Personal Assistant(s)

The day I saw Cortana demonstrated on Windowsphone back in 2012(ish) at a Microsoft conference I was all in. It took a long while to arrive on my Lumia in the UK and was less functional than the demo but it had promise. This was the most personal of phones with the most personal of assistants.

I looked forward to having an ever improving experience, integration of the assistant with the services I use and the science fiction possibility of voice becoming a legitimate interface. In the current jargon – ambient computing. 

Jumping forward to 2019 I find the picture has changed a lot. The promise of Cortana has evaporated as quickly as Satya Nadella’s commitment to three Windowsphones per year. Cortana never really reached full functionality in the UK. In fact it now answers fewer queries than four years ago. I doesn’t really tell me about my parcel deliveries, doesn’t work with mapping very well, knows little about public transport in the UK. As an “app” on my Android device it needs remapping to home screen but then Google Assistant has a problem. For it is the assistant that answers many of my queries on the move and integrates well with Android services. This is to be expected of course but now means two assistants are on my phone.

At home the Amazon Alexa is my assistant of choice. It integrates with my music, news and has thousands of skills that allow me to listen to podcasts just by talking to my obedient friend. The Amazon Echo became my friend because there was no Microsoft offering in that category. However, we were promised a Cortana skill to allow me integration with the Microsoft services I use. That isn’t going well in Britain. Not a hint of Alexa being friends with Cortana so I can use my Echo as a Cortana speaker. Although I understand that the USA has this.

Cortana is rapidly being deprecated in my personal use of Microsoft Services. It’s perhaps the inevitable consequence of Microsoft abandonment of consumers. As their consumer ambitions wither on the vine the consumers transition to other products that makes Microsoft look at their telemetry and discount the consumer market. The circle of deprecation, diminished use followed by deprecation continues. 

The question in my mind is should I really start thinking as a consumer and move to the fully supported environment of Google Services. After decades of choosing Microsoft first it’s somewhat dispiriting the question is now seriously coming to my mind. 

Conversation 22 comments

  • jchampeau

    Premium Member
    02 March, 2019 - 8:42 am

    <p>If you use Office 365 for your calendar, beware that Google Assistant won't play nice with it. I ask Alexa most mornings to read my day's calendar to me and Google Assistant, as I understand it, will only do that if your calendar is on their platform. I'm sure there are other gotchas, but this one in particular has kept me from really embracing Google Assistant. And by extension, kept me on iPhone and Alexa.</p>

    • ponsaelius

      02 March, 2019 - 11:22 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#408398">In reply to jchampeau:</a></em></blockquote><blockquote><em>Thanks for the warning. That is part of the reason why I am churning this around in my mind. I do feel let down by Microsoft from a consumer perspective. That's not to say that I don't understand its a business decision to close down it's consumer businesses. </em></blockquote><p><br></p>

    • ryguy

      Premium Member
      04 March, 2019 - 5:23 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#408398">In reply to jchampeau:</a></em></blockquote><p><br></p><p>Same here. Also, the lack of integration with Sonos makes Google Assistant a nonstarter for me.</p>

  • minke

    02 March, 2019 - 10:00 am

    <p>I find personal assistants, including Google, nearly useless. It is far, far, easier and quicker to just look at my calendar or a map and directions, or my weather app. Plus, there are very few moments during my day when I would want to talk to my phone and have it talk back to me, even if it worked properly, which it doesn't half the time. My wife on the other hand, walks around the house madly talking to Siri, which never understands her correctly and provides incorrect information very slowly. Meanwhile, I have looked up the question on my phone and give her the correct answer while Siri is still spouting nonsense.</p>

