Guest Post: I live with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri. Here’s which one you should pick By Geoffrey A. Fowler The Washington Post

I live with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri. Here’s which one you should pick

By Geoffrey A. Fowler The Washington Post

Wed., Nov. 21, 2018

Sure, you could chose a smart speaker based on sound or price. The go-to gadget gift of the season is available from Amazon, Apple and Google with better acoustics, new touch screens and deep holiday discounts.

But you’re not just buying a talking jukebox. Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant also want to adjust the thermostat, fill your picture frame or even microwave your popcorn. Each artificial intelligence assistant has its own ways of running a home. You’re choosing which tribe is yours.

The Consumer Technology Association says one in 10 Americans plan to buy a smart speaker this year. (Tyler Lizenby/CNET / TNS)

I call it a tribe because each has a distinct culture — and demands loyalty. This decision will shape how you get information, what appliances you purchase, where you shop and how you protect your privacy. One in 10 Americans plan to buy a smart speaker this year, according to the Consumer Technology Association. And Amazon says its Echo Dot is the bestselling speaker, ever.

The last time we had to choose a tech tribe like this was when smartphones arrived. Did you go iPhone, Android, or cling to a BlackBerry? A decade later, it’s increasingly hard to fathom switching between iPhone and Android. (A recent survey found iPhone and Android people don’t even like dating one another.)

Now imagine how hard it will be to change when you’ve literally wired stuff into your walls.

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In my test lab — I mean, living room — an Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod sit side by side, and the voice AIs battle it out to run my home like genies in high-tech bottles. Here’s the shorthand I’ve learned: Alexa is for accessibility. Google Assistant is for brainpower. And Siri is for security.

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Amazon’s aggressive expansion makes Alexa the one I recommend, and use, the most. Google’s Assistant is coming from behind, matching feature by feature — and Siri, the original voice assistant, feels held back by Apple’s focus on privacy and its software shortcomings. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but I review all tech with the same critical eye.)

Smart speakers are building the smart home that you never knew you needed. Inside the audio equipment, they’re home hub computers that work alongside smartphone apps to connect and control disparate devices and services. Now with a speaker and the right connected gizmo, you can walk into a room and turn on the lights without touching a button. Or control the TV without a remote. Amazon even sells an Alexa-operated microwave that cooks, tracks and reorders popcorn.

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But home assistants can also be Trojan horses for a specific set of devices and services that favour one company over another.

My buddy Matt recently asked me to help him pick speakers and appliances for a big remodel. He loves the Google Assistant on his Android phone, so selecting his tribe should be easy, right? Hardly: He wanted to put Sonos speakers all around the house, but they take voice commands directly via Alexa. (Sonos says Google Assistant support is coming, though it’s been promising that for a year.)

Figuring out which connected doodads are compatible can be like solving a 10,000-piece puzzle. The best smart home gadgets (like Lutron Caseta and Philips Hue lights) work across all three tribes, but sometimes alliances and technical concerns make appliance makers take sides.

Each AI has its limitations. They’re not all equally skilled at understanding accents — Southerners are misunderstood more with Google and Midwesterners with Alexa. The price of ownership with some is letting a company surveil what goes on in your house. You can try, like me, to live with more than one, but you’re left with a patchwork that won’t win you any favours with family.

How do you find your AI tribe? Here’s how I differentiate them.


Supported smart home devices: Over 20,000.

Who loves it: Families who buy lots through Amazon and experiment with new gizmos.

The good: Alexa knows how to operate the most stuff, thanks to Amazon’s superior deal making. The only connected things it can’t run in my house are the app-operated garage door and some facets of my TV. Amazon also has been successful at spawning new connected gadgets: Alexa’s voice and microphone are built into more than 100 non-Amazon devices. And Amazon recently announced plans to offer appliance makers a chip that lets Alexa users voice command inexpensive everyday things, from wall plugs to fans.

Alexa has also mastered some of the little details of home life. It will confirm a request to turn off the lights without repeating your command — super helpful when someone nearby is napping.

The bad: Alexa grows smarter by the week, but it can be a stickler about using specific syntax. It also has the weakest relationship with your phone, the most important piece of technology for most people today. Amazon has bolstered a companion Alexa app for phones, making it better for communicating and setting up smart home routines, but I still find it the most confusing of the lot.

Amazon doesn’t always show the highest concern for our privacy. This spring, when Alexa inadvertently recorded a family’s private conversations and sent it to a contact, Amazon’s response boiled down to ‘whoopie.’ And it records and keeps every conversation you have with the AI — including every bag of popcorn it microwaves. (Amazon says it doesn’t use our queries to sell us stuff beyond making recommendations based on song and product searches).

