19.02-The different types of Artificial Intelligence based Virtual Assistants. – 2016-07-17

In article 19.01-What is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based Virtual Assistant? – 2016-07-17, which you should read first, we have defined what AI based Virtual Assistants are, how they work, why they are important and why they will dramatically influence the future of personal computing. This article will introduce a number of current Virtual Assistants and classify them, the best we can, by categories to simplify your understanding. In follow-on articles we will guide you in the selection of the ones that would be best suited for you.

Virtual Assistants categories

Dominant smartphone, tablet and PC Virtual Assistants

Apple Siri

Siri was introduced by Apple, in 2011, with the iOS5 operating system. It was the first general purpose Virtual Assistant from a major supplier. Siri is well known by a number of Apple users but, since it only operates on Apple devices, it is not universally available.

If you are an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch user and want to learn more about Siri, click on the following hyperlink to learn how to use Siri on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

If you want to learn more about Siri, please read the following article that should cover most questions you may have about Siri: Siri – Everything you need to know! from iMore.

Google Now

Google Now was introduced by Google, in 2012. Google Now is available on the three major technology platforms: Microsoft, Google and Apple.

Google Now, its derivatives and the Google Apps represent, in my opinion, the most promising Personal Virtual Assistants technology platform. For this reason, I will not go further here but will publish, in the near future, an entire article dedicated to the Google Personal Virtual Assistants technology platform. Just be patient!

Microsoft Cortana

Cortana was introduced by Microsoft, in 2014, with Windows Phone 8.1, and, in July 2015, with Windows 10 for PCs. Cortana is available on the three major technology platforms: Microsoft, Google and Apple.

Under Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, new CEO leadership, Cortana, its derivatives and the Microsoft corporate market penetration and strategic direction represent, in my opinion, the most promising Corporate Virtual Assistants technology platform. For this reason, I will not go further here but will publish, in the near future, an entire article dedicated to the Microsoft Corporate Virtual Assistants technology platform. Just be patient!

Under development

Viv – Under development by the very ambitious former Siri’s developers. Viv developers want to make it available on all major technology platforms. We will have to wait and see.

Other Virtual Assistants available on Android

By clicking on the following hyperlink, 10 best personal assistant apps for Android, you will access the 10 best personal assistant apps for Android, as per Android Authority, as of 2016-01-12. This will show that a lot of companies are working on Virtual Assistant Apps. 

Virtual Assistant Home Devices

Since it was first announced, in November 2014, the Amazon Personal Virtual Assistant Echo has started to invade our homes. This type of devices will become the main controller of the home Internet of Things (IofT). In its first year, as of June 2016, Amazon has already sold over three million Echo devices. With the latest announcement of Google Home, wuich is the first Echo major competitor, this market is about to explode. It will become one of the main vehicle for introducing Personal Virtual Assistant to the masses.

What is a Virtual Assistant Home Device?

A Home Virtual Assistant Device is Wi-Fi linked nicely packaged computer device that sits on a counter, desk or shelf inside your home, and that you use to access a Personal Virtual Assistant.

Below is a picture of the Amazon Echo (black) and the Google Home (white/grey) side by side:

Alexa

Amazon Echo / Echo Dot /Amazon Tap

Available since June 2015. Powered by Amazon Alexa. Amazon has since announced the Echo Dot, a smaller device with some Echo functionalities, and the Amazon Tap, a portable Bluetooth speaker with some Echo functionalities.

The Amazon Echo currently sells for U$179.99, on Amazon.com, and does the following:

  • Plays all your music from Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and more using just your voice.
  • Fills the room with immersive, 360º omni-directional audio.
  • Allows hands-free convenience with voice-control.
  • Hears you from across the room with far-field voice recognition, even while music is playing.
  • Answers questions, reads audiobooks and the news, reports traffic and weather, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, and more using the Alexa Voice Service.
  • Controls lights, switches, and thermostats with compatible WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Nest, and ecobee smart home devices.
  • Always getting smarter and adding new features and skills–over 1,500 added since launch, including Domino’s and Uber.

The Echo Dot currently sells for U$89.99, on Amazon.com, and does the following:

  • Uses the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide information, read the news, set alarms, control smart home devices, and more using just your voice.
  • Connects to speakers over Bluetooth or with the included audio cable to play music from Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.
  • Includes a built-in speaker so it can work on its own as a smart alarm clock in the bedroom, an assistant in the kitchen, or anywhere you might want a voice-controlled computer.
  • Hears you from across the room with far-field voice recognition, even while music is playing.
  • Controls smart home devices like lights, switches, thermostats, and more with compatible connected devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, ecobee, and others.
  • Always getting smarter and adding new features and skills.
  • Learn more about Bluetooth speakers and devices that work well with Echo Dot.

