use a fairly simple metric to determine which artificially intelligent voice assistant is the best for controlling my smart home: Which one do I swear at the least? Apple’s Siri, which turns 10 today, wins hands down. This is slightly to do with the fact it rarely spews useless information at me when it didn’t understand what I was asking (*cough* Google) and definitely because it never asks if I want to buy something (you know who you are). But mainly, it’s because as a smart home controller, Siri is seriously fast.
Siri, you say? That same Siri whose lagginess is legendary in its native iPhone home? Yes, that’s the one. Bring Siri into your home, put the power of an Apple TV 4K or HomePod (maxi or mini) behind it as a HomeKit hub, and the snappiness with which the AI does what you command will floor you.
A simple, “Hey Siri, Good Night” turns off all the smart lights in my home, locks the front and back doors, closes the garage door, pauses any music playing, lowers the shades, and sets the thermostat to my sleep temperature in around 6 seconds, give or take.
A quick “Hey Siri, lights on” directed at the kitchen HomePod Mini turns just those lights on in under a second. As a bonus, it has never once accidentally illuminated the whole house at 5AM, as some other voice assistants have unhelpfully done (I mentioned the swearing already, right?)
A whispered “Good Morning” into my Apple Watch while pressing the digital crown, and my home springs gently back to life; turning on just the lights I need to get ready without waking up my partner and playing NPR quietly on the kitchen Mini, all before I’ve made it out of the bedroom.
Siri may lack some of the excellent qualities found on competing smart speakers. It’s not the smartest AI — that goes to Google Assistant with its powerhouse backend. It’s not the most helpful — that goes to Alexa with its frequent (and frequently unsolicited) offers of assistance. But when all what you want to do is turn the lights on and instead your AI launches into a monologue about who invented the light switch, that’s when you say to yourself, “I wish my smart home controller was a little dumber.”
While the smart home dream is one powered by artificial intelligence that uses context to anticipate your every need, we are a long way from that reality. Today, all you really need from your smart home voice control are listening skills and comprehension — we’re talking first grade here, not a master’s degree.
To be helpful, voice control in the smart home just has to be easier and less obtrusive than pulling out a phone and opening an app, and more convenient than walking over to flip a switch. It’s a challenge and one that Apple is the closest to conquering — in my home at least.