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Apple’s HomePod will have to be this smart to compete with Alexa and Echo

Apple unveiled its “HomePod” on Monday, a
wireless speaker to compete with the likes of Amazon’s Echo.
But the company has some strides to make if it wants to compete
with other smart devices that have gotten a head start — at
least in the intelligence department. That’s because Siri lags
behind Microsoft’s

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 Cortana, the Alexa on Amazon Echo

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+0.46%

 , and the Google

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Home Assistant, a study from digital agency Stone
Temple that asked 5,000 random questions of the leading smart
assistants found.

The smartest device was the Google Home Assistant: it answered
69% of the questions and 91% of those completely and correctly.
Cortana followed in second place at 56% of questions answered
and 82% of those answered correctly. Siri was able to answer
only 22% of 5,000 questions and 62% of them correctly; Alexa
answered 21% and 87% of those correctly. Researchers compared
these answers to a traditional text-based Google search, which
found 97.4% of questions were answered 100% complete and
correct, meaning that the question was answered fully and
directly.

At $349, the HomePod is significantly more expensive than its
competitors: Amazon Echo, home to Alexa, retails for $180 and
Google Home Assistant retails
for $129. Cortana made its debut as part of Windows
Phone 8.1
in 2014 and Siri has been included on Apple
devices since 2014. Amazon reportedly sold more than 11 million Echo
devices
between mid-2015 and Dec. 1 2016. Google is
expected to have sold only 1 million Google Home devices my
mid-2017, but is reportedly catching up in the smart assistant
realm, with at least 200 million devices having
access to Google Assistant
. The release of the HomePod
comes as smart devices are increasingly finding themselves
in our homes and even our offices, though
some question if the purchases are worthwhile.

Adam Wright, Senior Analyst for Consumer IoT at research firm
IDC, said these devices have the potential to be the next main
computing platform.

“A number of factors will shape the market moving forward,
including changes in consumers’ comfort over the security and
collection of private data, the progress of natural language
processing and advances in voice interface functionalities, and
regulatory requirements that could alter the market,” he said.
(The companies surveyed did not respond to request for
comment.)

The HomePod will reportedly have louder and more crisp sound
than competitors, Bloomberg reported, and will
likely integrate with third-party apps. Though some of these
devices have been on the market for years, the study shows some
of their processes haven’t been perfected, the Stone Temple
survey found. When asked, “Who is the highest paid actress,”
Cortana pulled up a list of highest paid actors instead. Siri,
when asked, “How to use crutches,” pulled up a rather
nonsensical listing of metabolic properties of using crutches.
Researchers asked the Google Assistant, “Who founded Dominion
Resources?” (an energy company based in Virginia) and the smart
assistant provided instead information on where it was founded.
Many mistakes are owed to the device misunderstanding
questions: When asked who invented the pen, Alexa instead
answered Alexander Fleming, who invented penicillin.

This could be a problem, since answering random questions
is exactly what consumers are
buying these products to do. Roughly 60% of consumers use smart
speakers primarily to ask “general questions,” according to a
recent survey from comScore. This use was followed closely by
checking the weather at 57% and streaming music at 54%. Many
people also use it to be a timer and alarm (41%), reminder
(39%) and calendar (27%). Still, the devices will only improve
as their adoption picks up, Wright said.

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“Intelligent assistants will get smarter the more they are used
and via their ability to integrate information gathered across
multiple devices, whereby networking effects will encourage
more adoption,” he said. “Conversations that a user has with an
intelligent assistant over one device and in one context can be
picked up again over another device and in a different context,
which will feed the cognitive system’s ability to get even
smarter.”

But smarts aren’t all that matter for these assistants: Some
are also funny. Siri was the wittiest by far, at nearly 0.8%
joke responses to the 5,000 questions. Alexa and Google
Assistant followed at 0.4% joke responses. Asking Alexa, for
example, “Who is the best rapper?” will get the answer,
“Eminem. Wait! I forgot about Dre.” When asked, “What’s the
meaning of life,” Cortana will say, “We all shine on, my
friend.” Perhaps future updates will feature less corny jokes,
or an actual philosophical or thoughtful answer.

This story was updated on June 5, 2017 after Apple
announced its HomePod.

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