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Apple’s intelligent assistant plans shouldn’t just echo the Amazon Echo

Dan Moren | May 30, 2016
Even if the company does decide to build a speaker-based device, the important part is the intelligence behind the device.

So, rumour has it that Apple is working on a competitor to the Amazon Echo, and has been for a while. Rumour also has it that the company may be adding a microphone and speaker to the Apple TV too, to make it more Echo-like. Furthermore, yet another rumour points to the emergence of a Siri API.

Basically, there's a lot going on. 

This should evince some comfort in me, make me confident that Apple has everything under control and knows what it's doing. Instead, though, it's pushing me further in the opposite direction, and making me wonder whether or not the company is equipped to roll out a device that doesn't neatly slot into an existing hole in our lives.

It's all about the data

Google Home, Mountain View's attempt to take on the Amazon Echo, makes a lot of sense to me. Google's all about the data; it's been mining, indexing and algorithmically ranking data on the web for more than a decade. A voice-based way to synthesise that data? That is right in the company's colourful wheelhouse. What is an AI assistant if not the ultimate personification of the search engine that we've all been using for so long? Google can already give me movie showtimes, tell me about flights, track packages and so on; this is just a different way of delivering that information.

Apple, though... Apple most assuredly does not traffic in that sort of thing. The company has steadfastly focused on putting boundaries around your stuff. That's great when you're worrying about that information falling into the wrong hands - not so great when you want to use it to deliver contextual and relevant data to end users.

Apple Maps was a great example of where the company fell down compared to its chief rival, Google. Upon replacing its Google-powered maps with a homegrown solution, it became quickly apparent that Apple simply hadn't done the legwork in the way that Google had. Even today, Maps still has plenty of shortcomings. I search for a nearby street and it gives me a city with the same name half a state - or half the world - away. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence for a service that is all about figuring out exactly what you mean.

From an information search and synthesis perspective, Apple - despite rolling out one of the first popular examples thereof - does not perhaps seem the best equipped to tackle it. (I'll add that Apple is rarely the best when it's the first to launch a product. It's much better when it's refining and perfecting the ideas of others.)

Hardware wars

Ah, but hardware. That is a place where Apple has traditionally excelled: creating devices that people want to buy. Surely this is where Cupertino will triumph over similar offerings from Amazon and Google.


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