Some love Alexa’s ability to order products by voice. But as long as Alexa runs your house, you’ll always be stuck buying those goods from Amazon. (That microwave will only ever order popcorn from Amazon.) The coming generation of appliances built with the Alexa chip inside could similarly trap you forever into Amazon-land.

Google Assistant

Supported smart home devices: Over 10,000.

Who loves it: People who are deep into Google’s services.

The good: Google Assistant comes the closest to having a conversation with an actual human helper. You don’t have to use exact language to make things happen or get useful answers. Its intelligence can also be delightfully personal: It’s pretty good at differentiating the voices of family members. And on the new Home Hub device with a screen, Assistant curates a highlights-only show from your Google Photos collection.

While Android phone owners are more likely to use lots of Assistant-friendly Google services, the Assistant doesn’t particularly care what kind of phone you use — its simple companion apps work on iOS and Android.

And Google is neck and neck with Alexa on many of the nuances: Night mode reduces the volume of answers at night, and it can even require Junior to say “pretty please.”

The bad: As a relative newcomer to the smart home, Google has been catching up fast. But in my house, it still can’t fully control my Ring doorbell or send music to my Sonos speakers. And I’m not convinced that Google has Amazon’s negotiating sway, or the influence to bring the next generation of connected things online.

The bigger problem is privacy. Google’s endgame is always getting you to spend more time with its services, so it can gather more data to target ads at you. Like Alexa, Google Assistant keeps a recording of all your queries — every time you ask it to turn off the lights. Google treats this kind of like your Web search history, and uses it to target ads elsewhere. (Thankfully, It still keeps data from its Nest thermostat and home security division separate.) The potential upside is that when Google discovers your habits in all that data, it might be able to better automate your home — like what time all the lights should be off.


Supported smart home devices: Hundreds.

Who loves it: Privacy buffs and all-Apple households.

The good: Apple means business on security and privacy. Any device that wants to connect to HomeKit, its smart home software that works with Siri on the HomePod and iPhone, requires special encryption.

What’s more, your data is not attached to a personal profile, which aside from protecting your privacy also means that Apple is not using your home activity to sell or advertise things. (While other smart speakers keep recordings and transcriptions of what you say, Siri controls devices by making a request to its system through a random identifier, which cannot be tied to specific user.)

And Apple is pretty good at keeping the smart home simple. Setting up a smart home device is mostly just scanning a special code. Even creating routines, in which multiple accessories work in combination with a single command, is easier in the Siri’s companion Home app than with competitors.

The bad: You have to live in an all-Apple device world to reap these benefits. Siri’s a pretty good DJ, but only if you subscribe to Apple Music. You’re stuck with the HomePod as the one-size-fits-all smart speaker, and Siri still isn’t as competent as her AI competitors.

And Apple’s security-first approach has kept too many appliance makers from joining its ecosystem. Sure, it’s quality not quantity, but Siri still can’t interact with my Nest thermostat or Ring doorbell, just to name two. Apple did recently loosen up a tad: starting with Belkin Wemo’s Mini Smart Plug and Dimmer, it no longer requires special hardware for authentication — that can now happen via software. The move should make it simpler to make new products Siri compatible, and allow it access to existing ones.

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Very interesting article about google and access technology. 

Very interesting article on an email list I am on. With google behind access tech, who knows what will develop.   I am especially interested in what the Perkins school will develop with their money.’s Giving $20 Million to Engineer a Better World for the Disabled

Damien Maloney for WIRED

Google’s philanthropic arm,, has been making a big global push this year to aid the one billion people around the world living with disabilities. To further that goal, it’s just awarded $20 million to the 30 nonprofitsit believes could benefit most from its tech and data-driven approach to charitable giving. From open source electric wheelchairs to multi-lingual keyboards you can control with eye-tracking technology, the chosen projects focus on solutions for disabled people in five main categories: education, communication, mobility, independence, and employment.

For Dot-org, as Googlers call it, this is a big moment. has revealed some awardees and partial grant amounts for its first-ever Global Impact Challenge in the past few months. But today it’s announced its full lineup, including 17 new nonprofits. Dot-org gave six of the 30 grantees more than $1 million to spend on advancing their causes. And the average grant size promised to these nonprofits, Dot-org says, is $750,000. According to the philanthropic organization, the final roster of grantees reach over 50 countries with their projects.

“We want to use our global voice to try and spread these innovations to more people,” says Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, project lead for Google’s global impact challenge. “We also have scale in mind in funding these projects. We’re really looking for ways that these organizations can put this innovation out into the universe.”

The range of nonprofits reflects the breadth of’s ambitions: One of the grantees is the Center for Discovery, which is developing an open source power add-on that converts any manual wheelchair into a powered one that gives people more automatic steering options and better mobility. Another pick is the Perkins School for the Blind, which is working on tech that goes beyond GPS to give people with visual impairments more visibility into their immediate surroundings-helping them pick out bus stops, for instance, or building entrances. Dot-org also chose Click2Speak, a nonprofit that’s developing an on-screen, multi-lingual keyboard that includes support for input devices such as switches, joysticks, or eye-tracking devices, aimed at users with impaired motor skills.

