Voice Interoperability

Facebook, Xiaomi Join Amazon’s Voice Interoperability Initiative, Google and Apple Still Holding Out

Amazon has added Facebook, Xiaomi, Garmin, and Dolby to the ranks of the Voice Interoperability Initiative (VII) a year after the group and its first 30 companies debuted. The new members may boost the VII’s goal of ensuring voice-capable devices can connect to each other, especially with Amazon’s new Multi-Agent Design Guide dropping at the same time to help manufacturers of voice-powered devices better accommodate multiple voice assistant options. Still, Amazon’s biggest competition, Google, Samsung, and Apple, are all conspicuous in their absence from the VII at this point.

Initiate Interoperability

When Amazon created the Voice Interoperability Initiative, the members talked about their commitment to making sure people would have options for voice assistant-powered devices, without being locked into a single choice permanently. Amazon was by far the largest company of the inaugural group and the only developer of a widely-used voice assistant on the list, which now includes 77 companies. The language used by the group at the time focused on smart speakers and smart displays but has since expanded into mobile and smart home devices. The new Multi-Agent design guide written by Amazon with some input from other VII members is supposed to help device makers come up with hardware and software designs that make it easy for customers to pick among different voice assistant and connect to other voice assistants on other products.

“Customer choice is a bedrock principle of the VII. The guide recommends letting customers choose from available voice agents by enabling the use of multiple, simultaneous wake words when more than one agent is registered on a device,” Amazon explained in a blog post. “Further, the multi-agent experiences section of the guide addresses fundamental behaviors that agents can employ to provide engaging interactions for customers. The guide recommends that multi-agent products help customers find the agents that are available and explore their capabilities.”

Membership Drive

The variations among just the new companies alone make a guide like that helpful. The new members all have different focuses for their voice technology. Xiaomi’s Xiao AI is only used in China, for instance, although its hardware is used all over the world, while Dolby is best known for stereos and Facebook has been exploring mainly smart displays and connecting to smart televisions. Garmin, meanwhile, builds its voice assistant on transportation and travel, including a new dēzl smart display and voice assistant for trucks that came out in June. With that said, none of them are exactly strangers to Alexa.

Facebook and Garmin’s hardware both include Amazon’s voice assistant, while Xiaomi and Dolby both have Alexa skills for running their devices. Bixby, Google Assistant, and Siri are not a part of the VII’s equation at all. That doesn’t mean the companies can’t cooperate, and some brands, like Sonos, have some way to connect to Alexa and at least one of its main rivals. But, without a baseline technology agreement, most people will have to pick just one voice assistant as the pillar they buy smart home products around. Amazon is at least securing Alexa’s place with tech developers like Facebook who have no voice assistant as of yet, or one like Xiaomi with a voice assistant limited geographically despite global device sales.

“Xiaomi is a world leader in connected devices that power people’s smart living. Voice is a critical interface to offer services to our customers,” Xiaomi vice president of corporate business development Paul Lin said in a statement. “We are excited to join the Voice Interoperability initiative to work with industry leaders to build voice-enabled products that offer customers choice and flexibility. This collaboration will enable us to bring more exciting and high-quality voice and AI-enabled products to everyone around the world.”


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