That being said, the openness of their platform is a huge benefit, and the main reason I have one. I for one am very interested in seeing which improves first: Siri's natural language processing, or Alexa's contextual matching of their api.
I know Google Now wins in a lot of areas, and there is a group of people that have no problem using them, but overall sentiment seems to be one of distrust in giving them an always on microphone
What I want to say:
> Alexa, open the garage door
What I actually need to say
> Alexa, tell Some App Name to open the garage door
The thing that annoys me is when this doesn't work.
> "Alexa, play <station name as it appears in Alexa App> on Pandora"
> "I couldn't find <station name as it appears in Alexa App>, here's some crap on Amazon Music"
I try and get it to play Kiss FM UK and says a strange word and then dies. Raised it to Amazon and they are looking into it.
> they will fix it
> they are looking into it
> they are looking into it
> it's written in a ticket somewhere
I wonder if they changed something, or my memory has tricked me. (The weird thing is not only that I remember doing it that way, but I have no memories of having any troubles with it, and this is certainly what I would do on my first try)
What I want it to say:
> Alexa, tell %NAME% it's time (for a nap|to go to bed|to eat dinner)
What I have to say:
> Alexa, tell Toddler Boss to tell %NAME% it's time to go to bed.
It's not natural sounding at all.
This is what he did on HBO's Silicon Valley. It was quite..weird.
I have a TP-Link Smart Switch and have their Kasa app integrated with my Echo, and all I need to do is name my switches and say things like "Alexa, [device name] on", "Alexa, turn on [device name]". So it's definitely possible for 3rd party apps to turn devices on and off with Alexa without requiring users to mention the app name.
Maybe you just need to change your app to add your garage door as a device to the Echo and use the provided on/off commands rather than register your own custom commands? I can imagine the device on/off paradigm could be limiting for certain use cases, but not for this one.
I have a google home, and through integration with IFTTT I can say "Okay Google open the garage door" and it will work. It's so much smoother than telling the garage to "turn on", or telling the front door to "turn off".
It's the major reason why i've stopped using and actually sold the echo but i'm getting a second home soon.
It's not for everyone, but i'm really enjoying the setup. Although if i could I would remove IFTTT from the whole equation. Everything else is running off of a server in my house, so IFTTT is the only part that's really not fully in my control.
But as it's nothing but a "layer" on top of the rest as an "ease of activation" kind of thing, i'm not that worried.
IFTTT is the ONLY thing on Google home right now that lets you create fully custom voice actions. It's got a lot of things like this.
There are a few similar services, but at the end of the day, if it's within my capability to talk directly to a service, I'm going to just write my own code to talk to it (or my FOSS HA system will more likely support it very quickly).
IFTTT's power to me is completely in its ability to integrate with otherwise "locked down" services.
Isn't this quite a security risk? I'm imagining a burglar standing outside with a megaphone and ordering your house to let them in.
But that aside, it's setup so that my home automation system will only listen to the voice actions if there is someone home. But that was more to prevent IFTTT bugs from opening when I'm not home.
If someone wants to go through all that trouble to break into my house, let them. I have insurance and security cameras. I'm not going to build my house like a vault to prevent someone from stealing my TV any more than I'm going to walk-around in a bullet proof vest to prevent someone from shooting me.
Edit: Sorry if this comes across a little shitty sounding. I get asked this just about every single time I bring this up. I have this response pretty loaded...
I'm not sure if that part is open to developers or not. It looks like it is. There's a "Get More Smart Home Skills" button that shows 59 options, so it's probably not just for the big boys.
For me Google Now and Alexa are the next huge leaps in computing ... like the iPhone was. I wish Google would create an app store much like Apple's where users try an app out and buy it for a buck if they like it.
I have my google now hooked up to turn my TV, lights and thermostat on. It understands my commands 97% of the time vs. Siri's 85%.
They are never going to win if you have to babble awkward phrases when you use it. Alexa just rolls off the tongue.
