Almost a year ago, I was lucky enough to be given an Amazon Echo from someone whose family wasn’t that comfortable with an always-on device listening to them, so he gave it to me to play with. My life is quite boring, listen away devices.
So my family likes the Echo, it works well enough – though our primary use case was as a kitchen timer and to play music. My kids also like the occasional joke but beyond that we didn’t really use it. We got trained by Alexa to not ask it to do too much – for example, we’d ask it to translate a word, or ask for the score of a game, and it wouldn’t have an answer.
The Echo was convenient and useful for how we used it, but not sure if I would have replaced it if it broke; so glad to have one given to me.
Recently my wife’s phone was dying, conveniently when LG launched the new G6 with a promo including a free Google Home. She wanted a larger Android phone that was water-resistant, so the G6 was perfect, plus several hundred cheaper than other flagship phones and we get a Google Home thrown in.
It was clear after just a few uses of the Google Home the accuracy was vastly better. My daughters (6 and 4) can easily say commands and it hears them just fine. Alexa was about 50/50 when they said things, especially the younger one. Plus all of the random things we ask it, it almost always has a response.
Using voice as an interface is great, especially with the always-on feature, just speaking and not needing to pull out, push a button or anything. Voice commands have been available for awhile, Siri was first widely available on iPhone 4S back in 2011. However, what Siri taught me was not to use Siri for voice commands, it was barely accurate and extremely limited. A double whammy, you need some combination of accuracy and usefulness to cross the threshold of adoption.
Siri trained me so well, that 3 generations later, I never used it on my iPhone 6. I actively disabled so it wouldn’t get in the way when pressing the home button. Now my iPhone 6 did not include the new M9 chip which had the always listening feature, and probably improved accuracy, however the damage was already done and in my mind it was not worth using.
Enter the Alexa, which taught me that always listening is a pretty good thing, especially in the kitchen when having a timer is quite useful and you don’t always have your hands free. Alexa worked much better for me than Siri but the command based nature required remembering exactly what to say to get it to do what you want. This was ok with me, I use Linux and program, I’m used to being precise with telling computers what to do. My wife on the other hand it didn’t work quite as well.
She would say “Alexa, could you please start a timer for 5 minutes?” Fail. I would say, no you need to command it, say, “Alexa, Timer. 5 minutes.” It works, but it wasn’t as natural for her and she didn’t like it as much.
Enter Google Home, the speaker isn’t quite as good as the Echo, but the voice commands are vastly better. For 15+ years Google has been taking random queries and converting them into searches and meaningful results, and Google Home continues this. It feels like a natural extension.
I just bought my own G6 for $500, after my old iPhone 6 cracked enough that I could cut myself on the screen. So now I have the Google Assistant and always listening on my phone.
Google voice works so well I’m finding myself using the voice interface more and more. I can simply get in my car and, after the painfully slow bluetooth connect, just say “Ok Google, play Billy Idol on Spotify” and I’m rebel yelling.
This literally can save lives considering how difficult it can be to switch music on Spotify, just using voice while driving without having to push any buttons is great.
Siri introduced us to voice commands and was so cool when it came out, but it wasn’t good enough beyond gimmicky party tricks. Amazon Echo really moved voice forward showing how always-on could be so useful. However, it looks like Google combining the home and phones with their superior search is doing the best with it.
I trust Google to just get it right, last night instead of doing a search for the Mexican place and then tapping the number, I just said “Ok, Google call Sancho’s in Redwood City”, the phone was dialing and I was ordering tacos in seconds.The phone was already in my hand since I was going to make a call, it was still just easier to speak the command knowing it would get it right.
I’m bullish on voice as the next great computer interface.