    • jedwards87

      02 March, 2019 - 4:44 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#408411">In reply to Minke:</a></em></blockquote><p>If you find them nearly useless then you obviously are not using them correctly. Sure when you are out and with phone in hand it is easier to use the phone but when at home I do not walk around with the phone in my hand all day. I am not so important that I can't place my phone down and enjoy life. Anyways at home Alexa has become a main player. Controlling our smart home devices, reminders, shopping list (way better than what Google offers), general info, calendar and music. We have them strategically place around the house to where we can talk to them from anywhere in our home. No way I am running to my find my phone when I need to add a reminder or something to the shopping list.</p><p><br></p><p>As far as switching to Google I wouldn't do it. Google is inconsistent, buggy and you just never know when they will kill a feature. Google Assistant is ok but Alexa is worlds better at controlling smart home devices and dealing with shopping list. Plus I just don't trust Google especially since the whole we put a mic in our Nest device and acted like we forgot. No telling what else this untrusted worthy data mining company is up to.</p>

      • minke

        07 March, 2019 - 8:58 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#408569">In reply to jedwards87:</a></em></blockquote><p>My "smart home device" is located between my ears.</p>

  • tsay

    Premium Member
    03 March, 2019 - 8:21 pm

    <p>The way I see it, Amazon is a retailer and wants to sell to me….Google just wants to sell me.</p><p><br></p><p>The first is a time honoured and accepted business practice between vendor/customer and for the main operates within socially ethical parameters.</p><p><br></p><p>I find the second fundamentally immoral.</p><p><br></p><p>Further it's actually quite a high risk business model predicated on widespread user ignorance of how far entwined it's become into individual personal privacy, which could quickly unravel should there be a cultural sea change ahead.</p><p><br></p><p>Some indications are already there – YouTube could well be the catalyst for this. Each algorithmic, automated mistake whether extremist ads, open abuse of comments, continuing lack of pre-upload vetting or any practical measure of human curation makes the headlines and becomes harder and harder to bury.</p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

    • wright_is

      Premium Member
      04 March, 2019 - 12:52 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#408711">In reply to tsay:</a></em></blockquote><p>I agree with Google, although Amazon aren't much better. It is like asking, which would you rather have the pest (plague) of cholera? Both, along with most other big Internet companies suffer from what Germans call Sammelwut (acquisitivness, or more literally collection fury). I don't feel comfortable with any of them having more data about me.</p>

    • Tony Barrett

      10 March, 2019 - 1:57 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#408711">In reply to tsay:</a></em></blockquote><p>Do not for a second underestimate what Amazon are doing with Echo. They are no better than Google in most respects. They're collecting reams of personal data, collating buying habits etc, tailoring personalized ads as they monetize people using their system. Yes, Amazon want you to buy things from them, and try to make it as easy as possible to do this, but the data they collect is used for all variety of purposes. Amazon have this nice, friendly face (even on their packaging!), but they are ruthless, clinical and devious in their ambitions. When you realize that nearly 50% of online sales in the US go through Amazon, and the number of businesses they've destroyed or acquired along the way to achieve this, and considering Jeff Bezos is the richest man on the planet, I really wouldn't think Amazon are anything but brutal and have as much information about you as all the rest.</p>

      • tsay

        Premium Member
        17 March, 2019 - 5:24 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#410819">In reply to ghostrider:</a></em></blockquote><p>Just to qualify, I'm no fan of Amazon either; bullying, monopolistic, protectionist and more.</p><p><br></p><p>Currently, I have no personal assistant in my life and the need to use one is not compelling at this juncture. I do have an Invoke, but she's used less and less now.</p><p><br></p><p>The reason? Music, radio and audio streaming are key for me and my (not so young) Younglings from both subscription services and large back catalogue personal collection, many simply not available via subscription.</p><p><br></p><p>We all have phones, we all have laptops. If we need to, we can shout at these to our hearts content and they cover the same capability. If there is a real need to…for me until we even get to basic capability as per original Star Trek and true natural interactive speech, it doesn't enhance my productivity. </p><p><br></p><p>So I went and bought a proper tool for the job – a speaker made by a speaker manufacturer, gorgeous sound quality, graphic equaliser controls, Bluetooth, WIFI, line in/out, multi-room capable, pre-set Inputs for favourite radio/playlists and powerful enough for any party in the house, whether my well behaved 21 and 17 year olds with their friends or full on raving by me and the wife (Younglings are not what they used to be).</p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p>Marshall Woburn</p><p><br></p><p>It's seriously good.</p><p><br></p><p>And loud.</p><p><br></p><p>So loud, I've not yet cranked it all the way apart from initial tests – too scared to go above 8 and as it's a Marshall it has 11 LED notches on the volume dial…</p>