Edit: Amusingly, when I said "OK Google!" "Change your wake word" to my phone just now... It replied with: here is information from Amazon.com. (information about how to change Alexa's wake word to Echo or Amazon).
Ok Google. You have to fix this.
Well I agree… I don't like having to say OK Google turn the light on… Or OK Google… Or everything… It does not feel conversational. But there needs to be a command otherwise the AI speaker will be doing thing every time I hear something… Maybe we can change the name that would be good
I'm not normally really intense about privacy (relative to other tech people I know), but all these devices creep me out.
Separately, I've told my daughters that they probably won't ever need to learn to drive--cars will probably do it for them by the time they are driving age.
They've put two and two together, and the other day I overheard them saying "Someday we'll be able to call an Alexa car and have it take us where ever we want."
Though it was pretty funny/depressing hearing how broken the experience was this morning.
"Alexa, play Moana" - "Here's songs by Nirvana"
"No, Alexa, play Moana soundtrack" - "I think you might like music by Adelle"
"What? Alexa, play the Moana original motion picture soundtrack" - "Playing Moana original motion picture soundtrack"
"Alexa, play me a podcast"
"Here's a station you might like: Linkin Park"
"Uhyexa Order bears!"
"I found a teddy bear for $49.99, would you like to order?"
"Uhyexa, order ehyephants!"
Funny thing is, my toddler was babbling something at dinner and the Echo Dot picked it up and tried to do a Bing search for "Eva has more fries".
"A lexus car has been purchased with Amazon One-Speak™. You have been charged $72,040. Delivery will be between 7 to 14 days."
Humans name things. Pets, cars, computers, houses, kids(!). We need to be able to name our AI pets, too.
It's the difference between saying "ok goo-gul" and "ok googl". For whatever reason, the second "g" sound gets dropped or blurred when I say 'google' aloud, so I have to remember to slow down and say it the first way.
"Alexa" and "Siri" are simple, and have no glut of soft sounds stuck in the middle of the word.
I know the "OK, Google" detection is supposed to be linked only to your voice, but I find about 30% of the time other people can trigger it anyways.
That is, you are basically saying that you want everything in $PATH. This would be like if git had decided that "log" should just do "git log". Certainly could make sense. And I agree that users should be able to allow this.
However, the applications? I'm not as sold. You are basically allowing a situation where the fundamental behavior of the system would change from installing a single skill. And it might not be clear on how or why it changed. (Certainly not to most users.)
Also, voice commands take significantly longer than typing and there is no real auto-complete. The cost of a wordy voice command is much higher, especially if you stumble at any point and have to say it all again (usually while trying to talk over one of Alexa’s wordy error responses).
It just doesn’t make any sense for commands to sound like marketing material. This is the “Windows 95 Start Menu” thinking where every app is under a “FooBar, Inc.” submenu instead of just getting to the point and showing you the app you want.
Seriously, let that settle for a minute. "Default" behavior for executable applications is the most preyed upon phishing vulnerability there is. I do not want that introduced to a home automation device. I hope we do better than that.
For some reason my Echo has a really hard time recognizing some of the rather obvious names I give to my devices, like "LG TV". It'd be great if we could train the voice recognition engine to associate certain pronunciations with a specific device name.
"alexa, add a task saying blablabla"
"Ok Bob, the task has beeen created in your favorite todo app. Would you like me to transfer it to another app?"
One of the reasons I'm less sanguine about voice as an uber-interface. I'm not sure you can square the circle between a rich and capable interface and one that isn't interrogating you like that. Computer screens can pop up arbitrarily large amounts of data on the screen (entire EULAs) to be dismissed almost for free. The serial nature of speech is going to be a big challenge for most people. (There are, of course, those who use it all the time as their interface. Perhaps a few will even read this post. But I'd submit their usage doesn't end up looking or sounding much like the Star Trek ideal.)
E.g. there's a skill (AskMyBuddy) that sends a preprogrammed text to a list of cellphones, typically a request for help. But the user needs to be trained to remember the exact command ("Alexa Ask My Buddy to send help"), which might be forgotten if someone is in a stressful situation.
