A man takes a selfie in front of the CES logo during the 2018 CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA January 10, 2018. (REUTERS/Steve Marcus)
The last thing Microsoft is expected at CES this year was the defending of her existence in the virtual assistant space, but that is exactly what happened. While the company has a few announcements, including, in particular, the tight Glass smart thermostat, it was invaded by a bevy of other announcements about the places of Alexa on Windows 10 pcs from HP, Lenovo, Asus and Acer later this year.
Although it has never had a true presence at CES, Apple is feeling the heat, too. The HomePod smart speaker is still vaporware, with a release date other than “early 2018.” Apple claims that it needs more time to perfect the product.
While all this is going on, Amazon and Google Assistant continue to swipe the show floor with the competition at CES, and their partners announces integration with everything from kitchen faucets from Delta to Kohler-manufactured bathroom mirror, and 4K projectors from Epson.
This allows both Microsoft and Apple in an difficult position. Is the virtual assistant segment of the market mostly cornered by Amazon and Google? Perhaps, yes. Look at the number of skills: Microsoft Cortana has approximately 230 expertise that is available at the last count, while Amaon the Alexa has 25,000.
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With Apple — as usual — it comes down to the price. The HomePod is expected to retail for $349. That is $120 more than the Echo is Amazon’s top-of-the-line device that also has a screen. While HomeKit is a recent focus for Apple, our own experiences with having less than stellar.
Apple’s high prices
While Alexa is not perfect, we find ourselves having more trouble getting Siri to our smart home than we do with Alexa, so we have it all, but stopped with the use of Siri for the home control completely. We can’t imagine that we are the only one with these problems, or that of HomeKit as a means of smart house control.
Now comes the tough love. For Microsoft, the Alexa PC integration is the most problematic. Windows 10 was intended to Cortana domain. While Alexa is not the replacement of Cortana on these machines, its presence — as well as the fact that you can wake her in the same way as you would an Ultrasound device — it seems only too easy to rely on the Alexa instead of Cortana.
That is sad. Although I consider myself a “Mac guy,” my experience with Cortana are almost all positive. From the perspective of the understanding context and queries intuitively, Microsoft has done it in a way that’s better than someone else. At the same time, Cortana smart home support stinks, regardless of the announcements at the CES in 2018. Its presence in the smart-speakers is just as lean, with the Harman Kardon Calling is really the only one worth the purchase.
Apple’s problem, as noted earlier, is the price. The HomePod is a beautiful speaker, really. But with the HomeKit the temperamental nature and the HomePod sky-high price, we would prefer to buy a number of Echoes, and have the whole house sound. We are also not clear if Apple is really serious about Siri beyond its computing products; it seems to be more of an additional benefit, instead of a central function.
What is the following?
Where do we go from here? That is to these companies. Microsoft has a history of getting into the markets too late (Zune, mobile phones, for example) and giving a half-hearted attempt, wasting hundreds of millions in the process. Apple also likes to enter markets late, but to his credit, is introducing products that are appealing enough to buy, but only if you have the money.
The digital assistant race has very much become a race to the bottom when it comes to price, and a race to integrate with as many devices as possible. On both points, these are the areas where these companies have not done enough to support their efforts or an odd reluctance to do so.
If Microsoft or Apple really want to compete, this is what they should do. Because Amazon and Google, sure looks like they’re playing for keeps.