Amazon Alexa & Google's Assistant are inexcusably terrible at knowing when they're called

Posted:
in General Discussion
As smart speakers continue to encroach into our lives, the cheaper ones from Google and Amazon need to get better at knowing when we do and don't want them to speak up.

HomePod
HomePod


In my home, I have more than a few "smart" speakers. Mixing ecosystems with the likes of Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Apple's Siri. My Ecobee 4 and OneLink Safe and Sound both have Alexa built in, as does the Echo Dot located upstairs. My HomePod sits in the office of our open-concept lower level.

Each time I go to make a request, I have to consider which device will be taking that request and tailor the key phrase based on the assistant I want to invoke. More often than not, it is HomePod that answers my call to action -- because Apple has put a lot of work into that particular aspect.

Then there is the inverse -- those non-infrequent times that I say something else other than the magic speaker invocation phrase, and yet one of the speakers feel the need to chime in.

Alexa speakers are the biggest offenders, frequently activating when no keyword was uttered. It is amazingly frustrating and almost scary the things they try to do without me asking.

My First Alert Onelink Safe and Sound once tried to donate my money to a charity, but luckily no charity was set up so she instead directed me to Amazon's website. Ecobee attempted to make a phone call before also saying that it wasn't set up. Had these been configured, it would be far too easy for these things to happen without me ever intending them to.

I didn't even know that Alexa was capable of some of the tasks before she tried to carry them out.

Many of these tasks have checks and balances -- like donating my money -- to help stop them from completing, but that doesn't make me feel any more comfortable with them trying to do so without me explicitly asking them to in the first place.

The unwanted responses get even worse when the TV is going and countless commercials -- especially around the holidays -- keep repeating Alexa's key phrase and causing my speakers to answer questions or play music. This isn't strictly Amazon or Google's fault -- but there needs to be better recognition to prevent this from ever happening again.

HomePod, on the other hand, has never inserted its opinion unprovoked. Since I can merely speak the phrase "Hey Siri" from across the downstairs and HomePod answers, Apple is clearly doing a much better job of monitoring and verifying those keywords before taking a request. Admittedly, how well it answers is up for debate, but that's a topic for another day.

What's the point of a smart speaker if it isn't smart enough to understand when we do and don't talk to them? I'm so close to completely disabling Alexa on my other speakers and picking up a second HomePod, even with the high price tag.

Yes, the HomePod needs quite a bit of love from Apple from a voice interpretation standpoint. Siri lacks requisite smarts for it to truly dominate the competition, and it lacks direct support for other music services without using AirPlay.

The one thing Apple did nail, however, is invoking the assistant in the first place, and knowing when it should keep quiet.
superjunaid
«13

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 57
    My HomePod does it too. It will think someone said “Hey Siri” when nothing even remotely close was said. I have had friends who also own a Homepod have similar experiences, and also sometimes they are ignored when they are trying to get Siri’s attention. 

    The creepiest example is when Siri on the HomePod was speaking in the middle of the night when everyone was in bed and no one was in the living room where the Homepod resides. I heard a loud “Hmm?”
    Thinking it was either a glitch or a ghost with a sense of humor, I unplugged it until the next morning. 👻 
    superjunaidcoolfactorcharles357
  • Reply 2 of 57
    Great post!! I worked super hard to only acquire a single echo system in my home when going for the "smart home" At one point I did buy 8 Alexa echo and dots but when I realized that I couldn't connect Apple Music service (that I've been paying for months) and that I'd have to get amazon music. I immediately returned all of the Alexa devices. The only items that aren't smart in my home at this point are the fansand if I had done my research well, in the beginning, I would've purchase HomeKit enabled fans by Hunter.

    So I'm always on the lookout for HomeKit enabled devices, and currently annoyed at the Ring Cameras that I bought into hoping they'll allow HomeKit for the past year and a half. Live and Learn!

    Thanks so much for always highlighting the excellent devices that are available with HomeKit.
    edited December 2018 watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 57
    My HomePod does it too. It will think someone said “Hey Siri” when nothing even remotely close was said. I have had friends who also own a Homepod have similar experiences, and also sometimes they are ignored when they are trying to get Siri’s attention. 

    The creepiest example is when Siri on the HomePod was speaking in the middle of the night when everyone was in bed and no one was in the living room where the Homepod resides. I heard a loud “Hmm?”
    Thinking it was either a glitch or a ghost with a sense of humor, I unplugged it until the next morning. 👻 

    That is indeed creepy!
  • Reply 4 of 57
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,555member
    I was on a Skype call once, when in the middle of a sentence about field testing (translation: “We have no intention of testing at all”), the MD suddenly shouts “ALEXA, STOP!”

    Always wondered what it was about to start doing. 

    … or if Alexa was his dog. 


    edited December 2018 coolfactorwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 57
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,363member
    Yesterday I said to someone, “Hey Susan...” and Siri responded. Susan and I started laughing, and I tried it again, deliberately pronouncing her name so there would be no chance I was souring my speech, and sure enough Siri still responded. this technology has a long way to go..,
    edited December 2018
  • Reply 6 of 57
    My HomePod does it too. It will think someone said “Hey Siri” when nothing even remotely close was said. I have had friends who also own a Homepod have similar experiences, and also sometimes they are ignored when they are trying to get Siri’s attention. 

