Hey Siri, what time is high tide?’

Apple announced the HomePod last week, the latest entry into the smart speaker market. Powered by Siri, Apple promises not just an intelligent assistant, but intelligent sound. Despite the high price tag, this device could be the hottest holiday gift this December.

But don’t forget about Amazon’s Echo and the Google Home. How will they stack up? Will the AI-powered virtual assistants Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana battle it out for attention in our homes and throughout our lives? And if your company builds or sells digital products or services, how should this fit into your business’s roadmap?

eMarketer estimates that 60.5 million Americans will use a digital assistant (Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana) at least once a month this year. That’s nearly one fifth of the population.

And this is no surprise given Amazon’s 71 percent market share of smart speakers in the U.S., coupled with Apple’s 52 percent market share of smartphones and Google’s 45 percent market share of web browser usage. This makes voice interaction readily accessible at home, at work and everywhere in between.

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Where to Start

The Platform: BCG founder Bruce Henderson’s theory of The Rule of Three and Four states: “A stable competitive market never has more than three significant competitors, the largest of which has no more than four times the market share of the smallest.” Examples of McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s, or General Motors, Ford and Chrysler come to mind. Most likely, we’ll witness a similar trend with Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa. While the voice assistant ecosystem is by no means stable, we are seeing these dominant players emerge. Sorry Cortana.

Given this likely scenario it’s time for your product and development teams to understand what’s behind SiriKit, the Google Assistant API and Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). They should be familiar with the technical strengths and weaknesses of all three. However, selecting the right platform(s) for your business will primarily be a function of where you can reach most of your users, combined with that platform’s capabilities.

Despite the existing market reach, use of virtual assistants is still in its adoption phase. Therefore, consider making your investment in virtual assistant interaction focused on utility rather than innovation. Give your customer or user something simple and practical. Solving a specific problem for them today is more likely to gain adoption than offering something innovative which won’t be used until tomorrow. And, to state the obvious, provide utility wherever information is easier to access by voice than by typing.

An Example: A practical voice-enabled feature I’d like in an app or smart speaker is the ability to check local tides. The current state has room for improvement, as illustrated by asking this simple question using Google Home, Amazon Echo and iPhone.

“Hey Google, what time is high tide in Larchmont, New York, this Saturday?”

“I’m sorry but I don’t know how to help with that. But I’m still learning.”

“Alexa, what time is high tide in Larchmont, New York, this Saturday?”

“On Saturday, June 10, 2017, Larchmont, New York’s, local sunset time will be 8:26 pm.”

“Siri, what time is high tide in Larchmont, New York, this Saturday?”

“OK, I found this…” And Siri displays the correct information visually.

Tide tables for the United States are structured data sets made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA even provides a public API. This should be easy. Maybe I should have asked Cortana?

What question would you love a voice-activated assistant to be able to answer, and would it have value for your business?

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