I bought Amazon’s Echo soon after it launched in late 2014. Since then, the device has received dozens of new features – and a few competitors, like the Google Home and Apple’s HomePod.
With three tech giants now offering their own monochromic, tubular robots, which company is giving me the most free new stuff post-purchase? Which smart speaker has added the most new features? And how often do these wonderful new abilities show up?
Smart speakers are still in that awkward adolescent phase where they can do some tasks, but not others. So I made the chart below to better understand what one can do and another can’t.
Some tips: bolded dates indicate the first device to offer a feature. Also, those thousands of third-party skills that must be installed separately don’t count.
Amazon, Apple and Google generally don’t announce new software versions for their smart speakers, so it’s difficult to determine how many updates have rolled out and what changes they brought. Therefore, this chart is no doubt incomplete. Google’s version update page doesn’t note specific changes and Amazon’s Alexa page typically lists “general improvements and performance enhancements.” The features and dates listed above come from search results and Archive.org.
So what are the general takeaways from this chart?
Plus, digital assistants are just getting started. Amazon just allowed developers to add purchasing inside skills. Apple reportedly plans to allow users to fully control their mobile devices using voice commands. And at its I/O conference in California this week, Google announced that its digital assistant will be able to switch between six voices, send money to your friends, and do something jaw-dropping: make complex appointment phone calls for you, like restaurant reservations.
Though I’ve got an Echo and a Home, I’ve held off buying a HomePod until Siri does more. Amazon and Google have proven they’re working swiftly to empower their assistants with new skills. If Siri’s gradual progress on the iPhone is any indication, the assistant’s biggest improvements will come only once a year, and that’s not fast enough.