Apple’s HomePod costs twice as much as Amazon’s Echo, but will it be twice as smart?


Apple unveiled its “HomePod” on Monday, a wireless speaker to compete with the likes of Amazon’s Echo. But the company has some strides to make if it wants to compete with other smart devices that have gotten a head start — at least in the intelligence department. That’s because Siri lags behind Microsoft’s MSFT, +0.81%  Cortana, the Alexa on Amazon Echo AMZN, +1.31%  , and the Google GOOG, +2.12% Home Assistant, a study from digital agency Stone Temple that asked 5,000 random questions of the leading smart assistants found.

The smartest device was the Google Home Assistant: it answered 69% of the questions and 91% of those completely and correctly. Cortana followed in second place at 56% of questions answered and 82% of those answered correctly. Siri was able to answer only 22% of 5,000 questions and 62% of them correctly; Alexa answered 21% and 87% of those correctly. Researchers compared these answers to a traditional text-based Google search, which found 97.4% of questions were answered 100% complete and correct, meaning that the question was answered fully and directly.

At $349, the HomePod is significantly more expensive than its competitors: Amazon Echo, home to Alexa, retails for $180 and Google Home Assistant retails for $129. Cortana made its debut as part of Windows Phone 8.1 in 2014 and Siri has been included on Apple AAPL, +0.71%  devices since 2014. Amazon reportedly sold more than 11 million Echo devices between mid-2015 and Dec. 1 2016. Google is expected to have sold only 1 million Google Home devices my mid-2017, but is reportedly catching up in the smart assistant realm, with at least 200 million devices having access to Google Assistant. The release of the HomePod comes as smart devices are increasingly finding themselves in our homes and even our offices, though some question if the purchases are worthwhile.

Adam Wright, Senior Analyst for Consumer IoT at research firm IDC, said these devices have the potential to be the next main computing platform.

“A number of factors will shape the market moving forward, including changes in consumers’ comfort over the security and collection of private data, the progress of natural language processing and advances in voice interface functionalities, and regulatory requirements that could alter the market,” he said. (The companies surveyed did not respond to request for comment.)

The HomePod will reportedly have louder and more crisp sound than competitors, Bloomberg reported, and will likely integrate with third-party apps. Though some of these devices have been on the market for years, the study shows some of their processes haven’t been perfected, the Stone Temple survey found. When asked, “Who is the highest paid actress,” Cortana pulled up a list of highest paid actors instead. Siri, when asked, “How to use crutches,” pulled up a rather nonsensical listing of metabolic properties of using crutches. Researchers asked the Google Assistant, “Who founded Dominion Resources?” (an energy company based in Virginia) and the smart assistant provided instead information on where it was founded. Many mistakes are owed to the device misunderstanding questions: When asked who invented the pen, Alexa instead answered Alexander Fleming, who invented penicillin.

This could be a problem, since answering random questions is exactly what consumers are buying these products to do. Roughly 60% of consumers use smart speakers primarily to ask “general questions,” according to a recent survey from comScore. This use was followed closely by checking the weather at 57% and streaming music at 54%. Many people also use it to be a timer and alarm (41%), reminder (39%) and calendar (27%). Still, the devices will only improve as their adoption picks up, Wright said.

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“Intelligent assistants will get smarter the more they are used and via their ability to integrate information gathered across multiple devices, whereby networking effects will encourage more adoption,” he said. “Conversations that a user has with an intelligent assistant over one device and in one context can be picked up again over another device and in a different context, which will feed the cognitive system’s ability to get even smarter.”

But smarts aren’t all that matter for these assistants: Some are also funny. Siri was the wittiest by far, at nearly 0.8% joke responses to the 5,000 questions. Alexa and Google Assistant followed at 0.4% joke responses. Asking Alexa, for example, “Who is the best rapper?” will get the answer, “Eminem. Wait! I forgot about Dre.” When asked, “What’s the meaning of life,” Cortana will say, “We all shine on, my friend.” Perhaps future updates will feature less corny jokes, or an actual philosophical or thoughtful answer.

Apple shares have gained 33% in 2017, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.25%  has gained 7% and the S&P 500 SPX, +0.41%  has gained 9%.

This story was updated on June 5, 2017 after Apple announced its HomePod.