How Google had almost 10 years’ head start on voice assistants and lost its competition to Amazon

This is one of the areas that I get angry at Google where it used to be leading this category and clearly fell behind in the competition.

Voice assistants are not new. Google introduced dictation and voice assistants in the Android ecosystem many years ago. I remember using dictation very well on Android keyboards to write some of my blog posts. Similarly, we were seeing Google Assistant years before Siri or Alexa existed. Yes, maybe it had much simpler capabilities but Google was the first mover in the category – like many other verticals.

It is saddening why Google didn’t or couldn’t push it forward. Instead, it stayed relatively stagnant technology for Google.

Looking at the competition; Apple is definitely not taking Siri into priority as usual. Siri is still, much of a closed ecosystem on the Apple side.

On the other hand, we’re seeing Alexa, despite its focus on shopping features, is advertised well. Every other month, Amazon is launching more experimental hardware to support Alexa in any possible physical space. It is clear that Amazon has a clearer vision of its Alexa product.

Separate from the marketing efforts, there is a more open path for developers to integrate and interact with Alexa. In my experiments as a developer playing with both Alexa and Google Home devices in their early days, I can say it was easier to build stuff around Alexa devices. Although Google APIs and integrations were pretty close.

One thing Google should be taking is its voice assistants much more seriously because it can be a big vulnerability for Google than it looks.

One can argue that voice assistants are the next big thing that will (and already did in some parts), replace how we interact with our devices.

Consider tomorrow Apple decides to launch Siri web results and makes it the default search engine in Safari – probably with a few more impressive voice-initiated search (you can kinda do something similar today, with tapping the search box and using dictation on the keyboard – or actually directly asking Siri). We had seen a similar “oh it won’t happen, people will stick with Google” when Apple Maps launched. We saw people didn’t change the OS defaults. I can’t tell a percentage but if I had to guess, Google took a hit when that happened. And certainly, it can happen – maybe even bigger – on the search side.

The same can apply to Alexa as well. Maybe with less impact, since Amazon is not too present on our mobile screens. But Apple is.

Google Home is still my favorite screen-less voice assistant device in my home. And I really enjoy hearing about new improvements Google launches about its voice assistant in general. I’m hoping we’ll hear more interesting stuff from Google on this front in the future.

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