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Apple's Siri partners with new apps to take on Alexa and Google Assistant

Apple’s (AAPL) Siri is one of the most ubiquitous smart assistants on the market, available on 500 million devices and answering 10 billion requests per month.

But it faces formidable competition. Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa is available on 100 million devices, while Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Assistant is on 1 billion speakers and smartphones.

And whereas Alexa and Google Assistant let you interact with a multitude of apps and devices, Siri has lagged behind. To bring Siri up to speed, Apple is pushing its Siri Shortcuts integration to more outside developers. Shortcuts allows you to record phrases to activate certain in-app features, like ordering food from the app Caviar, using your voice.

Doing so will make more apps voice friendly, while also giving you one more reason to stay on as a member of Apple’s massive hardware and software ecosystems.

Pushing Siri forward

Siri was the first widely used digital voice assistant for many consumers when it was introduced in 2011, exposing wide swaths of people to the usefulness of voice software. But Amazon’s Alexa has since taken the reins, thanks to the introduction of low-cost, Alexa-compatible devices in recent years. Google’s own Assistant made great strides in popularity, as well, thanks to its increased integration with the company’s Android operating system.

Apple knew it needed to give Siri a boost, so at its Worldwide Developers Conference last June, it introduced Siri Shortcuts. Since then, Apple says that thousands of apps have begun to offer Siri Shortcuts integration.

You’ve probably seen or used Siri Shortcuts in some way already. It’s the same functionality that provides you with meeting notifications on your iPhone’s lock screen. And if you’re an especially savvy user, you’ve likely dabbled with the Siri Shortcuts app, which lets you create custom home screen shortcuts for a specific contact or craft routines such as letting you get directions home and sending a loved one your ETA with the tap of a single button.

Apple's Siri Shortcuts also provide you with predictive notifications on your lock screen. (image: Apple)
Apple's Siri Shortcuts also provide you with predictive notifications on your lock screen. (image: Apple)

Now, the iPhone maker is highlighting Siri Shortcut’s third-party app integration. New apps getting Shortcuts functionality include Airbnb, American Airlines (AAL), and the diabetes monitor Dexcom. With Siri Shortcuts integration, you’ll be able to say, “Hey, Siri” and then ask the American Airlines app for the status of an upcoming flight. And since Shortcuts uses context clues, it will also know when you check in for your flight. So you can ask the app for your flight information again and it will provide your gate and boarding time, as well as a map of the airport.

You’ll likely notice Siri Shortcuts begin to pop up in apps as an “Add to Siri” button. Tapping the button will provide you with the ability to record your custom activation phrase to run the shortcut. For instance, with Airbnb, you’d launch Siri with the standard “Hey, Siri,” and then say “When is my check-in?” to get information about your rental, including a map and the Wi-Fi password for the property.

Will Siri catch up?

Siri Shortcuts will make interacting with Siri on your phone more useful, but what about Apple’s HomePod smart speaker? According to market research firm Statista, Apple had a 4.1% market share of the smart speaker market as of Q4 2018. Amazon and Google, meanwhile, controlled 35.5% and 30% of the market, respectively.

At $350, Apple’s HomePod is far more expensive than competing Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo, which costs $99, and Google Assistant-powered Home, which is priced at $129. And with a slew of third-party device makers offering Alexa and Google Assistant integration, it’s easy to see why the HomePod is so far behind, despite its impressive audio capabilities.

Giving Siri the ability to function with more apps will certainly make HomePod more appealing, but its price is still very high for many consumers.

As for whether Siri will catch up with Alexa and Assistant, it stands to reason that if Siri Shortcut suggestions are surfaced more in iOS apps, more users will be tempted to use the voice assistant more often. And giving users the ability to record their own activation phrases for their apps will presumably make them more likely to stick with Apple’s ecosystem rather than flocking to competitors like Amazon and Google.

We’ll see if the strategy pays off as more developers integrate Shortcuts into their apps.

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