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Alexa: “The top search result for a manicure is Beurer Electric Manicure & Pedicure Kit. It’s $59 on Amazon. Want to buy it?

Google Assistant: “On average, a basic manicure will cost you about $20. However, special types of manicures like acrylic, gel, shellac, and no-chip range from about $20 to $50 in price, depending on the salon.”

Google’s accuracy is higher because it takes into account your location, past search history, social media engagement and other relevant factors when serving you a result. Yes, the more it knows about you so it can tailor results.

Google Assistant for shopping requires no ‘Prime’ subscription. When a user asks a product-based voice query to Google Assistant, Google Express presents its recommended products based on the query using the Shopping Actions platform. For smaller retailers, attracting shoppers through Google is a viable option.

Users report a high satisfaction level and that there are very few “Sorry I don’t know that, but I am always learning.”

Alexa answers are getting better, but it has more limited data sources

Alexa started as a voice portal for Amazon goods and services. It has more limited horizons – Amazon, Bing search and Wikipedia are its main data sources.

Amazon, Microsoft and Apple are trillion-dollar tech companies. BTW Alphabet, Facebook and Netflix are not far behind either. Interestingly these all have one thing in common – their services all use AI and machine learning.

Google Assistant users do much more than Amazon Alexa

Amazon started 1994 as a cloud computing service (Amazon Web Services). It built an empire based on online delivery of goods and services. Underpinning it is a very sophisticated AI analytics system to generate demand for its products and an e-commerce fulfilment system to deliver them.

It took just ten years for it to overtake Walmart – the US’s largest bricks and mortar retailer.

Understandably Alexa first draws on Amazon expertise, goods and services for an answer.

According to Alphametric, “When processing a voice search query, Amazon will prioritise whichever goods or service that are Amazon’s ‘choice’. These products use several criteria, including popularity, competitive pricing, low return rate, availability to ship quickly, sold by Amazon itself (not a merchant) and they must be Prime members. Amazon is moving from an e-commerce platform to a serious competitor for its merchants as reported in ITy Bytes on 22 March.  

Alphametric says that this inherent bias (and that is Amazon’s prerogative with Alexa) means it is selling goods and services that make it the most return, not those that may be best for the user.

It finishes, “To shop using voice search on Alexa, users need an Alexa-enable device, an Amazon Prime membership, and the desire to shop from an arbitrarily limited selection of items.”

That leads to distrust.

What does Amazon own/do?

  • Amazon.com and Amazon Prime membership for additional benefits
  • Prime Music and Music Unlimited (and variants)
  • Prime Video (and variants)
  • Amazon Studios (creates video content)
  • Amazon App store (for its Amazon devices)
  • Kindle and Kindle eBook store
  • Goodreads and Shelfari – user’s recommendations for Amazon Books
  • Audible – spoken entertainment
  • Alexa – voice recognition, shopping and analytics
  • Fire TV devices – casting video content to a TV
  • Fire Tablets
  • Echo speakers and devices
  • Digital Games Store
  • Twitch live streaming games platform
  • Amazon Wireless
  • Amazon Web Services
  • ComiXology – digital comics platform
  • Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market
  • Amazon search and reviews
  • And many, many more enterprises in over 130 countries
  • The Wikipedia Article is here.

Alexa skills

Alexa uses skills – apps to do something. For example, to turn the lights off in the lounge you say, Hey Alexa, ask Philips Hue to turn the lights off in the lounge.”

Alexa claims 50,000+ skills including those for 20,000 smart devices and about 3,500 brands (e.g. banks, shops etc). It even has a Windows skill to supplant Cortana. A ‘skill’ uses the Alexa Smart Home API – not necessarily any hardware.

At last count, about 8,000 skills work in Australia.