HomeKit Was A Surprising CES 2019 Winner. Now Siri Needs To Significantly Improve

Does a large number of devices equate to great esteem?

Apple isn’t wallowing in its poor sales for a company whose stock is experiencing its worst decline in a decade. Apple is having one of its best CES conferences in years despite not being present in Las Vegas or making a single announcement, as companies have flocked to HomeKit to enhance their smart offerings.

While Google Assistant and Alexa commanded a fair amount of attention at CES, they did little to eclipse Siri. Apple’s HomeKit was a surprise winner at this year’s show, as Sony, LG, GE, Vizio, Belkin, Arlo, Ikea, TP-Link, and others unveiled products and updates with HomeKit integration. This marked a dramatic shift from previous years when Apple’s smart home ambitions were largely ignored.

Apple has established itself as a major player in the smart home market. When the new HomeKit-enabled products hit the market later this year, consumers will no longer be required to purchase specific HomeKit-enabled hardware, a requirement that previously hindered the growth of Apple’s smart home business. Customers will soon have the option to use one of three AI assistants whenever they request to control something in their home, with a few exceptions. This means that Siri must significantly up its game.

Affordability provides access

While HomeKit has been supported by major brands such as Philips Hue, Ecobee, and Lutron for quite some time, its offerings have been extremely limited in comparison to those of its competitors. Even though the CES announcements were relatively low-key, the sheer number of them is significant.

TP-Link is the most intriguing because it is updating one of its most popular plugs with HomeKit support. With nearly 2,500 4- and 5-star reviews on Amazon alone, TP-Kasa Link’s Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini is one of the most popular entry-level smart outlets on the market. TP-Link has long been known as an affordable smart device manufacturer. Many iPhone owners will be able to test out Siri and the Home app for the first time once the HomeKit update becomes available “early in 2019.”

TP-consideration links of HomeKit indicate that Apple is gaining ground. Cheap smart plugs are a great way to test out assistant and smart home functionality without breaking the bank, but people previously had to sift through a pool of subpar options to find a HomeKit plug. Support for the Kasa plug opens up a world of possibilities for HomeKit and Siri, even in conjunction with announcements from high-end brands such as Brilliant and Netatmo. Apple is not just courting luxury smart home brands at this year’s CES; it wants everything to be controlled by Siri. Even without a top-selling smart speaker, Apple is in a powerful position.

Siri is the standard

Google announced earlier this week that Assistant is available on more than a billion devices worldwide, surpassing Amazon’s claim that more than 100 million Alexa devices are in use. Due to the sheer volume of devices it sells, Apple’s number would be closer to Google’s than Amazon’s if it participated in this measurement contest.

However, the fight against Amazon remains difficult. Alexa devices are specifically purchased as smart devices, whereas Google and Apple sell hundreds of millions of AI-enabled smartphones and smartwatches that may never be used for that purpose. There may be a billion Google Assistant-enabled devices, but aside from the occasional alarm or weather report, many of them are unlikely to be used to invoke Assistant at all, let alone as frequently as Alexa.

However, Google’s argument is also Apple’s: Siri and HomeKit are already present in the homes of hundreds of millions of people, ready to be utilized. The influx of HomeKit-enabled devices announced at CES will certainly boost the use of the Home app and voice-controlled smart-home commands, but Siri needs to learn a lot of new tricks to truly compete with Alexa and Google Assistant.

Over a voice

Siri is essentially an afterthought for anything other than music, even though HomePod has been available for nearly a year. There are no abilities or actions available to customize it. It is incapable of playing games. There is no child mode. It does not support multiple users. Integration with a third-party service is problematic or impossible.

It’s not so much about intelligence. Siri is comparable to the other assistants in terms of home control: I can ask it to turn on my living room lights just as I would Alexa or Google Assistant, and it does so. It hears and comprehends me exceptionally well, frequently outperforming its competitors. It is extremely knowledgeable and quick to respond. But I still use it infrequently.

Even though I have access to all three assistants in my home through a HomePod, three Google Homes, and numerous Echo devices, I primarily use my HomePod to play music. In contrast, I ask my Echoes a variety of questions. My son enjoys playing games and listening to tales. And I’ve set up multiple Routines for home automation. The explanation is straightforward: Alexa and Google Assistant have evolved beyond complex setups and computer-centric automation to become actual home companions.

The personality cult

Apple rested on its laurels for too long because the artificial intelligence technology behind Siri was so far ahead of the competition. Apple failed to develop Siri’s personality beyond the occasional quip, although this may be true.

The personality of an AI assistant is comprised of more than its speaking voice. It’s about having fun and conversing. Google Assistant can answer my phone calls. Alexa wishes my son a good night and turns off his light. These things are beyond Siri’s capabilities, and Siri Shortcuts are simply too complicated to be a viable alternative to Google and Alexa’s routines. Until Apple opens Siri and HomePod to a variety of third-party skills and actions, as well as features such as multi-user support and location awareness, it will remain a rudimentary application that merely recognizes and responds to human voices.

HomeKit may have won at CES, but Siri still has a ways to go.

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