Amazon’s Alexa sits comfortably in the top voice-enabled software spot, taking some time to pay attention to the small things. Elsewhere, challengers leverage their strengths to prepare to knock Amazon down a peg (or, at the very least, do a little bit of legwork to keep up).
Here’s what we mean.
Amazon recently focused a bit of attention on smoothing out one of the rougher patches marring user experience and accessibility. (Perhaps “marring” is a bit hyperbolic. Then again, consumers expect seamlessness from everything these days.)
Amazon recently fixed an early point of friction: the requirement that users enable Alexa’s skills via smartphone or web browser before they can use them. This is one of the areas where Google has a leg up on Amazon. Third-party services on Google Home reportedly work out of the box.
Back in 2016, Amazon let users enable via voice. The feature only works on a skill-by-skill basis, which starts to get tedious around the 5,000th time or so.
First noted by CNET, the latest change to the skill-enabling process came without fanfare or even an announcement. Now, users can fire up an Amazon Echo and get to using skills — at least the ones that don’t require connections to a third-party account.
The main problem now is that users still need to know skills by name to access them for the first time. Thankfully, Alexa has a skill that lets users discover other skills.
While Amazon tweaks the user experience, Google has continued to leverage existing partnerships with retailers and brands to up its commerce game.
At the end of February, Google rolled out a voice shopping functionality to Google Assistant, meaning users could order items via Google Home, with goods available from the retailers who support Google Express — including Target, Costco, Whole Foods and PetSmart.
Google recently announced that within the next few months, users will be able to leverage Google Home to find nearby retail locations with items they want in stock. An example user prompt VP of product at Google, Jonathan Alferness, reportedly gave illustrates how this will work: “‘OK, Google, where can I find a brown pair of men’s Top-Siders, size 11, nearby?’”
Google Assistant will then tell users nearby store locations carrying the item in question and will answer with how many stores have the item and how far away they are. Alferness reportedly said that the insight comes from the inventory feeds retailers that buy ads send Google, including Bed Bath & Beyond and Saks Fifth Avenue, among others.
Here’s a case where Google is leveraging its strengths to one-up Amazon. What it lacks in product inventory of its own, it makes up for in third-party connections.
While many of these brands offer their products on Amazon’s marketplace, and Alexa by extension, the access to physical retail inventory data simplifies the in-store shopping experience. This could become a key feature, since consumers largely still shop physically. Alexa doesn’t match this capability as of yet.
Since it simplifies the process of calling a store or searching online to check stock, consumers wanting pairs of pants on the same day may turn to Google Home to get them. (That’s the hope on Google’s end, at least).
At the same time, Google announced that Google Assistant will soon be able to create digital shopping lists for users, placing items in a virtual cart that is synced across multiple devices.
To close out this week’s tracker, there’s some interesting news brewing from Apple’s corner of the ring. As a competitor, Apple got to the voice game early and has played it low and slow, as Amazon and Google faced off in the spotlight.
But a patent application filed by Apple suggests that the tech company is getting closer to rolling out a vocal biometric security feature that would enable Siri to respond solely to an iPhone’s singular owner.
Given that Alexa has a history of major unauthorized voice-based orders, this sort of functionality for Siri, or any other player in the voice-activated space, could become key to preventing unwanted and unauthorized purchases.
Siri has a way to go to truly contend with Amazon and Google. But if there’s anyone to keep an eye out for a surprise upset in the voice-activated game, it’s her.
What Siri lacks in intelligence, it makes up for in market penetration. People already buy with their phones; enabling a popular smartphone assistant to voice-buy securely could work to overturn the precedent Alexa has set. Not entirely, sure — but enough to give Amazon a run for their money.