If you have an iPhone, you probably talk to Siri pretty regularly. So you may have some questions about her. What are some funny questions to ask Siri? How old is Siri, and how did she end up on your iPhone? What new capabilities will Siri gain when you upgrade to iOS 10 or macOS Sierra? And finally, how does Siri measure up against her rivals? In a fight that pits Siri vs. Alexa, who would win? The answer, it turns out, depends on where you are, what you’re doing, and how you’re using your voice assistant of choice.
First of all, iMore’s Rene Ritchie notes that Siri vs. Alexa is only a question in the United States, since Alexa is relevant “only for people in America who speak English. That’s an incredibly small subset of what Siri, which just recently added Hebrew and several other languages in several other reasons, solves for.” Alexa only really exists in your living room, in an American home “with constant power” and “multiple beamforming mics.” So as Ritchie notes, the Siri vs. Alexa comparison is U.S.-centric, and if you’re anywhere else in the world, Alexa isn’t even an option.
However, if you are in the U.S. and don’t mind that Alexa isn’t quite as portable as Siri, the question of which one is more capable is still compelling. Some people think that talking to Alexa is better than talking to Siri, thanks to the different experiences offered by the Echo versus the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. M.G. Siegler writes that “seemingly small details that add up in a very big way towards making the Echo a superior use case for vocal computing.”
Siri vs. Alexa: which is easier to use?
Perhaps the most important of those details is how easy it is to summon Alexa, in comparison to the extra steps it takes to get Siri’s attention. All you have to do is say “Alexa” within range of the Echo, which Siegler writes always seems to work, versus taking your iPhone out of your pocket or locating it in your bag and hoping that Siri responds to “Hey, Siri.” Siegler posits that “Alexa is better than Siri in every way that matters when it comes to interaction,” since Alexa doesn’t give users any options other than interacting with the assistant solely with voice commands — an option that works well every time.
Dave Smith reports for Tech Insider that even though Apple’s assistant has some advantages in the comparison of Siri vs. Alexa — since you can use Siri almost anywhere and you can’t use Alexa to place calls or send texts and emails — Alexa is “the superior voice assistant.” In Smith’s experience, Alexa is faster at responding to queries than Siri is, and can more accurately understand commands that are pronounced naturally.
Additionally, Alexa on Amazon’s Echo speaker is much more capable of ignoring background noise, even at a distance, while Siri on the iPhone can struggle to distinguish between the user’s voice and the sound of other people talking or the television. Smith also argues that Apple could learn from Amazon’s transparency about the new skills that Alexa is gaining, and make it easier for users to learn about all of the things that Siri can do.
Why context matters when comparing Siri and Alexa
Lauren Goode reports for The Verge that while both Siri and Alexa can answer questions, add things to your shopping list, control your smart lights, or tell dad jokes, the biggest difference between them is “how they’re meant to be used.” Goode notes that Siri is in your pocket, in your car, and on your wrist, while Alexa works best either in the home or somewhere with a stable Wi-Fi connection. A Siri-equipped device needs to be close to you, while Alexa will listen for you from across the room. “So, in regards to the question, ‘Which is better?’ — right now that’s still somewhat dependent on use case.”
Looking into the future of the Siri vs. Alexa debate, Apple Insider’s Daniel Eran Dilger reports that the winner might not ultimately be Alexa. “Amazon has a voice product that works in one country and in one language, with a design that necessitates a fixed appliance model,” he writes. “Moving that to a desirable mobile device that users will want to carry with them will be a complex and difficult undertaking.” On the other hand, Apple’s adding Siri to new devices is easy, and with the assistant now open to third-party developers, Siri will quickly be learning new skills that users can take advantage of from the Apple devices they already own.
But if you still want to crown a winner in the Siri vs. Alexa debate, you may be interested in the results of a 300-question showdown conducted by Tom’s Guide. Anna Attkisson reports that “Siri is deaf and Alexa is dumb. But you can teach stupid.” While Alexa was “terrible” at understanding research and contextual questions, Attkisson reports that “when Siri understood me, it was smarter.” But she also reports that though Alexa understood her queries 99.9% of the time, Siri only caught 52% of what she said, a discrepancy that she attributes to the fact that Amazon does a better job of teaching Alexa to understand people.
Similarly, Alexa took an average of just 1.93 seconds to answer a query, while Siri took an average of 3.45 seconds and as long as 7 seconds. But Siri can get your directions to just about any destination, since she’s designed to live on your iPhone, while Alexa can only get you directions to work or to your home. As far as smart home control abilities, the abilities of the two assistants are comparable. But a major drawback for Alexa is that she won’t be able to control your home remotely.
When it comes to music, Attkisson crowns Alexa the winner since Amazon’s assistant integrates with more services than Siri — at least so far. Alexa is helpful for shopping on Amazon, a task that Siri doesn’t yet offer help with. Ultimately, Attkisson thinks that in the Siri vs. Alexa battle, Alexa comes out the winner. Siri may offer better answers to some questions and have a more fun personality, but Alexa is currently more versatile, is available on a wider range of devices, and is more likely to understand you.
The question of whether Siri or Alexa is a more capable assistant is, at least so far, a question without a clear-cut answer. The winner in the Siri vs. Alexa battle varies based on the context, since the assistants excel in almost opposite environments. (Alexa may take the crown if you’re looking to talk to a device that sits in your living room, but Siri is the clear winner if you want an assistant to talk to on the go.) Siri’s roster of abilities will likely benefit tremendously from Apple’s choice to open the assistant to third-party app integrations, while Alexa will continue to add skills of her own. Both assistants are alternately entertaining, helpful, and frustrating — and the companies behind each one are determined to see their digital assistants come out ahead.