Alexa vs. Google Assistant – what’s best for workplace apps? (Updated ’21)

There are two types of opportunities for smart speakers to create a better digital workplace:

  1. Create a smart office where employees can use voice commands for certain actions
  2. Support working from home setups for you or your team using BYO smart speakers

We’re going to compare the capabilities of the two biggest contenders for the best smart assistant at work: Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Both are popular and widely supported, yet there are also some subtle differences that can influence your success with them.

1. Smart Office

Equipping an office with smart speakers is usually targeted at voice-activated conference room equipment, switching on the lights, etc.

What can Alexa offer to a smart office?

Amazon is very serious about conquering the smart office as they have a dedicated business version of Alexa for this purpose. It is especially trying to hone its skills with regards to a smart meeting room, and letting users join meetings with their voice.

Interestingly enough, Amazon hasn’t partnered with any particular meeting provider for this. Instead when users ask “Alexa, join my meeting” Amazon will look into the user’s calendar for the next event and automatically find the correct meeting ID and access link.

Editor’s note:
We’ve unintentionally created a very similar logic with the Calendar card for our Microsoft 365 app – if you’re curious to try it.

Amazon even lets you add your own Skills for QnAs without requiring any code, so you can offer users easy answers to common questions, e.g. how to send a parcel or what the WiFi code is.

Then of course Alexa is connectected to the world’s largest retailer, thus Echo devices can be used for employees to easily order new supplies like coffee, copy paper or pens.

Visual response templates for Alexa skills
Examples of visual response templates from Alexa

Making visual responses for Amazon Alexa is also a more rewarding experience, with many well thought-out templates available in Alexa Presentation Language. Google Assistant in contrast, is almost entirely bereft of any such control over the responses.

A few printers aside, there aren’t that many office devices with built-in Alexa support. However you can at least download Alexa to any PC, which Google does not offer as an option.

How can Google Assistant create an intelligent workplace?

Google Assistant has one important leg up on Alexa: integrations.

Editor’s tip:
Read more in this piece by CMSWire to help developers and decision makers understand which platform has the most succinct value proposition for businesses.

While Alexa sports a respectable 50,000 Skills, that is dwarfed by Google Assistant’s 1 Million Actions. It is true that Amazon’s Skills come from across 3,500 brands, compared to just about 200 for Google Assistant, but remember Google Assistant hasn’t been around as long. They certainly have a lot of momentum currently.

Google Assistant also supports another office lifesaver: keyboards! This may seem obvious once you thought about it, but voice-only interfaces don’t really suit office environments. Many users like to use their keyboard for command entry as it is quieter and offers more privacy – both of which is desirable at the workplace. And both Google Assistant on Android and it’s iOS app offer keyboard input. Echo on the other hand requires your voice without exception.

On the flipside, Google doesn’t sport a dedicated Business program for Google Assistant. And that could spell trouble in authentication land. Without integrations into Enterprise SSO services you’ll have to rely on users doing manual account linking with each Skill and the respective business application that Skill is communicating with. It’s an imperfect solution for Alexa, too, as 2FA codes (if you use them) would have to be read out loud to the device, for lack of a keyboard input.

Winner: Too close to call

It’s honestly a difficult judgment to make: Right now, Amazon’s lineup seems more out-of-the-box and thought out, but Google is no stranger to the enterprise world. They have GSuite after all, and if Google Assistant isn’t seriously pitched as a business proposition, then it’s just a matter of time until it is.

2. Working from home

Market share of smart speakers in the US

Obviously remote working is here to stay. As a developer you may want to know which platform would be better positioned to develop a skill or Action for.

At first you may think: It’s got to be Alexa, right? They own nearly 70% of the market, a market that has grown by nearly 150M devices (or 80% YoY) in 2019.

Even though Google is catching up, it has been criticized for its narrow lineup: Amazon offers security systems, earbuds and even rings that all have build-in Alexa support. You can see a dazzling list of everything that has Alexa builtin on the Amazon website. On the other hand, Google Assistant should see a lot of usage on Android devices where Alexa will always play the second fiddle.

Despite a lack of form factors, Google Assistant is available in one key form factor: Your car! Today in the US you can buy from over 500 different models that come with Android Auto, anything from a Kia to an Aston Martin. And with the average American commuting nearly an hour every day, that opens up a lot of time you could spend talking to your Google Assistant to go through your schedule, mails, approvals, etc.

Even though many manufacturers offer their own Alexa skills (to control A/C, Lock status, etc.), Amazon hasn’t been able to convince many of them to integrate Alexa itself into the dashboard. The list for 2020 is growing but it’s still miles behind Google. Google meanwhile is starting to take over the entire OS in cars from GM and Volvo, and you can be sure they’ll lock Amazon out the first chance they get.

Number of skills available for Google Assistant and Alexa devices

Finally, as if that’s not enough, Google Assistant is also slightly more accurate, and available in 6 more languages.

Winner: Alexa, for now

For now the win goes to Alexa, as they have more market share and an almost endless amount of form factors. However, Google Assistant is just inches behind and may well overtake them with their ubiquity on Android and in the car. In fact, if you have an Android you’re probably better off sticking with Google Assistant.

Bonus category: Set up your own smart workplace

You may read this and think “I’m not the head of a major IT department, I just want to set up my own voice-assistant workplace.” and for you we have done some digging on popular business apps and listed if they’re available on either platform, including links to each listing.

 AlexaGoogle AssistantDigital Assistant
Office365 / SharePoint
(Calendar only)
(Audio only)

As you can see, it’s not as easy as picking all your favourite apps from the store and you’re good to go…

But now you may be thinking “What’s this Digital Assistant column?” The answer is that’s our own product; a fully comprehensive, smart workplace assistant. You can get started with a free account, connect to apps from our Card Hub and then enable the Alexa or Google Assistant channels.

All this also works in the car, as I have myself demonstrated awkwardly in this video.

There you go, hopefully you have found this overview helpful in determining which device is better suited to your smart workplace project. Did we miss anything? Do you think you would use a Smart Speaker to work from home or on the go? Let us know in the comments below.

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