  • gregoryp

    04 March, 2019 - 10:31 am

    <p>Personal assistants and social media platforms are unnecessary, privacy disasters and just plain creepy. I suppose if one doesn't care about the loss of privacy and being constantly monetized and fed fake news, then there is nothing wrong with Google or Amazon or Facebook or Twitter. No… nothing at all. ;-)</p>

  • Chris_Kez

    Premium Member
    04 March, 2019 - 10:51 am

    <p>I assume you have your reasons for not having already moved to Google services. The real question is what has Google done to assuage your concerns? </p>

    • ponsaelius

      04 March, 2019 - 2:42 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#408850">In reply to Chris_Kez:</a></em></blockquote><p>My main reason for not being too closely tied to Google was that I had a Windowsphone. Everything I used was basically there. It fitted well. Even today my default search engine on my PC is Bing and not Google.</p><p><br></p><p>What happened is Microsoft withdrew from consumer services. As that happened, from Google Maps to saving stuff on Google Drive because it was the default just happened. I am not specifically choosing Google so much as Microsoft pushing me towards that choice.</p>

  • AnOldAmigaUser

    Premium Member
    04 March, 2019 - 2:13 pm

    <p>I do not see the point of giving up privacy to be entertained by parlor tricks.</p>

  • jimchamplin

    Premium Member
    04 March, 2019 - 10:21 pm

    <p>My favorite personal assistant is Microsoft Bob. Runs great on a 486DX/2 66.</p>

  • Paul Thurrott

    Premium Member
    05 March, 2019 - 8:36 am

    <p>Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant/Home are roughly identical from a functionality/support perspective. You would be fine either way, I think.</p>

  • Daekar

    05 March, 2019 - 11:20 am

    <p>I'm going to give a cop-out answer here. Voice assistants are, despite the insistence of some, far from essential. They are primarily used to play music, speak the weather, and control smart-home devices which … well, I would say investing in much smart home stuff at this stage is ill-advised. The value-add they offer at present is minimal, and you aren't missing out by not using one at all.</p><p><br></p><p>I would advise you to just forget about voice assistants for 3 to 5 years. They might be useful by then, and the landscape could be different than now.</p>

    • epsjrno

      Premium Member
      09 March, 2019 - 1:21 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#409169">In reply to Daekar:</a></em></blockquote><p>That's been my feeling since the demise of Cortana. I'm going to be in a sit back and wait mode for a bit.</p>

  • harrymyhre

    Premium Member
    09 March, 2019 - 11:06 pm

    <p>There should be many voice assistants. </p><p>Not just one end all be all voice assistant. </p>

    • wright_is

      Premium Member
      11 March, 2019 - 10:14 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#410738">In reply to Harrymyhre:</a></em></blockquote><p>Three assistants for the Seattle-kings* under the sky,</p><p>Seven assistants for the Chinese-lords in their halls of jade,</p><p>Nine for the mortal men doomed to be exploited,</p><p>One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,</p><p>In the Valley of Silicon where the Shadows lie.</p><p>One Assistant to rule them all, One Assistant to find them,</p><p>One Assistant to bring them all and in the darkness bind them</p><p>In the Valley of Silicon where the Shadows lie.</p><p><br></p><p>* Well, that should be 2, but, hey. :-P</p>

  • jrswarr

    Premium Member
    11 March, 2019 - 9:33 am

    <p>Until you can talk to your digital assistant in a normal non-stilted way – i'll take a pass for now. </p>

    • minke

      11 March, 2019 - 6:01 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#410997">In reply to jrswarr:</a></em></blockquote><p>To me talking is one of the huge problems. I have no desire to talk to digital assistants, and much of the day it would be a huge annoyance to those around me.</p>


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