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A Look at Voice Control Systems

With Voice Control Now Practically Mainstream, How Do They Compare?

A Look at Voice Control Systems

The History of Voice Control

They say that life imitates art. In the 1960s, shows like Star Trek envisioned an era of smarter computers, intergalactic space travel, and the personal communicator - like our smartphones. That decade also saw the debut of Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction classic “2001: A Space Odyssey," featuring HAL, the talking computer. Fast forwarding half a century later, we now see that HAL predicted the future of today's voice assistants: Siri, Alexa, and Google. Did you know that the name HAL was a play on the initials IBM, the predominant computing company of that era? Did you know that IBM also pioneered the first speech recognition machine in 1962? Perhaps that’s why Arthur C. Clarke named it HAL. While HAL turned out to be a bit of a control freak, fortunately, today's voice assistants are here to do our bidding.

In the past four years since the introduction of the Amazon Echo smart speaker and Alexa, voice control technology and adoption has raced ahead at an astounding pace. The integration of your life in digital form onto computers, smartphones, and the cloud has allowed these voice assistants to become digital butlers. Through voice commands, you can ask about your package deliveries, an update on your schedule for the day, basic math questions, if a flight is on time, call an Uber - and much more.

Since Twilight Solutions is a smart home integration company in the heart of Silicon Valley, naturally, we have an interest in voice control for smart home automation. A host of intelligent devices have been introduced or integrated for smart home control with the leading voice assistant ecosystems from Amazon, Google, and Apple. There is also one more that was recently introduced - Josh.AI - that is specifically designed for smart home control. What are the differences? Read on to learn more.

SEE ALSO: How to Hide Smart Technology with Home Automation Systems

It’s an Ecosystem World

One of the reasons you might be enticed by one voice control system over the other is how embedded you are in the major app ecosystems. When it comes to voice control and assistants, the big three are Amazon, Google, and Apple. If you like Siri, you might want to look for smart home devices or systems that work with Homekit. If you use many Amazon services, you might like Alexa. It was the first one out of the gate as well as the most ubiquitous in the voice control device realm. If you are heavily into Google services, the Google assistant makes use of most of the information that Google knows about you. 

The good news about the ecosystems is that all three of the big players have been investing in working with a wide array of smart devices and control systems in the market. While Apple has been the slowest at gaining adoption for Homekit, it is accelerating of late. One sign of that is the licensing of Airplay2 technology to a variety of AV vendors, which lets smart TVs, AV receivers, and other devices play content seamlessly from Apple devices. And Airplay2 also enables Homekit support for those devices so that they can respond to commands to Siri on an Apple device.

When it comes to full strength, professionally installed smart home systems for larger and more complex properties, we work with systems from Savant and Control4. The good news here is that both of these smart home companies are working with all of the big players in voice assistants to enable their systems to play well with them - so you can use your voice assistant of choice to control your smart home.

Subtle Differences in Commands and Learning

All of the companies building voice assistants have sophisticated machine learning and artificial intelligence technology that continues to improve the more they are used. But there are subtle differences. Amazon’s Alexa is more of a stickler on using the proper syntax, and sometimes is not entirely consistent in its response to commands - it might turn on your lights with the same command ten times in a row, but you might have to repeat the command the 11th time.

Google Assistant can handle complex commands better, as in saying “play the Rolling Stones and turn up the volume.” If you use Google search, email, and other services, it also has more information about you that can be used intelligently over time through continuous learning. The downside to that, however, is your privacy, which many consumers are becoming much warier of over time. Apple has taken a stronger approach to privacy, as it doesn’t use the data it knows about you to sell advertising or other products.  This approach may have slowed the development of Siri’s intelligence, as connecting the dots with more data yields more smart functionality.

Josh.AI is the new voice control player on the block. They have built the service explicitly for smart home control, and from a privacy standpoint might appeal to those who are more concerned with the other vendors' use of your data. Josh.AI has focused on usability, such as strong understanding of context like enabling you to give it a series of commands like "dim the lights and let's watch House of Cards." The Micro speaker knows what room it's in, so if you say "dim the lights," you don't have to be specific about what lights you are talking about as you might with Alexa. It also learns your habits, so if you habitually turn on certain lights at the same time of day, it can do that automatically as it senses your presence.


Are you curious about sophisticated smart home voice control? We can help guide you to decide which system is best for you. Twilight Solutions is proud to serve clients in the Bay Area from Woodside to San Francisco to Walnut Creek, up and down the peninsula. Give us a call or click our chat box below to be quickly connected to one of our specialists. We look forward to working with you!