    The creepiest example is when Siri on the HomePod was speaking in the middle of the night when everyone was in bed and no one was in the living room where the Homepod resides. I heard a loud “Hmm?”
    Thinking it was either a glitch or a ghost with a sense of humor, I unplugged it until the next morning. 👻 

    They should put that in a movie :-)
  • Reply 7 of 57
    Deleted - Reposted 
    edited December 2018
  • Reply 8 of 57
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,226member
    I decided I wanted to see how these devices work, and was willing to invest a small amount. I got na echo dot for $15. Since I already had one wemo wall switch (it works quite well as a programmable switch for the porch light) I went with a sale on some of the new smart plugs for lamps and a fan. After some fiddling i got the newer devices to also work with Siri. Total investment was about $75.

    I have not yet had Alexa go off unintended, and the system works for my needs. Siri is on my wrist, and interestingly far less reliable. I occasionally look down at my watch and for no reason there is a Siri response unasked. In most other times, I need to repeat myself over and over to get Siri to respond. She know how to turn on the lights about 75% of the time. Siri is much more reliable on my iPhone.

    It was an interesting experiment, and marginally worth the $75 mostly for the novelty. I think I got a coupon for $10 off an Alexa order on Amazon, so that part is nearly free to me. Which is actually about the right price.

    The costs of a HomePod and associated Apple Music (or adding Amazon Music to the dot) are not worth it to me. YMMV. 
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 9 of 57
    Matthew W.Matthew W. Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    Where exactly does Google fit into this? You don't provide a single example of a Google Assistant speaker being "inexcusably terrible" at knowing when it's being spoken to. All of your examples were Alexa-powered devices, and my experience with Google Assistant has been quite good. I have a Google Home, two Google Home minis, and I use Google Assistant pretty regularly on my iPhone Xr quite a bit, and it has never once failed to recognize me, it always knows the difference between myself and my husband (I know this because the Google Assistant voice is different) and it's never misunderstood a request. And while Siri is also very good at recognizing when it's being called, it fails to understand requests correctly on a regular basis. So much so, that the only time I invoke Siri is to tell it to go to Google Assistant, because Apple stubbornly refuses to allow other assistants to be invoked directly on iPhone.
    gatorguy
  • Reply 10 of 57
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 1,964member
    Great post!! I worked super hard to only acquire a single echo system in my home when going for the "smart home" At one point I did buy 8 Alexa echo and dots but when I realized that I couldn't connect Apple Music service (that I've been paying for months) and that I'd have to get amazon music. I immediately returned all of the Alexa devices. The only items that aren't smart in my home at this point are the fansand if I had done my research well, in the beginning, I would've purchase HomeKit enabled fans by Hunter.

    So I'm always on the lookout for HomeKit enabled devices, and currently annoyed at the Ring Cameras that I bought into hoping they'll allow HomeKit for the past year and a half. Live and Learn!

    Thanks so much for always highlighting the excellent devices that are available with HomeKit.
    Supposedly Apple Music is coming to the Amazon Echo devices!!! I just got my 2nd Homepod Yesterday from Target which has/had a $100 off price. So $249, which is a good deal and for me, puts the costs where I think it should normally be at. So I now have it setup as a Sterno pair. Other times I want to bring to work on a normally closed day when I have to be there to get some things done and have music more spread out and so have them linked, in sync.

    I think Alexa goes off a little more, but they ALL have done it, even Apple. Alexa though doesn't have the Hey Alexa, it's just Alexa, while the others you normally have to say Hey. I have a Ecobee 4 also and it randomly goes off after hearing something the most. But I have a Amazon Dot second generation when goes off the 2nd most. I actually have a 3rd generation I'll get Tomorrow. For $30, why not. I also have a Google Mini I got a year ago. I get these things when they're $30 a pop. It allows me to play with Google Home, Alexa and Siri and personally compare. Siri really gets a bad rap when it no longer should these days.

    I'm also a growing Homekit house.
    edited December 2018 watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 57
    My HomePod does it too. It will think someone said “Hey Siri” when nothing even remotely close was said. I have had friends who also own a Homepod have similar experiences, and also sometimes they are ignored when they are trying to get Siri’s attention. 

    The creepiest example is when Siri on the HomePod was speaking in the middle of the night when everyone was in bed and no one was in the living room where the Homepod resides. I heard a loud “Hmm?”
    Thinking it was either a glitch or a ghost with a sense of humor, I unplugged it until the next morning. 👻 
    WoW, i have 2 HomePod and never do that...
    maybe time for you to go switch to dot....hehe
  • Reply 12 of 57
    There will never be a Google or Amazon "Assistant" installed in my home.
    mac_dogcoolfactorwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 57
    eightzero said:
    I decided I wanted to see how these devices work, and was willing to invest a small amount. I got na echo dot for $15. Since I already had one wemo wall switch (it works quite well as a programmable switch for the porch light) I went with a sale on some of the new smart plugs for lamps and a fan. After some fiddling i got the newer devices to also work with Siri. Total investment was about $75.