Anecdote: tried to create a todo list with one item, "buy milk", but Alexa would not accept this item unless you setup the ability to purchase items from Amazon.
Weather does not work outside the US (needs a US address).
Do you think your parents would be more comfortable talking to it in Vietnamese if it was possible? I'm mostly wondering if handling good Vietnamese is easier than handling English with poor grammar.
Conversely, I've since realized that the Vietnamese that I think I understand is probably at the toddler level. For a very long time, I just assumed the Vietnamese language lacked features such as pronouns and articles. But then I realized that when my parents tell me to go wash the dishes, my brain just fixates on "wash dishes" and ignores all the other connective words. So I know a lot of verbs and nouns but very few words that are part of everyday conversational speech in Vietnamese. I imagine that's what Alexa feels like :)
Your comment made me curious how well the Google Translate app can deal with foreign languages. I was stunned to see that it could understand my attempts at Vietnamese. So other than a proportionately smaller dataset to learn from (Vietnamese usage vs English usage of Google or Amazon), seems like Alexa and Google Home could competently deal with foreign languages.
Beatles walrus -> the song "I am the walrus" by the Beatles.
Tintern vacuum -> the song "Vacuum cleaner" by Tintern Abbey.
I assume that people have to call for emergency services less often than we misplace our phones, so I'm sure it's even harder to remember the exact verbiage for that.
Not super on-topic, but I laughed when I saw it.
Alexa can tell me how many sides a hexagon has. But cannot tell me the name of a six sided polygon.
I'm not interested in an always-on voice activated device so that I can ask it rarely asked complicated questions. I'm interested in how well it understands my voice, and how many day-to-day chores it can help with.
I have both and purchased the Echo when first launched. The Google Home amazes me every day.
So with Home you say play Madonna song Sean Penn movie and live to tell starts playing.
Echo has a command of "goes like this". Never used it. But everyday Google figures out something.
Our understanding of the world allow us to talk in a condensed form as humans can infer a lot.
Google is doing the same so more and more I talk to Google Home in condensed format.
It is so early with all of this but Google has a incredible foundation. The future is going to be incredible.
If she unclearly said, "Show me pictures of Absol", it would fail miserably. But if she says "Show me pictures of the pokemon Absol", it kicks butt.
So I would say it's more than a voice to text layer on top of the normal text search.
But do they have enough incentives ? A good business model to be willing to offer it for almost free for people ? The will to push it as hard as Amazon does ? It doesn't seem so.
Had fun with that last one during the Holidays at each of my conservative Christian families. I thought it was hilarious.
And when I said it, Google heard "how many inches per second is Sarah parcak fortnight"
Regardless, why do these anecdotes have to do with the article's argument that "Amazon is building the operating system of the home — its name is Alexa"?
Both seem wrong? They could produce more models at lower price points and lower costs and maintain similar margins, like Samsung. Probably the branding effect on margin would be smaller but would still be a healthy margin.
Am I missing the point here?
If Apple could really get more people onboard with Homekit and build standalone Siri devices it could be in the pole position here, but Apple doesn't seem to get what it has with either Homekit or Siri.
Homekit makes it really easy to set up different scenes with different smart devices and interactions. Setting these up requires good user interfaces beyond voice. Apple gets this.
Unfortunately, Homekit is really limited right now.
I wonder also if we'll ever see one established and dominating others. There are a lot of other small players with a future: Tizen (on Samsung and other devices), RTOS, Kontiki, lots of proprietary stuff based on Linux (e.g.: Garmin stuff), QNX, ...
"27ffe8a1-4cd0-4739-bc46-9ad51a9c14ba, turn on the living room lights."
So the author luxuriously simplified a sophisticated piece of software like an OS to simply prove his point that Alexa can be classified as an OS because it is a software that also manages hardware resources.