Of course, Dot-org’s announcement isn’t the first, or even the biggest, pledge in the history of tech philanthropy. (That distinction goes to Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, who pledged 99 percent of their Facebook fortune-$45 billion-to philanthropic causes.) But this year’s Global Impact Challenge portfolio is typical of Google’s unique way of giving. Google is all about approaching poverty and inequality as an engineering problem, and one of its goals is to democratize tech access for those in need in new and innovative ways. Improving life for people with disabilities gives a unique challenge to solve with its tech expertise.

Giving, the Google Way

Tech is no stranger to philanthropy. Generations of tech moguls, from Bill Gatesto Pierre Omidyar to Marc Benioff have given away impressive sums of their own wealth-and in doing so, have invited much scrutiny to the question of how tech can best approach philanthropy., however, claims that it’s different: as an agnostic organization, it says can be more objective than individuals who might be more passion-driven about the issues they pick.

In this case, says it has data-driven reasons for making disabilities its cause. More than a billion people live with a disability worldwide. A person with a disability, regardless of where he or she lives or works, has fewer opportunities than more able-bodied peers. In a place like the US, 50 to 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed; in developing nations, that proportion rises to as high as 80 to 90 percent, according to the United Nations. Access is another concern: Only 5 to 15 percent of people with disabilities in developing countries have access to the assistive devices they need, the World Health Organization determined.

What Dot-org says it can uniquely offer is broadening disabled people’s access to services and technology that will improve their lives, in small and big ways. One obvious way can do this is by lending tech expertise to nonprofits to create efficient, affordable products and services. But also wants to give everyone equal access, helping these nonprofits figure out how to overcome barriers to getting their projects into the hands of people who need them, whether that’s through upending stodgy insurance models, open sourcing project plans, or building in customization so that more individuals can find products designed specifically for their unique conditions. It also can’t hurt that Google is a company with a truly global reach.

Democratizing Access

The Center for Discovery’s indieGo, which Google gave over $1 million, is a model example of a nonprofit that could uniquely benefit from Google’s tech-savviness. The indieGo is a lightweight frame with a motor that converts any wheelchair into a powered one. Its inventors are experimenting with a variety of control mechanisms, from joysticks to touch buttons and industry-standard switches.

“Someone with a spinal cord injury who has use of their hands, though not their legs, could use a joystick with this device,” John Damaio, creator of the indieGo system, says. “But you can take this to another patient who maybe doesn’t have use of their hands, but has use of their head and neck, to drive with their head using the same device.” Because its tech is more sophisticated, a power wheelchair with head and neck controls could cost thousands of dollars more than a joystick-controlled chair, Damaio says. Meanwhile, the indieGo is aiming to go on the market for about $1,000-significantly lower than other power wheelchairs out there.

The nonprofit also plans to cut out middlemen, so that users who need the assistive device can order it directly. Perhaps most significant of all: the indieGo device plan is open source, right in line with Dot-org’s criteria. If all goes well, according to its road map developed in conjunction with, indieGo could be ready for manufacturing within two years.

Yes, the indieGo team has lofty goals. But they think they can get there. “The nice thing is, Dot-org isn’t just giving us money and stepping away,” McNamara says, anticipating that the team will need help soon, especially when it comes to specific technical questions-like how to extend their device’s battery life. “I assume with Google’s driverless car, that they have a whole slew of battery experts,” McNamara says. “We could reach out to them and ask for advice on the batteries that we are going to be using in our own device.”

There’s no way to know now whether all of’s bets will succeed. More likely than not, these nonprofits won’t hit every single one of their targets. But risk is inherent to philanthropy, as Google knows-and that’s to say nothing of the increased public scrutiny on such a high-profile institutional organization. Whether its investments succeed or fail, Dot-org-and its beneficiaries-are revealing a unique way to do tech philanthropy. And it’s one way that may well shape our expectations for how philanthropy is done by other very wealthy and very powerful organizations in the future.


Reminder next Ottawa GTT meeting March 14 6-8 PM 20 James street all about siri, dictation, google. Talking to your phone. 

Reminder GTT Ottawa meeting Tonight Monday March 14 from 6-8 PM. 20 James street. Our topic for the night is talking to your phone: how to use siri, dictation, google, most effectively with your tablets and phones. 

What are the differences between siri and dictation? 

Which gives you better results when searching siri or google? 

Bring your questions and tips and tricks. 

Time: 6-8 PM March 14. 

location: 20 James street. 

For more information call Kim at