Smart Home: Alexa vs. Siri

Although I guess technically it’s Amazon vs HomeKit or something. Anyway, I’ve recently been “dual-homing” most of my condo’s smart devices so I could control them in either Alexa or Siri. If you’ve not taken the plunge on one or the other, I thought I’d share the main difference between them.

And this isn’t meant to make you choose one or the other, just to help make a more informed choice. I don’t get a commission either way :).

Amazon’s approach is to make as open an ecosystem as possible, using cloud-added “Skills” that Alexa can access. This is their biggest strength, and in a way it’s their biggest weakness. Alexa itself doesn’t really have much “smart home” knowledge; it’s just there to kick off the underlying skills. For example, Alexa doesn’t let me create scenes for my Hue bulbs. But, if I create scenes in the Hue app, Alexa can trigger them for me. This creates a bit of an unfortunate silo for each skill, meaning skills can’t really interact with each other. Activating a Hue scene can’t turn on my coffee maker at the same time, because the iDevices skill is separate from the Hue skill. So with Alexa, you get breadth, but a less cohesive experience.

If you’re technically incline, and if the stuff you’ve bought supports it, you can use to create cross-“skill” actions that Alexa can trigger. So you basically create the whole thing in IFTTT, and then Alexa can trigger whatever it is through the IFTTT skill. This isn’t for the faint of heart, though, and your parents aren’t going to be able to figure it out.

Apple’s approach is a bit different. Siri (through HomeKit) “understands” smart homes. Like, you can’t buy a smart fan until Apple adds knowledge to HomeKit of what a fan is and does (which they’ve done). This limits the devices you can buy to just those that Apple has planned for, which means there are likely some things Alexa can do (via skills) that Apple can’t. But, because HomeKit “understands” all these things, it can integrate them in a way Alexa can’t. I can have a HomeKit scene that turns on lights, starts the coffee maker, and unlocks my patio door, for example.

It gets a little weird because HomeKit has a lot of functionality that isn’t exposed in Apple’s Home app. So, I can use the Eve app to set up a rule, making my Hunter ceiling fan turn on when my Eve Room sensor gets over 68 degrees. I can see that rule as an Automation in the Home app, but I can’t edit it, because the Home app doesn’t understand the value-based trigger for 68 degrees. So you do bounce around between apps a bit, but aside from some complex stuff like that, it’s pretty centralized.

Aside from the breadth thing, and that Alexa skills go far beyond smart home functionality, I like the technical architecture of HomeKit better. It’s a heavier lift for device manufacturers, which limits your choice a bit, but by and large I’ve found everything I need. That said, I actually use Alexa, because I’ve got an Echo of some kind in every room of the house and they respond better, and faster, than any of my iOS devices (I don’t have a HomePod and likely won’t get one at current pricing).

Anyway… figured you might be interested in the architectural differences between these, and the ramifications of those. Have a great week!