel, you decide on a language assistant, you should first consider which provider is right for you. Do you already use many Apple products like Isabel? Are you a long-time Google user? Or maybe you already have a smart item at home (fridge, washing machine, lamp)? Then you can orientate yourself on it and build the smart home world around it.
You don’t have smart technology in your home? Then Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant are equally available to you. All three offer you the possibility to connect to devices and services via third parties. And the manufacturers are giants in the digital industry. There’s no sign of any of them discontinuing their services in the foreseeable future. In their application, they are all very user-friendly and intuitive. The Smart Speakers that go with them differ mainly in the purchase price.
Isabel can no longer imagine operating the light switch as in her time before Apple Home. “It seems almost antiquated. After all, we’ve been doing this for over a century now.”