Smart speakers and personal assistants | Assistive Technology Advice From Vital Tech

Smart speakers and personal assistants

Last modified: 9th October 2018

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Digital personal assistants can be found or installed in mobile devices, computers or dedicated speaker hubs. You can talk to them and give verbal instructions, so the technology is naturally accessible to blind and partially sighted people. They can be useful for a wide range of tasks. For example, you can ask them the time or use them to check your calendar. They can perform basic web searches and give audio feedback.  Digital assistants can be used to control lighting, music, TV and all sorts of home appliances.

 

Mainstream products

The Alexa voice made her name because of the popularity of Amazon’s affordable Echo smart speaker device. She also lives on Amazon Fire devices, such as Fire tablets or TV. She links with all sorts of technologies and can learn new ‘Skills’. Learning a ‘Skill’ generally means learning to connect with a new technology, device, platform or website in a structured way. Alexa is continually improving and Amazon have a lot of relevant usage data, which will help guide further advances.  Alexa can also be found on HTC mobile devices and integrated with technologies from major companies such as Panasonic.

Echo Dot
Echo Dot

 

Google Assistant can be found on Google Home smart speakers, Google’s web browser and any Android mobile device. There is an Apple app version of Google Assistant you can download for their devices as well. The Assistant is especially good with natural language, so conversational interaction with the technology is relatively convenient and sophisticated. Unsurprisingly, Google’s Assistant is also pretty good with answering questions that require web searches.

Google Home
Google Home

 

Apple’s Siri was the world’s first proper digital personal assistant. The technology is standard on iPhones, iPads, Macs, Homekit, Apple TV and all Apple products. Siri has a range of voice enabled functions, from checking the weather, adding a calendar appointment, making a note, phone calling contacts and sending short texts and emails.

Microsoft’s Cortana digital personal assistant is available on Windows devices (as well as the Xbox). The Cortana app can also be downloaded onto Android or iOS mobiles. Cortana is not as advanced as her competitors in some areas, but excels when it comes to controlling computers, enabling a wide range of possible voice commands. She is good at retrieving an app or setting if you know its name and basic web searches.

Samsung’s Bixby digital personal assistant lives on Samsung smartphones, tablets, appliances and the SmartThings Hub. Bixby is a little behind the competition in some ways, but one area in which the assistant excels is enabling detailed voice-control of mobile devices.

 

Handy hints

Which smart speaker is best for me, Google Home or Amazon Alexa?  That depends on your values and priorities e.g. if you prefer to search the internet as a priority, Google has the most experience of indexing the internet and giving quick answers to questions.  Amazon Alexa has the most skills and activities that you can enable and participate in. So if you value various sources of entertainment, or searching for various ranges of facts, now you know where to begin.

Both Amazon Alexa and Google Home are good at being hubs for your smart home, turning on lights and accessing TV services.

 

The smart speakers are getting smarter every week and so what they can and can’t do is constantly changing.