Amazon just released a new update to the Alexa App enabling Wake Word Detection. In other words, you can now summon Alexa on your iPhone or Android Smartphone with your voice. But this update only goes so far in benefiting Alexa users and brings Alexa’s struggle on iPhone and Android to focus. Simply put, Alexa won’t be able to replace Siri or Google Assistant on your Smartphone.
To better understand where this subtle update from Amazon fits into the larger issue of smartphone control, let’s first dive into the basics.
What is Wake Word Detection?
If you’ve ever given Alexa a command on an Echo device with just your voice alone, then you’ve already used Wake Word Detection. Wake Word Detection allows your Echo or Alexa-enabled device to hear you when you say the word “Alexa.” All Smart Speakers, like the Echo or Echo Dot, simply wouldn’t work without it. This term is also commonly called “hands-free” since you’re able to start the conversation with Alexa without pushing buttons.
So what does this fancy term have to do with Smartphones? A lot! Wake Word Detection wasn’t part of the Alexa App on iPhones or most Android Smartphones before July 2020.
That meant before the update, you’d have to tap this icon in order to summon Alexa. Now you can simply say “Alexa” to use Amazon’s Voice Assistant hands-free on iPhone or Android.
But before you get too excited, there’s still one major problem that makes this new update from being really useful. The Alexa App has to be open first. This means you need to pick up your Smartphone and open the Alexa App first before you can say the wake word “Alexa” to start a conversation. So while this update is an improvement, it doesn’t buy much. It leaves Alexa’s struggle on iPhone and Android largely the same.
Alexa Can’t Replace Siri or Google Assistant on Smartphones
Alexa’s biggest struggle on iPhone and Android is booting out the current Voice Assistant that lives on that phone. So while Amazon’s Alexa App update is a step in the right direction, it’s laughable to say it’ll save you real time. You still need to open the app. Surely Amazon can enable users be able to summon Alexa at any point while using iPhone or Android. Whether you’re browsing the internet, engaged in another open app, or glancing at your Smartphone, Alexa needs to be available. But unfortunately, this isn’t possible.
You’ll never be able to fully replace Siri on iPhone or Google Assistant on Android.
As much as you may want to dump Siri on your iPhone for Alexa, or rid your Android of Google Assistant, there isn’t a way to completely do that. And while Amazon inches along with minor improvements, there is a glass ceiling for how far these improvements can go. The reason? Amazon doesn’t have its own Smartphone.
Which Smartphones Have Alexa Built-In?
Alexa’s struggle on iPhone and Android is based on a lack of control on the device itself. Unlike Google and Apple, Amazon doesn’t own and therefore control its own Phone platform. Although Amazon has certainly tried. Remember this device from Amazon a few years ago?
If you remember this project from Amazon from a handful of years ago, I’m impressed. For those who don’t know, the Fire Phone was Amazon’s first foray into making its own Smartphone. And you can bet Alexa would be the primary assistant on Amazon’s phone.
Sadly, the Fire Phone didn’t pan out for Amazon in 2014, acquiring mixed reviews and ultimately coming onto the Smartphone scene too little too late. As a result, Alexa is limited to just an app on the big Smartphone platforms. Google and Apple put tons of effort into making their Voice Assistants seamlessly integrated into these devices, leaving little room for Amazon. That’s why it’s easier to engage with Google Assistant on your Android phone or Siri on your iPhone—and why Alexa’s struggle on iPhone and Android won’t be entirely fixed. Neither one of these companies is keen on giving Amazon the same experience with Alexa. So for now, the Alexa App update is as good as it gets.
Good news, though, for Alexa users. Amazon has successfully integrated Alexa with 100,000+ Smart Home devices from 9,500+ brands. So while using Alexa on Smartphones isn’t ideal, you can start conversations with Alexa on a multitude of other devices.
To get the most out of Amazon’s Voice Assistant and all of the Alexa-enabled devices out there, be sure to follow along to the weekly series Keeping Up with Alexa Commands.