The race for the workplace – Amazon vs. Google

Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa are both contenders to shape up to become the dominant Smart Assistant platform at the workplace. Both are incredibly popular and widely supported, yet today there are subtle differences between them which may influence their potential to support a wide range of use cases, and thus become the dominant platform for the smart office.

Our Director for Digital Services spoke to CMS Wire to help developers and decision makers understand which platform has the most succinct value proposition for businesses.

How Amazon Alexa fares

+ Amazon is obviously very serious about conquering the smart office as they have a dedicated business version of Alexa for this purpose. It is especially trying to hone its skills with regards to a smart meeting room, where various conference room equipment such as TVs and VoIP phones will set themselves up correctly, all trigged by a simple Echo Dot placed strategically in the room.

+ It isn’t however just limited to meetings as Amazon benefits from being the world’s largest retailer, thus Echo devices that let you order new coffee, paper or pens seem like an easy target for them.

+ Skills are widely supported with Smart home hardware, so it is further easy to imagine that ancillary IoT devices like smart kettles, coffee machines and plugs could be adapted to suit the new Alexa for Business platform.

+ Last, but not least: Amazon has the more widely adopted smart assistant hardware that almost every tech savvy household has at least one of at home. They have been in the game longer and thus users will be more familiar with the devices – whether they find them in the office soon or for those that take “their work home” where it would neatly co-exist inside already purchased hardware.

- Conversely, not many 3rd party devices support Alexa. Echos aside, there isn’t a lot to choose from: The Fire TV, and maybe the odd Dell that comes pre-installed with Alexa (although any PC can download it).

- This is further reflected in the number of skills: If recent numbers are to be believed Alexa sports a respectable 50,000 skills but that’s dwarfed by Google Assistant’s 1 Million Actions. While Amazon still dominates with the number of devices Alexa works with, 20,000 vs. only 1,500 with Google; and the number of brands that work with it, 3,500 vs. a much lower 200 with Google. Yet remember Google’s Assistant hasn’t been around as long, so the momentum it has already built up is worrysome for Alexa. 

How Google Assistant is technically superior

While Amazon has gotten a lot of things right, there are some serious omissions that show where Amazon as a software giant can’t yet hold a candle to Google.

+ Google Assistant is more accurate, albeit by a hair only.

+ Google Assistant supports keyboards! This may seem obvious once you read it, but voice-only interfaces don’t really suit office environments. Many users like to use their keyboard for command entry as it is quieter and offers more privacy – both of which is desirable at the workplace. And Google Assistant’s app runs on any smartphone, best of course on Android where Assistant is natively baked into the OS. Alexa conversely doesn’t support keyboard input at all.

+ It’s available in the car! Today in the US you can buy from over 400 different models that come with Android Auto, anything from a Kia to an Aston Martin. And with the average American commuting nearly an hour every day, that opens up a lot of time you could spend talking to your Google Assistant to go through your schedule, mails, approvals, etc.

Winner: Google Assistant

After moving only at a glacial pace when it comes to in-car tech, Amazon is now trying to catch up, but it may prove harder for them to conquer the car than it may be for Google to conquer the home. And that’s exactly why Google wins for now, Google is better at the UX department supporting text inputs and has an important leg up in the car.

But may be Amazon manages to pull a rabbit out of the hat and get us to speak with Alexa from morning until evening.

Here is a bonus problem:

Authentication is difficult to manage when you have only your voice. Both devices match the user to the voice they hear, Echo can even ask for a PIN before it lets you make purchases. But in the office this authentication will face new challenges: It may need to be more reliable, interact with existing Single Sign On solutions and even discern between multiple voices at the same time which in turn could be picked up by multiple devices in close proximity to one another simultaneously. Overall this seems a hard-to-master problem, and thus could become an important differentiator for either provider.

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