Amazon just made a surprise move in the ever-intensifying virtual assistant wars by putting Alexa on the iPhone via the Amazon app. It’s not the first time a rival assistant has set up shop on the iPhone (Microsoft has a Cortana app for iPhone), but Amazon has an iPhone app that is used by millions!
It’s probably the boldest attempt by a rival assistant in Apple’s walled garden yet. So we decided to put this new version of Alexa to the test against Siri. One iPhone. Two assistants. Which one will reign supreme?
In order to give them a fair challenge, we looked at the example commands Amazon gives for Alexa on the iPhone, as well as added a few commands we know Siri can answer well. We asked each assistant the exact same command using the same phrasing. Below you’ll see the results of each, side by side, so you can make a decision for yourself.
1. "What’s new?”
This command comes straight from Amazon, and it seems to be one the company hopes you’ll use everyday. When said to Alexa, she’ll answer by playing your Alexa “flash briefing,” an audio briefing of the day’s news and weather that you curate. Unfortunately, Alexa can't play my Wall Street Journal briefing on the iPhone.
But it's not as bad as Siri. When you ask her the same question, she doesn’t really have an answer.
2. “How’s traffic?”
Another Amazon-recommended command, Alexa answers by telling you the best route to work. (The blue bar at the bottom of the screen indicates that Alexa is speaking, similar to the blue light ring on the Amazon Echo.)
Siri answers by opening the Maps app and displaying the traffic around your current location, which we think is a much better answer given the fact that your phone has a screen it can utilize.
3. "Who is Abraham Lincoln?”
Alexa answers by reading off a long entry about the former President, not providing any further information on your screen.
Siri doesn’t read off a long description, but she does pull up a handy Wikipedia card with a description, photo, and stats about President Lincoln. Again, a pretty useful info card that you can peruse on your phone.
4. “Tell me a joke”
A favorite command of kids everywhere, both assistants respond with pretty terrible, pun-ladened jokes. Although Alexa tells longer bad jokes.
5. “Play jazz music”
The first command that prompts Alexa to utilize your screen, she loads up a jazz music station on Prime Music. And I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit weird playing music from a shopping app.
Siri responds similarly, starting up its own jazz music station in Apple Music.
6. “Order paper towels”
This is the kind of command Alexa was really made for, and she wastes no time pulling up search results for paper towels on Amazon that you can order.
And surprising no one, Siri doesn’t understand this command. All she does is simply apologize.
7. “Get me directions to Boston”
Reviewed.com is located just across the river from Boston, so we decided to see if the assistants could give us some easy directions. To our surprise, Alexa said she doesn’t support providing directions.
Siri, on the other hand, opened up directions in the Apple Maps app and automatically started navigation. It was simple and effective.
The Victor: Siri
Final Score: Alexa - 2, Siri - 3
Siri managed to eek out a victory by just one point. And while these “tests" are hardly conclusive, I think they accurately illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of these two assistants.
Alexa was clearly designed for audio-only interaction, as only two of the test commands prompted Alexa to display any information. Instead, she provided detailed, audio-focused answers, which makes sense since she started out on the Amazon Echo.
Siri was clearly designed primarily for interaction on your phone screen. Most of her answers provide very little audio feedback, instead prompting you to look at more information on the screen. This makes sense for an assistant that lives on your phone, but its clear Apple has work to do if they want to bring Siri to their own smart speaker like the Echo.
For now, Apple seems to offer a better smartphone assistant than Amazon. But given the massive popularity Alexa has gained these past two years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her smartphone skills improve quickly. And given the thousands of third-party skills Alexa offers, Apple definitely still has some catching up to do.