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Why Amazon is the current king of the virtual assistants

Matt Kapko | Jan. 13, 2017
Amazon surprised many analysts and competitors with its Alexa cloud-based voice assistant, and the company seems determined to help partners pack the tech into every product imaginable. Alexa has a clear lead in the smart home, but how long will it last?

"The challenge for Amazon in circumventing the operating systems is that it's basically impossible to supplant Siri as the default assistant on iOS, and it will be hard to gain much traction on Android devices too," Dawson says. "So although Alexa can be an assistant on smartphones, it's unlikely to be the assistant on the vast majority of those devices."

Smartphones are the key component to primary assistants, he says. "An assistant is only really useful over the long term if you can use it everywhere, and that's the big advantage that Google and Apple have today." Dawson is also concerned about how well Alexa will perform on smaller gadgets that don't have the hardware benefits of large, dedicated devices. Alexa may only be as good as the hardware that houses it, which makes it more likely to underperform compared to Siri or Google, he says. 

Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, says he doesn't believe Amazon will hold the lead if Apple, Microsoft and Google respond across platforms. "Amazon has been most successful because they targeted where the competition wasn't," he says. "Google and Apple are focused on mobile devices, Microsoft on PCs and smartphones, and that left speakers, TVs, vacuum cleaners and other miscellaneous devices for Amazon."

Consumers largely gravitate to the defaults on their devices, so once Apple, Google and Microsoft realize the cross-platform and wider home-automation capabilities of their OSes, the respective default agents will likely win, Moorhead says.

"A challenge for all voice assistants is that connected devices are, for the most part, siloed, making interoperability of devices and apps a challenge," says Sappington of Parks Associates. "For example, asking Alexa (or Siri or Microsoft's Cortana or Google Assistant) to play 'House of Cards' for you requires the voice assistant to have access to and control of both your television and your Netflix app. Getting it all to work together will be no small task."


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