Let's talk about voice assistants. Seriously.

by Volker Weber

Satya Nadella is a smart man, probably the smartest CEO of any American company. He called off a lot of un-winnable races. He scrapped the Nokia investment, he called off Windows Mobile/Phone. And now he has pronounced Cortana dead. Not dead dead, but no longer competing with the two and a half incumbents: Alexa, Google, Siri.

Alexa and Google are currently in a silly race. I don't see a plan for recuperating the mounting losses. How is Google going to advertise on Google Assistant? And how many Amazon purchases does Alexa generate? Siri may be lagging behind, but at least it is playing the privacy card.

Microsoft is finally correcting its Cortana course. Windows Search will be unbundled from Cortana, starting with the spring 2019 release of Windows 10 Cortana will no longer ruin the setup experience. Microsoft will also cut back on the Crapware currently installed into the default Start menu.

Samsung, take note, and scrap your Bixby. It's an abomination. Map that Bixby button to the camera by default.


For what it's worth I do not use any voice assistants at all. Primarily because I don't see the benefit of using them. I also cannot help feeling silly talking to a machine. Finally, it is not reassuring from a data privacy point of view with Amazon sending 1700 Alexa voice recordings to the wrong user following a GDPR data request.

Jochen Kattoll, 2019-01-22

I talk to my phone fairly regularly. Set alarms, reminders and the like. Dictate emails, tweets and comments. Ask for travel times. Ask general questions (Google search type). I've even sent a text while driving and let it read out the answer (I use Android Auto while driving) when I was running late.

Armin Grewe, 2019-01-24

Homepod in the kitchen. Heavy hands-free use each morning while my hands are busy with breakfast/coffee and packing kid lunches. Daily use cases:

"Today's weather"
"What time is my first meeting?"
"Add strawberries to my grocery list" (as I pull the last ones out of my refrigerator)
"Read me today's calendar"
"Play my latest podcast"
...and of course music.

And yes Vowe, you're 100% correct: The Homepod is a *great* speaker phone.

Erik Brooks, 2019-01-24

i tell alexa that my wife wants to read in the guest room and she dims the lights as katia likes it. after i finish cooking, i tell her that diner is ready and alexa calls katia (dinging a gong) and dims the light appropriately. if i need more or less light, i just say turn up the light or turn it down or off, she does so, depending in which room i am in. i can ask alexa alexa to add items to a shopping list, set the heating or set timers …

… except that it’s not really alexa, but a self hosted, local service running on a couple of raspberries in out flat. after watching citizenfour my wife wanted the real, the amazon alexa out of the house and i had to rebuild her on my own using homeassistant and snips (and a universal snowboy hotword model). i actually don’t miss anything of the real alexa and rather enjoy that i can tweak my new assistant to my liking (and not amazons’ liking). i’m not a coder and what i do to keep my home automation running can hardly be called programing. but it works.

and i think, if we want to talk about voice assisatnts seriously, we also need to talk about the emerging privacy aware voice assistants (snips, mycroft and full or semi open source stuff, that you can plug together to built your own solution). snips.ai is really amazing. hotword and voice recognition are all done on a pi, without the need or an external network connection. i only use an external service for text to speech, because the non-cloud services (at least for the german language) are still too crappy (there are decent ones for english, though).

the ease of use and setup for these self hosted solutions is still no match for amazon’s solutions and reach, but they are getting there. and frankly, i think it’s only a matter of time, that people get fed up with the snooping and unfettered data collection of the cloud giants. „it just works“ is not enough any more - at least in the long run.

i could also use siri for most of the light and home control i want to excercise. all my lights, switches, sensors and media playes are also connected to homekit. but siri is still really stupid and cumbersome. the only thing i occasioanlly use siri for is „wake me at 6 a.m.“ or „5 minute timer, please“. the state of siri is a shame, especially if you see the flexibility, customizability and quality of a solution like snips.ai.

felix schwenzel, 2019-01-24

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