The Amazon Tap currently sells for U$89.99, on Amazon.com, and does the following:

  • Just tap and ask for music from Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.
  • Uses the Alexa Voice Service when connected to Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot to play music, read the news, provide weather reports, and even order a pizza.
  • Streams all your music via Bluetooth from your phone or tablet.
  • Delivers crisp sound powered by Dolby, with dual stereo speakers that provide 360º omni-directional audio.
  • Provides up to 9 hours of playback.
  • Always getting smarter and adding new features and skills.
  • Includes Charging Cradle.

Google Home

Announced in May 2016. Powered by Google Assistant (an evolution of Google Now). 

Google Home has not been priced and is not available yet. Speculations are that it should be available later this year (2016).

Google Home, Google Assistant and the numerous Google Apps represent, in my opinion, the most promising Personal Virtual Assistants technology platform. For this reason, I will not go further here but will publish, in the near future, an entire article dedicated to the Google Personal Virtual Assistants technology platform. Just be patient!

Being an Echo competitor, Google Home will have similar functions plus the interface with the Google Apps. You can get some info by reading the following The Verge article: Google Home: a speaker to finally take on the Amazon Echo.

Below is picture of Google Home with customizable colors:

Home

Samsung Otto

Announced as a prototype in April 2016. Includes a camera. As you can see all the big players don’t want to be left out of the Virtual Assistant market.

Virtual Assistant Business Intelligence

With the recent availability of Cortana and Google Now on Windows 10, Corporate Virtual Assistants will become more widely used. In the corporate world, the recent coupling of Microsoft Cortana and Power BI, opens a new realm of powerful functionalities that will accelerate the use of Cortana as the preferred interface for Business Intelligence Apps.

In my opinion, Microsoft Cortana and Power BI represent the most promising Corporate Virtual Assistant technology platform. For this reason, I will not go further here but will publish, in the near future, an entire article dedicated to the Microsoft’s Personal and Corporate Virtual Assistants technology platform. Just be patient!

A Microsoft potential competitor in this arena is Artificial Solutions Teneo Platform. Click on the hyperlink to learn more if you are interested.

App Specific Virtual Assistants

With the Virtual Assistant technology becoming widely available to Apps developers, we will assist to the introduction of Virtual Assistant technology into a large number of specialized Apps to facilitate the man/machine interface and to add a modern look for marketing purposes. Below, I have referenced a number of the currently available App Specific Virtual Assistants.

Personal Chat Virtual Assistants

One of the specialized area where Personal Virtual Assistants have been introduced is the chat Apps area. The major player is Facebook M    – A Virtual Assistant launched in 2015 as part of Facebook Messenger. We must keep an eye on Facebook with its large user base to become a major player in the Personal Assistant market place.

Not to be left behind, Google has recently announced, in May 2016, Google Allo – Virtual Assisted Imbedded Chat App.

Other Web and Phone Chat Virtual Assistants  are:

Kana – Chat Virtual Assistant

noHold – Chat Virtual Assistant

WhatsBot – Smart Assistant to chat with via SMS.

Other App Specific Virtual Assistants

Braina – Virtual Assistant for Windows PCs.

X.AI Amy – A meeting scheduling Virtual Assistant.

Shae   – A Health Virtual Assistant, that manages your health for you.

api.ai – This company builds brand-unique, natural language interactions for bots, applications and devices

Niki – Smart Assistant to order certain services.

CONCLUSION

As you can see from the above, the world of Virtual Assistants is effervescence right now. Over the next few months and years, Virtual Assistants will be introduced for all kind of uses and will gradually become a common and productive man/machine interface to facilitate the use of computerized technologies.

There may be some hurdles along the way that may affect the speed of adoption, but eventually man will find ways to interface with computers verbally, versus using the fingers or the mouse. It is therefore very important to learn how to use them and incorporate them in our daily lives.

Follow-on articles will present how to use Virtual Assistants, which is the most promising Personal Virtual Assistant and why, and which is which is the most promising Corporate Virtual Assistant and why. These articles should help you select the tools that are the most appropriate for you.