‘Virtual digital assistants’ is the less exciting way of describing what is essentially a robot living in your house. Yes, you heard right - it might not be able to move or make you a cuppa but it is surprisingly useful.
Better known as smart speakers or home assistants, these robots can control your lighting, heating, play music, and answer questions, depending on what you’ve got them hooked up to.
Currently, there are only really two that are dominating the market: Amazon Echo and Google Home.
This is the more established home assistant on the market with Alexa as its voice recognition system. Just say ‘Alexa’ and ask your question or give a command. It’s pretty good at recognising what you want when you speak naturally, so you don’t need to learn a special list of commands.
For example, you could play your music by saying ‘Alexa, play my ‘Favourite Songs’ playlist on Spotify’, or something similar. You can also use it to answer questions kind of like a Google search, or find out what the weather will be or how busy the roads are. As it’s an Amazon product it’s also very well integrated with your Amazon account, so you can order things with a simple request.
One of the good things about the Echo is that it comes in two versions: the full-size Echo version and the smaller, cheaper Dot version. Both work just as well; the Dot just has a smaller speaker.
Check out the Dot in action below:
The more recent entry onto the market is Google’s model, featuring its Google Assistant software. This one also has a built-in speaker with decent sound quality. Because it’s Google it’s really well -integrated with Google’s search functions, so you can look up the price of plane tickets, see the local cinema times, or just find out who won the Oscar for best actress in 1997 (if for some reason you want to do that – it happens) with ease.
Google Home’s voice recognition is a bit more conversational than Alexa, and can deal with follow-up questions more easily, while Alexa stays firmly within the direct question and answer format.
Like the Echo, Google Home’s list of abilities will keep growing and improving over the coming months and years.
Take a quick peak at Google Home answering one of the most searched questions in June:
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