iF Frames: Digital Assistants
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Developing smarter criteria for smarter digital assistants

Digital assistants, sometimes referred to as voice or intelligent assistants, are central to the strategies of major technology companies and could be central in future computing platforms. Sales figures tell us about what digital assistants are most purchased, but with technology changing and evolving all the time, we wanted to take a closer look at what separates the best in breed digital assistants from each other, and more niche players.

Interested in the ways these assistants compete to gain market fit, the Business Technology and Strategy team at Intentional Futures researched 28 assistants across 7 categories (personal, company, home, health, finance, factory and customer service) to determine how they stack up.

The Framework
After a period of in-depth research, we identified three main dimensions of digital assistants that defined their relative strength:

This framework evaluates the most popular assistants on three dimensions:

Agent utility: Measures the extent to which an agent is intelligent, natural and personal. Low utility agents are not very intelligent-- they tend to be reactive, relying on the user to prompt and have access to a small amount of data. Assistants on this end of the spectrum also skew unnatural, requiring the user to learn specific commands and operate on a limited interaction model. They’re not tailored to the individual, and responses to all users are the same whereas high utility assistants are proactive, have access to high amounts of data and allow for personalization.

Availability: A function of an assistant being available where and how a user needs it. Typically, assistants aim for high availability by either physically being everywhere a user might need it (in every room in a house, for example), or by living on the user’s person (Apple watch, Bixby on a smartphone). It was helpful for the team at iF to think about this dimension in terms of the movies Star Trek and Her; Star Trek’s computer system scores high on availability as anyone on the Enterprise can interact with the computer from anywhere, and in Her the assistant available in the way that it is always attached to the user via a headphone.

Platform strength: Measured by two factors-- the degree to which an assistant’s capabilities are exposed to developers and the extent to which developers are building on top of an agent’s platform.

Of the 28 assistants evaluated, the general purpose assistants from Amazon, Apple, and Google were in a group of their own. These three had intelligence, natural interactions and a personal experience for their users. They strive to be available, either by simply being “everywhere”, or by being on the user’s person at all times. Finally, these assistants offered the richest set of developer tools to enable sustainable platform growth..

As adoption of digital assistants continues to grow, assessing them via the lens of this framework can be useful in making decisions as both a consumer and a business.

We hope you find this framework useful. Have questions or would like to learn more about how Intentional Futures can partner with your organization? Send an email to tylerm@intentionalfutures.com