Sunday, November 3, 2019

Alexa, Google and Siri can't you all learn a new standard? We need a standard for how digital assistants communicate and how they integrate with the devices they support.




Honestly, when it comes to digital assistants, my top three tell me the time, weather, and play some music. I woke up this morning, got in my car and said "OK Google" forgetting the only device in my car is my iPhone and Siri, and Google is in the house… but habits are habits and I had not had a cup of coffee yet. I like having my music on Google because - guess what – the devices I have at home are part of the Google Assistant family.  And, as someone who likes to learn new things, I would love to invest in an Alexa device or two, but heck do I really need three digital assistants competing for my time?

The beginning of my IT career was way back in the 80’s.  At the time, all computer vendors used a common standard.  You buy a server, the terminals (displays with keyboards that connected directly to the server for you younger folks), printers and as much of the supplies as you can from us, and it will work perfectly.  When I started at IBM, they had branded supplies so you could feel assured everything would work together.  I loved the IBM AS/400, having helped launch it in Jacksonville in 1988. I even won area awards selling them.  It was the best machine, and maybe still is. When you connected everything up and turned on the power guess what happened in under an hour?  Everything connected and worked.  Magic!  Terminals, printers, even PCs and network devices would all come on and be ready to get to work. 

But, if you wanted a special printer from another manufacturer, they needed to support the 5250 protocol, or networks and suppliers could easily communicate as long as they supported the System Network Architecture (SNA) standard from IBM.  If these were devices or other servers that needed to communicate – guess what? Each vendor had their own "standards" as well.  You couldn't expect a 5250 display to work on a Digital VAX System, or vice versa.  It seemed good from the vendor point of view; because it was a lot harder to switch.  But it also limited the growth of the industry as it propped up prices and slowed down adoption of technology.

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you want to know what happened next. The Client Server showed up; PCs and servers spoke a common language on the network, and clones and a myriad of vendors grew up making equipment that could work together on the same network.  Imagine that, but let's be honest most of them were running windows software and servers. But at least the hardware and connectivity were mostly interchangeable.  The cost of computing came down, and heck ,it even came down enough that we soon expected to have computers in our home.

Then came this thing called the Internet and a protocol called TCP/IP.  Think about it, it is truly a miracle.  Are you on a tablet? Who made it?  On a PC? On a MAC? On your TV?  And guess what? It doesn't matter because the Internet has standardized mostly everything all the way down to how this blog is viewed on your device.  So, as long as your device can read HTML and the style of that content you can see and read it.  Imagine this, you can even take your iPad, give it to your mother-in-law, and buy a Samsung Android based tablet and still read my blog and it will look the same!  Imagine that!

What does this have to do with digital assistants?  I believe that there should be a common standard for how the assistants communicate with all the devices they are to control and support.  The result would be that manufacturers of appliances and other consumer devices would enable communications (something unusual like Bluetooth???).  Then when I want a new sound system, I would look for its support of a standard and buy the best one for me, not just the best one that supports Google.  Guess what would happen, the market would grow much faster.  Amazon, Google and whoever could invest in making their assistants the best.  I might try them more often and not be locked into one over the other.  This is a repeat of 30 years ago, if you give the market flexibility and open standards to grow the opportunity for all will increase much faster.

As it stands today, I have too much invested in Google to switch and, heck, the top request in the morning is to find out if I am going to freeze or boil walking around the lake.  I am also less likely to buy any new devices as this lack of interoperability really is getting on my nerves.

What do you all think?  Have you heard Alexa spoke Google to Siri lately?

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