Someone please correct but I was under the impression that Alexa is merely a facade OS and behind the scenes it is an amalgamation of sophisticated intertwining of web services and data crunching. Can Alexa still be at its 100% without internet?
Edit 1: Grammar
It's the ages old question: is Linux an OS? No, it's a kernel. Is Ubuntu an OS? No, it's a distribution. Is Gnome an OS? No, it's a desktop environment.
You could say with a straight face that Alexa is an OS that's designed to run cloud software. The OS works without a connection, but the user land might not.
Something which doesn't run directly on the hardware, but instead communicates with it through several layers of intervening software, isn't an operating system by any stretch of the imagination, however impressive it might otherwise be.
I'm disappointed that large high-tech companies such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook don't develop their own operating systems from scratch like Microsoft did, but instead just take advantage of the hard (but not particularly innovative) work put in by Linus Torvalds and other open source developers. Building something better, using lessons learned in the intervening decades, should be well within their grasp.
Check out Google's Fuschia for an alternative
Yes, that's different (and, with capability-based security, a step in the right direction). Thanks for pointing it out.
I'm not sure how Tansley's concept of ecosystems applies to software (it's just a buzzword to me), but if you mean how to get software running on existing systems to run on a new system, that would take time and effort. If the operating system is intended to run on specific devices (like Magenta/Fuchsia), it might need its own "ecosystem" anyway.
The only real difference is that Windows runs locally, Alexa doesn't.
As long as it's connected to the internet arguably you can't tell the difference.
Unless you are going to have an academic study about what an "Operating System" is Alexa is an OS since it's the "platform" your applications run on, and it's a unified interface with the same rules and expected behaviour.
Alexa is about as an OS as "Chrome" is (not talking about the linux part of Chrome OS), user's don't know about kernels, drivers, services, daemons and all that nonsense they can grasp what an interface and a platform is and for them it's indistinguishable from an operating system regardless if academically based on current software engineering convention it is one or not.
Technically ChromeOS isn't an operating system either, it's some offshoot of Linux that runs a Chrome Browser and all your apps run as Chrome Apps, you can run native applications to some extent on it as well but it's not the interface and expected behaviour users would experience.
I tend to define "operating system" as any software or collection of software implementing both of the following:
* Abstracted access to hardware (whether physical or virtual)
* Execution of other software / applications
In the case of Alexa:
* Alexa implements abstracted access to audio inputs and outputs by performing conversions between audio and text
* Alexa facilitates the execution of "skills", which - while very simplistic - probably technically count as software
I'd sooner call Alexa an "interface" rather than an OS, but calling it an OS is not incorrect.
The term Operating System is a good example. Most people have no idea what an OS actually is. They think it is all of the stuff bundled with the OS.
Similarly in the 1980's the term Relational Database was used in marketing materials to describe any micro computer database product that was for sale.
Eh, Amazon hit it out of the park with something in the Kindle line, no matter your e-book-reading taste. They have good reason to believe they can design products for the masses.
Hyperbolic statements like this one make me stop reading. There's still PLENTY of important Desktop computing.
I read your comment on a mobile device, and switched to my laptop to write this comment. Two different operating systems, same internet.
"Android and iOS have replaced Windows in importance"
But Windows still seems plenty-important, to me. I don't see how one replaced the other, it's just that mobile is under more dynamic development right now because it's new.
But my job mainly consists of interacting with remote machines through a web browser or SSH. Thanks to the Internet, I don't need to worry about what physical form factor my machine is. If all you need is Word, Excel, a web browser, and email, you're basically set no matter where you go.
Desktops are less relevant today than ever before. For many people, the desktop OS is just a VM host and their browser is the real "OS".
We want you to use conversational UI, on any device, Apple's, MSFT, Google, anyone you like. We think in the end, you'll have the best experience with Echo.
How often does a mega tech company encourage you to use the competitions products?
Think Amazon hit out of the park. Hey Google, just does not cut it for me.
Alexa, and that sultry voice, just no comparisons. (IMHO).
Edit: HN title has been corrected.