During the 2017 Build event, Microsoft unveiled the promised Cortana Assistant -powered speakers and released Cortana to developers looking to introduce voice skill. We have hands-on experience with Amazon Alexa “custom” and “smarthome” skills. Our engineers were also lucky to participate in Google Assistant “Home control” actions Early Access Program, and built regular Google Assistant actions. We, however, have not had a chance to get our hands on Cortana before the official release. Let’s look at all three platforms, based on the publicly available information.
Alexa is the first voice-enabled speaker on the market. Skills are easy to configure, through an intuitive web interface. Amazon has great documentation and paid developer support is available. There are tons of examples for programmers building both custom and smart home skills. The code could be hosted on AWS Lambda, but it is not a must. Hosting on AWS allows invoking skill processing code by ARN. If the skill is simple, with a few tricks such as keeping lambda warm with CloudWatch events, you might be able to host an extremely quick autoscaling skill while fitting onto the AWS Lambda free tier. Alexa currently supports the US and UK English, as well as German.
Google Assistant is available on Google Home and Google Pixel phones, but it is coming to every Android smartphone and other surfaces. Actions execution endpoints could be hosted on Google Cloud, or elsewhere. Google Assistant actions are still less mature than Alexa skills. Documentation is less thorough, probably because Google started later in the game. Google Assistant Home control actions are still in the Early Access Program. We won’t discuss specifics until Home control has been officially released. There are however Home control actions running in production. Most major smarthome hardware manufacturers have either already introduced their products on Google Home, or in the process. Google’s one apparent advantage is many more languages than Alexa. Further, Google Assistant is designed to integrate with other Google services, starting from the calendar. We believe that Google Assistant has a lot of potential. Time will tell how Google will execute leveraging its’ strengths and making actions development partner-friendly.
Based on the publicly available information, there is no Alexa smart-home or Google Assistant “Home control” -style API, yet. Cortana supports more languages than Alexa, yet fewer than Google Assistant. Several manufacturers partnered with Microsoft and announced their Cortana speakers, yet none have been released. It appears that Cortana skills have to be hosted on Microsoft Azure and nowhere else.
Microsoft is a bit late to the party, but this is probably only the beginning. There are rumors of an Apple Siri speaker, which may not pan out, or we might see one come out of Cupertino.
We believe that the main battle might take place in the cockpit of your car, where speakers make even more sense.
In the meantime, please stay tuned. Once Google releases “Home control” to the public, we will tell you how we managed to build a complex product for Google Assistant, in just one week, leveraging our Alexa experience and assets.