Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are being put through their paces in a “tech incubator” hotel chain, in order to determine which voice assistant brings more to the table for guests wanting to order room service, control lights, change TV channels, adjust the temperature, and more (via Bloomberg). The main incubator for the test is happening in Aloft Hotels, which are owned by Marriott.
The Aloft Hotel in Boston is using Amazon Echo devices and a collection of iPhones and iPads to gather information on which voice assistant will ultimately best serve guests in the long run. Marriott hasn’t divulged information on who might be the winner as of yet, but the company did say that it expects to decide if it will expand the test to more chains besides Aloft Hotels “as early as mid-year.”
Marriott expects to decide whether to adopt the technology for one or more of its chains as early as mid-year, potentially boosting sales for the device of choice. More important, it will increase the winning company’s exposure in the market for voice-activated devices, which are gaining more mainstream traction.
“Those two players are in the game right now,” said Toni Stoeckl, who oversees the Aloft, Element, AC and Moxy chains as global brand leader for lifestyle brands at Marriott. There are almost 130 Aloft hotels in the U.S., and more than 100 additional ones planned.
Carolina Milanesi, a market analyst with Creative Strategies, compared the introduction of voice assistants into hotel rooms to when the hospitality industry began putting iPhone docking stations into rooms so guests could easily charge their phone and listen to their own music. Still, personalization with the voice assistants remains a key question for the new tests. As of now it’s unclear whether guests will be able to somehow access their own accounts to use Alexa and Siri, or be treated with a “standard set of skills relevant to a hotel stay,” concerning news reports, weather forecasts, and other default commands that might be easier for guests unfamiliar with voice assistant technology.
In regards to the overall voice assistant battle over hotel rooms, Alexa currently appears to be winning. Amazon’s assistant and its connected speaker system Echo are now helping out guests in hotels like the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, with Alexa devices installed in 10 of 1,002 rooms and plans to add around 100 more as early as next month. On an even bigger scale, the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas plans to equip all 4,748 rooms with an Echo speaker by this summer.
Although most users agree Siri is inferior to other assistants from Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, Apple isn’t out of the running yet in the battle to win hotel rooms, and Siri’s advantageous support of multiple languages could give it a leg up over its competition with international travelers. According to Toni Stoeckl, Marriott’s global brand leader, the company is searching for which voice assistant can become the “ideal solution” and ultimately turn into “a global platform” with Siri or Alexa installed at multiple of its locations around the world. Stoeckl said that the company should have an indicator of where it’s headed by the end of 2017, so “the race is still on.”
Marriott’s Stoeckl said his company is “looking for the ideal solution to make this a global platform.” Aloft hotels act as a “tech incubator” for new concepts, and a successful test may determine whether digital assistants — and which ones — are installed at other Marriott chains, he said.
Of course that means that neither assistant could win, but the company said it will continue to test both out in its Aloft Hotels, and even plans to add more “concierge-like” services in the future, which hint that more personalized experiences are likely to be introduced. These include the ability to connect with a guest’s personal smartphone to fuel actions like setting an automatic wake-up temperature or creating an activation time to open the room’s drapes.
Voice assistants continue to be a dominant factor in the smartphone and tablet market, and thanks to devices like the Echo speaker, they’re expanding into unique product categories as well. Reports have been scarce lately, but last year Apple was said to be “pressing ahead” into prototype testing for its own standalone Siri speaker. The Cupertino company is also believed to be working on “enhanced Siri” capabilities that should beef up the assistant’s presence on iOS devices, likely to begin with this year’s “iPhone 8.”
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