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The Connected Home: Amazon Alexa vs. Google Home vs. Apple Homepod

May 14th, 2018 by
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Andrew Cowart, CTO at Metova, discusses development for today’s most popular connected home devices as well as new industries that could benefit from leveraging these devices.

 

Is it easier to write for one or the other?

It’s not necessarily that one is easier to write for than another, but – depending on what you already have, some development may go faster. For instance, with the Amazon Alexa, you can write something that is deployed on Amazon’s cloud service and accessible from Alexa without needing a mobile application. Your entire application could just be the Alexa part of things. For Apple Homepod, though, it’s a modification to an existing mobile application. If you don’t already have a mobile application, that’s going to be an extra step that you’d need before you can get your content on the Homepod.

 

What development skills can be leveraged to write for these units (Android, C+ etc)

There are a few common pieces of knowledge that will be used across all of the platforms. Notably, JSON is the primary format that data is transferred in between the code and the device.

But in terms of the code itself, it’s different per platform. Amazon Alexa can use any web service, although most of its examples will be in Node.js, Java, Python, or C#. Apple Homepod is really an extension of an iOS application, so that’s going to be in Swift or Objective C. Google Home seems more unique, and allows for some basic actions to be built using Google Sheets, and more advanced actions built using JSON and Javascript.

Is it possible to write apps or skills for these simultaneously?

In terms of actual development, it really has to be developed separately. Amazon Alexa and Google Home are probably the most likely to be able to reuse some small bit of code between the applications. However, the main code re-use for connected home devices is really defining the range of actions and responses, and that mapping should be usable cross-platform.

 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each platform from a development standpoint?

Amazon Alexa has the advantage of having the strongest ecosystem, due to having existed longer than the other platforms. Developers will have more assistance available, and they also offer the widest range of programming languages to develop against. The main disadvantage is that it doesn’t offer a direct way to communicate to a mobile device, so if you have a mobile application you want to interact with, you’ll need to go through an intermediate server to handle that part.

Google Home seems to have the least clear documentation, which can hinder development efforts on that platform. It’s very easy to build small Google Home applications, you can even make some applications just by entering data into Google Sheets – but for larger, more complicated applications, the lack of clearer documentation will likely cause development to take longer than the other platforms.

Apple Homepod’s major advantage is that the integration with the Homepod is actually tied to a mobile application. This makes it very easy for commands from a Homepod to interact with a mobile application on the user’s phone, without needing additional development on a server. This major advantage is also a major disadvantage, though, especially for people who don’t have an existing application – your Homepod application requires a mobile application to be developed to do the business logic.

 

Do you have a personal preference?

I’m a fan of Alexa. Amazon was the pioneer for the connected home / personal assistant space, and it’s the most robust platform that’s out there right now. Our developers at Metova have also expressed the most interest in this platform, due to the wide array of devices it’s available on, and the ease of setting up something quickly.

 

A recent survey shows nearly 90% of consumers own a connected home device with nearly 70% already making the purchase of a voice-controlled connected home device. What traditionally ‘non-technical’ industries do you think could benefit from having an app created for in-home connected devices?

Really, the benefit for in-home connected devices is triggering a common action via voice. Ordering a pizza is a great example – you’re probably not going to want to order 5 different pizzas and list out the toppings and sizes one by one on your Alexa. But, if you have a common order, it’s very convenient to say, “Alexa, tell Domino’s Pizza to order my Friday Night Usual”.

I see this really being beneficial to any industry that offers on-demand services. Housecleaning services that you can order via voice, food delivery, lawn care — these services where there’s a normal, common action that you want to trigger on-demand.

 

A recent survey indicates that nearly 6 out of 10 consumers are concerned about privacy with connected homes. What can the industry do to address privacy?

Manufacturers and developers need to and are making it easier to manage the security of your home network. While administrative portals used to be catered towards admins and ‘techie’ users, manufacturers are stepping up their game and making these portals more user friendly and accessible to the normal user. Consumers should also be conscious of the reputation of the manufacturer they’re buying home automation products from – do a quick search of the company name and privacy/security, and make sure there are no recent offenses.

 

For an infographic with more detail on the connected home survey findings please visit: https://metova.com/infographic-the-connected-home/

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