    I have not yet had Alexa go off unintended, and the system works for my needs. Siri is on my wrist, and interestingly far less reliable. I occasionally look down at my watch and for no reason there is a Siri response unasked. In most other times, I need to repeat myself over and over to get Siri to respond. She know how to turn on the lights about 75% of the time. Siri is much more reliable on my iPhone.

    It was an interesting experiment, and marginally worth the $75 mostly for the novelty. I think I got a coupon for $10 off an Alexa order on Amazon, so that part is nearly free to me. Which is actually about the right price.

    The costs of a HomePod and associated Apple Music (or adding Amazon Music to the dot) are not worth it to me. YMMV. 
    You’re absolutely have to shy away from Home Pod if you cant afford it, stick w the dot....
  • Reply 14 of 57
    Checked out the HomePod in an Apple Store. The audio and build quality are awesome. Ultimately though this tech has a long way to go for me to jump in.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 57
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 19,805member
    Where exactly does Google fit into this? You don't provide a single example of a Google Assistant speaker being "inexcusably terrible" at knowing when it's being spoken to. All of your examples were Alexa-powered devices, and my experience with Google Assistant has been quite good. I have a Google Home, two Google Home minis, and I use Google Assistant pretty regularly on my iPhone Xr quite a bit, and it has never once failed to recognize me, it always knows the difference between myself and my husband (I know this because the Google Assistant voice is different) and it's never misunderstood a request. And while Siri is also very good at recognizing when it's being called, it fails to understand requests correctly on a regular basis. So much so, that the only time I invoke Siri is to tell it to go to Google Assistant, because Apple stubbornly refuses to allow other assistants to be invoked directly on iPhone.
    The author (don't know who it was) didn't indicate he was using any Google Home devices FWIW, so I'd agree that he wasn't necessarily commenting on that aspect based on his personal usage of them. He does say he's been using Amazon devices tho so his personal opinion of Alexa is certainly valid.  
    edited December 2018
  • Reply 16 of 57
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,894member
    A lot of this comes down to whether you view this as a glass half-empty or glass half-full situation. At some level I'm still incredibly fascinated that this technology is as good as it currently is. I spent quite a bit of time earlier in my career as an acoustic analyst and had to formulate conclusions about the nature of sound sources based on aggregate sound signatures collected from different sensors and processed through different signal processing algorithms. This required constant study, training, sampling, and practice and was made all the more difficult because of the highly variable nature of the sound sources, the presence of noise and interference, and a constantly increasing database of reference data and metadata that had to be crammed into one's brain or available for easy recollection without the aide of a computer.

    If you have an inkling of what's required to do what Siri or Alexa do based on having done some of it manually, you'd probably share my appreciation for what Apple's and Amazon's (and Google's and Shazam's) engineers have been able to accomplish up to this point. The fact that they do it as quickly and accurately as they do is commendable, especially in light of the wide variability of speech patterns that exist. Understanding a Boston, New York, New Orleans, or Chicago accent or just about any English as a second language (ESL) speaker, with various inflection and pitch, and different pace and cadence takes a lot of processing power. To be effective it has to be near instantaneous or else the requestor will give up.  

    None of these systems are perfect and will ever be perfect in our lifetime, but they are all heading in the right direction and are pretty damn good already. I use both Siri and Alexa daily and they are both earning their keep and only getting better over time. Yeah, Siri on the HomePod has a more limited scope than Alexa on the Echo, but I like both of them and the potential is there for adding much more to their capabilities than what we experience with them today. 

    Glass half-full for me.
    hammeroftruthwatto_cobramuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 17 of 57
    mac_128 said:
    Yesterday I said to someone, “Hey Susan...” and Siri responded. Susan and I started laughing, and I tried it again, deliberately pronouncing her name so there would be no chance I was souring my speech, and sure enough Siri still responded. this technology has a long way to go..,
    Same thing for "Sarah", for me.
  • Reply 18 of 57
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,555member
    AI_lias said:
    mac_128 said:
    Yesterday I said to someone, “Hey Susan...” and Siri responded. Susan and I started laughing, and I tried it again, deliberately pronouncing her name so there would be no chance I was souring my speech, and sure enough Siri still responded. this technology has a long way to go..,
    Same thing for "Sarah", for me.

    What's weird is that the HomePod used to respond every time if I said, 'Hey Sara', but I just tried it, and now it doesn't.

    Odd.

  • Reply 19 of 57
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,555member
    The unwanted responses get even worse when the TV is going and countless commercials -- especially around the holidays -- keep repeating Alexa's key phrase and causing my speakers to answer questions or play music. This isn't strictly Amazon or Google's fault -- but there needs to be better recognition to prevent this from ever happening again.

    If you're using Alexa's key phrase then it isn't Google's fault, strictly or otherwise, is it?

    Or have I got that wrong?



    edited December 2018
  • Reply 20 of 57
    Whom would you rather have for a family member living with you: a professor who is hard of hearing or a dumbass with perfect hearing? 
    muthuk_vanalingam
Sign In or Register to comment.