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 higher-end 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 Airplay, 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/Echo nybrid network root connected by Bluetooth. You can now watch movies or YouTube while cooking, with full sound. You can use either or both search engines, or Google’s – 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 leaders in search.

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, or you might call up that Alexa’s place. 😉

Dwight Gilbert Jones, Poort design

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

Apple HomePod vs. Google Home vs. Amazon Echo

Apple HomePodGoogle HomeAmazon Echo
Responds to voice commandsYesYesYes
Always listeningYesYesYes
Wake wordHey SiriOK Google, or Hey GoogleAlexa, Echo, Amazon or Computer
Music streaming optionsApple Music (other options unknown)Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, TuneInAmazon Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, others
Smart home partnershipsWill likely work with Apple’s established HomeKit partners: Ecobee, Honeywell, Chamberlain, D-Link, August, Kwikset, Philips Hue, Lutron, iDevices, and moreNest, Honeywell, SmartThings, Wink, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, Lifx, Lutron, August, Logitech Harmony, Anova, IFTTT and othersNest, 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 appearanceNoYesNo
Output to stereo systemUnknownYes, via ChromecastYes, via Bluetooth and the Echo Dot
Synced audio playback to multiple devicesProbably — Apple announced synced multiroom audio as a feature of iOS 11Yes, to any Google Cast deviceNo
Personal assistant highlightsNews briefings, language translation, weather, traffic info, set reminders, play podcasts, convert unitsSearch Google, get a personalized daily briefing, check traffic, check your calendar, make a shopping list, check flight status, track a packageAdd items to calendar, make a shopping list, make a to do list, check flight status, track a package
Other featuresSend messages and we’ll inevitably find out lots more in the months aheadCast to your TV with Chromecast, launch and control YouTube or Netflix via ChromecastOrder a pizza, play a game, arrange an Uber pickup. Echo has an ever-growing list of thousands of skills and counting