The AI Wars in Local Have Already Begun
In the annals of tech, we’ve endured the browser wars, the OS wars, and of course the standards battle between VHS and Betamax. Now the latest battle is upon us: the personal assistant app wars.
This AI-centric battle is being waged by heavier contenders than any before it, including Apple (Siri), Amazon (Alexa), and Google (Assistant). And the winner will sway the next era of local commerce.
Like a map of Westeros, each platform is gathering power and momentum to claim the throne. And they’re each basing battle plans on their current positioning and biggest assets (but no dragons).
For example, Amazon (Alexa) will shine for eCommerce and crowdsourced “skills” while Microsoft (Cortana) could exceed in vertically-specific content niches where it establishes content and data partners.
Apple (Siri), will benefit from the iPhone’s ubiquity and Siri’s on-deck positioning. Its focus on iOS-centric data like contacts differentiates it… but capabilities are limited by that same focal range.
Google is late to the party with Assistant (formerly Google Now), and its vessel Google Home. But late entry isn’t always bad (just ask Apple): Google has better data for knowledge queries than anyone.
As for handicapping the field, it won’t be about bells and whistles: This will be a war won on data. In other words, who has the best data and content to answer to your question? The answer is Google.
This comes down to the enormity of its knowledge graph. No one will beat the depth of affinity data it’s built over 15 years of being the world’s search engine. To illustrate, try getting a straight answer out of Siri.
Speaking of Siri, one wild card will be AirPods. If they have the stylistic chops to gain ubiquity, it could engender a sort of ambient voice assistant wherever you go. That places Siri in an undeniable position.
But Google can replicate Airpods easier than Apple can replicate a knowledge graph. On the fundamental ability to understand context, behavior and affinities, Google will run circles around Apple.
We also can’t ignore Amazon’s ability to establish a battlefront by seeding an installed hardware base (Echo). If Amazon is good at anything, it’s selling you stuff. And it’s done just that with Echo.
Stepping back, not only are these contenders basing battle plans on where strengths lie, but they each drive or protect a core revenue stream. And in that way, these initiatives are more of a means than an end.
For Google, it’s about driving search queries and keeping its place at the front door. For Apple it’s about creating attractive features to sell more iThings. For Amazon, it’s about getting you to buy stuff.
Regardless of these intentions, local search will come along for the ride as voice interfaces represent an increasingly popular front-end. Voice already stands at 20 percent of mobile queries and growing.
And just like the shift from desktop to mobile, this means a new form of SEO for an inherently different query language. In this case, it will be all about natural language (“OK Google, order a pizza”).
This will apply across the board, but we’ll still see platform fragmentation, which is why picking a winner is important. In other words, where should developers place their chips? It’s the mobile OS wars all over.
My money’s still on Google, but it will be a close enough battle to come down to details, most of which we haven’t seen yet. To paraphrase Yoda — and to further mix fantasy references: Begun, the AI wars have.
Michael Boland is chief analyst and VP of content at BIA/Kelsey. Previously, he was a tech journalist for Forbes, Red Herring, Business 2.0, and other outlets.