Echo, Siri or Home: Which virtual assistant is right for you?

A recent poll by the Media Technology Monitor showed that Apple’s Siri is Canada’s most popular virtual assistant, but is it the right one for you?

According to the May report, which polled almost 8,200 Canadians, about 25 per cent of respondents were using Siri, while 15 per cent were using Google Home, four per cent were using Microsoft Cortana, and just one per cent had signed up to use Amazon Echo.

There’s no question that more and more Canadians are using virtual assistants to control their thermostats and lights, lock their doors or just find out the ages of various celebrities.
So if you’re new to the home assistant market, which one should you buy?

Consider what devices you’re already using

The fact of the matter is that your current browsing habits should dictate which device you should consider first.

If your house is Mac dominated – you use an iPhone, the kids have an iPad, and you’ve got Apple TV hooked up in the living room – it makes sense that Siri would be your first choice as a virtual assistant, because it will sync to more of your existing devices and apps.

If, however, you’re more of a PC user who depends on Google Mail for communication and Google Maps to monitor traffic on the way to work, Google Home might be your best choice. If you already do a lot of purchasing through Amazon, then Echo could be your first choice.

You might also consider what tools your car is compatible with, because most new cars come with interactive navigation systems that connect with your smart phone and its relevant apps and tools.

The bottom line is that you’ll get the most use out of your new virtual assistant if it becomes a hub for all the devices and apps you already use.

Which device offers the most compatibility?

The good news is that most external hardware is compatible with all of the big-name virtual assistants. Voice-controlled lighting system Philips Hue works with Siri, Echo, Google and Cortana, as does home security and temperature controller Nest.

Generally, while a few products won’t work with some assistants, the more popular the product, the more likely it is to work on all platforms. If there’s a tool you are looking to use through your assistant, check the assistant’s website to ensure it’s compatible before you buy anything.

Again, the key differentiators are inherent in each assistant – Siri works best with Mac products, Google works best with Google products, and so on.

Understand what you want to use the assistant for

Virtual assistants are getting smarter, and with the help of apps like IFTTT, you can actually teach your device to do things for you when you want it to.

If you’re hoping to get a device to help manage your workday, Google Home might be your best choice, because it ties directly in with other Google programs like Gmail, Google Docs and Google News. Plus, it pulls in relevant Google search returns when you ask questions – and the list of answers continues to grow exponentially every day.

If you’re looking for a device to control your household amenities, listen to music and make phone calls, Siri or the Amazon Echo might be the best option.

Again, weighing what you already use with what you want the device to do should determine what choice is best for you.

Virtual Assistant
It just makes sense to choose a virtual assistant that syncs with the assistant in your car. (Photo: Adrian Hancu)

What about price?

There isn’t a major difference in price between Google’s Home and the Amazon Echo, and each has three increasingly higher entry prices.

The Google Home costs $80 for a Mini, $180 for the base model and Google has recently introduced a $500 Max version. The Echo Dot goes for $70, $130 for the base model and $200 for the Echo Plus. The basic functions are all the same on all models, but the more expensive devices have substantially better speakers.

The Apple HomePod sells for $349, but you don’t need to invest in the hardware to use Siri to dim your lights or tell you the score in last night’s hockey game – it’s already installed on your iPhone or iPad. So you don’t need to buy a HomePod if you don’t want to.

Of course, all the external devices like the Phillips Hue, the Nest thermostat or the Mr. Coffee Smart Coffeemaker are all sold separately. Your choice of virtual assistant doesn’t affect the price of those devices, but it’s important to remember that not every device works with every assistant, so do your research before you pull out your credit card.

Which device will stand the test of time?

Ask anyone who bought a Betamax back in the 1980s or an HD-DVD player in the early 2000s: Choosing technology that will last a while is a wise decision.

It’s hard to tell at this point which virtual assistants will survive into the 2020s, but market share will undoubtedly prove a big factor.

Apple has made Siri part of everything they create, so Apple is clearly invested for the long haul. Amazon’s Echo is currently the best-selling device in the United States, and Google is promising all kinds of amazing advancements to the Google Home in the next few months.

So it looks like the battle among the top virtual assistants will continue for years to come, and while there may be upgrades and iterations, each company sees personalization and better integration of disparate technologies as a growth area, so they will continue to spend on growing the popularity of their devices.

If you stick with the big players rather than opting for a low-price knockoff, your device should not be obsolete anytime soon.

Conclusion

Perhaps the most important question is whether you actually need a virtual assistant.
There are financial benefits to having a smart thermostat adjust your home temperatures through the day, and there are safety benefits to having your home light up and unlock itself as you’re arriving late at night.

And if you like having a machine read you the forecast and some daily headlines every morning, or you like telling a computer to play your favourite music and dim the lights, then take the plunge and pick up a virtual assistant. If nothing else, it’s a consistent source of entertainment and will never fail to amaze the family.

Just choose the one that syncs best with the tools and apps you’re already using, so you can get the most out of it without having to change a lot of your existing habits and routines.

And before you know it you’ll never know how you lived without your virtual assistant.