Do voice assistants, such as Amazon Alexa and Apple’s Siri, make our lives easier, or do they add unneeded frustration? Our guest author Lady Janey investigates…
My first experience using a voice assistant was Apple’s Siri and to say it was disappointing is an understatement. Firstly it didn’t understand my accent but being developed initially for the US market perhaps we can forgive that.
However, even when it did understand what I was saying, it failed to access the information on pretty much every occasion. To be fair it was the early stages of Siri’s introduction but having used it again recently it’s still not the user-friendliest of experiences.
My next move was to Amazon’s Alexa, which appears to have become the most common voice assistant. Google is trying to catch up but it seems to still lag behind Alexa.
Amazon’s marketing of Alexa has been clever and the pricing of the hardware initially led many to make impulse purchases with the Echo Dot retailing for around £50 or less.
When my little black puck arrived on the doorstep, I excitedly plugged it in and watched the spinning blue light whizz round while it tried to connect to the Internet and therein lay the first problem. These voice assistant systems must have an internet connection to work.
Gone are the days when early voice control was all programmed within the hardware and the system could only understand what it had been programmed to.
Now with the advent of cloud computing and processing, the power of multi million pound servers can be utilised to process vast amounts of data and allow these devices to be more ‘intelligent’ with understanding different questions.
However being stuck in rural Gloucestershire with a dismal broadband speed, Alexa was struggling to cope.
Eventually Alexa appeared to have gained enough connection to allow me to register and setup the device via the app on my phone, which was a very simple thing to do.
I couldn’t wait to get going and control everything in our home with the power of my voice. However it wasn’t that simple. Apparently in order for Alexa to control anything it needs a ‘skill’.
These skills are usually developed by the hardware manufacturers to integrate their control systems with Alexa. The problem is we have many different manufacturers of gadgets around our homes and all work independently unless you have a fully integrated system.
Unfortunately Alexa only recognises certain control instructions and can’t interpret what you want if you don’t give the specific commands. Additional problems arise when you want something done in a particular room even if you’re sitting in that room.
However even then there are problems, as I have to use Living Room as the name rather than Lounge, as Alexa simply won’t understand Lounge with the system we have.
So after several weeks of using Alexa how do I feel about her? Well the system does work provided you remember the exact commands, don’t mumble, have a clear English accent and remember which system you want to control!
For me it’s not intuitive and is often more frustrating than just pushing a button on a keypad or app. It all still feels very artificial and you know that you’re not speaking with a real person but a programmed interface, which doesn’t have the nuances, which we as humans have.
But it’s still early days so will these systems get better over time or remain clunky and frustrating to use?
What I do like about Alexa is the ability to ask general questions where the answer can be obtained from the internet.
Provided you’re not asking her to control anything it’s much more natural to ask a general question and get an answer.
That is very useful and quicker than typing the question into Google or other search engines. However again this relies on a speedy Internet connection, which we do not have.
This is a guest post by Lady Janey. All views expressed are Lady Janey’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.
Do you use a voice assistant – and do you have any gripes with them? Will they ever become a natural way to get things done?