Amazon, Apple, Google and Samsung are developing networks centered on their own voice activated search engines, and these are integrated into their proprietary, walled-garden ecosystems. To date, none of them specify the use of a tablet or an independent web browser, and the smartest and most numerous and experienced candidate for adding video – the iPad  – has had little or no mention. Why is this?

For each of the major vendors, their search engine is the Trojan horse they want to embed into our smart home. There is a presumption of high interest in turning our lights or appliances on and off using voice commands, for dimming and changing their hue. Or setting your thermostat, or locking your doors, wirelessly. Never mind – if they can get you using their search engine, then all related data flows to them, and that’s what they want, as they can direct advertising and your business to their sales operations. A system as egregious and lockstep as Alexa/Amazon architecture does not pretend otherwise. Anything wrong with this?

Not unless you miss images or video as part of your home computing experience. It’s true that Apple can cast you onto Apple TV, as will Samsung to their smart TV’s, but given the transitional state TV is in – headed toward wholesale streaming over the Net – the real issue eventually becomes: where’s the web browser in all this?

An open Web connection lets the dogs out, and you’d be free to roam outside the vendor’s ecosystem. You’ve left the building, you might be watching Netflix “over the top” as ISP’s describe it – using big bandwidth and pressuring carriers to perform outside their consumption models. Apple doesn’t want to burden their biggest clients – the cell phone vendors. Most of the vendors remain on the “down low” and stick to voice assistants or phones as controllers, as shameless carnival barkers. In large part the media just parrot their announcements.

Let’s consider an alternative – utilizing a wall-mounted iPad/Poort alongside an Echo, a Google Home or the forthcoming Apple HomePod. So you have a 9.7″ iPad in a Poort enclosure over a kitchen outlet, with the “voice assistant” nearby. Both the Echo and the Home devices now support Bluetooth, and the HomePod and iPad have Airplay2, so any of them can be used as a speaker, which nicely supplements iPad’s weak audio.

As an example, let’s look at an iPad/Google Home combo connected by Bluetooth. You can now watch movies or YouTube while cooking, with full sound. You can use either or both search engines – although few developers realize that the Siri SDK supports more than one. You’ll have the best of breed in tablets working with the same in search engines, with the option of adding a HomePod when it is released for allegedly state of the art quality.

It’s evident that there will be a wide range of options given the ecosystem you end up in, but one thing is a given today – the smartest home will set up an iPad/Poort first, and the assistants come later, if at all. Bluetooth speakers may be all you need, and Siri can hear and reply to you perfectly well from her iPad lair.

Here’s a summary of the major assistants, courtesy of CNET.

Apple HomePod vs. Google Home vs. Amazon Echo

Apple HomePod Google Home Amazon Echo
Price $349 $129 $180
Responds to voice commands Yes Yes Yes
Always listening Yes Yes Yes
Wake word Hey Siri OK Google, or Hey Google Alexa, Echo, Amazon or Computer
Music streaming options Apple Music (other options unknown) Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, others
Smart home partnerships Will likely work with Apple’s established HomeKit partners: Ecobee, Honeywell, Chamberlain, D-Link, August, Kwikset, Philips Hue, Lutron, iDevices, and more Nest, Honeywell, SmartThings, Wink, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, Lifx, Lutron, August, Logitech Harmony, Anova, IFTTT and others Nest, Ecobee, Honeywell, SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, Lifx, Lutron, August, Logitech Harmony, Anova, Big Ass Fans, IFTTT, Control4, Crestron, other devices via skills
Customizable appearance No Yes No
Output to stereo system Unknown Yes, via Chromecast Yes, via Bluetooth and the Echo Dot
Synced audio playback to multiple devices Probably — Apple announced synced multiroom audio as a feature of iOS 11 Yes, to any Google Cast device No
Personal assistant highlights News briefings, language translation, weather, traffic info, set reminders, play podcasts, convert units Search Google, get a personalized daily briefing, check traffic, check your calendar, make a shopping list, check flight status, track a package Add items to calendar, make a shopping list, make a to do list, check flight status, track a package
Other features Send messages and we’ll inevitably find out lots more in the months ahead Cast to your TV with Chromecast, launch and control YouTube or Netflix via Chromecast Order a pizza, play a game, arrange an Uber pickup. Echo has an ever-growing list of thousands of skills and counting