Intelligent Assistant Competition on iPhone

There have been a few interesting moves in the intellegent assitant space on the iPhone as of late.

Microsoft’s Cortana App got a significant update. I like the new design a lot better. It’s simpler and feels more native to iPhone than it’s prior iteration … so long as you like the color purple. (So much purple.) The feature set is similar to many of Siri’s. You can get the weather, check your calendar and set yourself reminders. The app can also give you proactive notifications, like telling you when to leave for you next appointment based on traffic.

I’ve been in Chicago for a few days speaking at a conference and tried using Cortana as a Siri replacement. It performed admirably. I didn’t experience any transcription failures and it was even able to get me directions (using Apple Maps).

Also, Amazon announced it is going to put Alexa on the iPhone. Interestingly, they’re not putting Alexa in the Alexa app but instead the Amazon app, which makes a lot of sense if you’re in the business of selling products from Alexa in the Amazon app is not, however, limited to just buying stuff. You can also ask it about the weather or the time in Tokyo and it will give you an answer. Although Amazon’s announcement states Alexa in the Amazon app can work with third party skills, I had mixed results. The Angry Bard gave me Shakespearian insults but the Automatic skill couldn’t tell me anything about my car.

An interesting bit about Alexa in the Amazon app is that it doesn’t give you any screens. Just like the Echo on your kitchen counter, the interface is entirely voice based.

Neither of these services feel like Siri replacements at this time. Siri’s tight integration with the operating system make it my default. But I did learn in this experiment that having an icon in my dock to activate an intelligent assistant was not terribly inconvenient. If Apple doesn’t keep pushing forward with Siri and somebody else makes something better, I could easily switch.