Echo

Amazon Echo powered by Alex. Image: Amazon

APEX Insight: Wondering how long the flight to Addis Ababa is? These new home devices might have the answer.

In the world of Star Trek, crewmembers aboard the Starship Enterprise could summon virtually any information or even command the ship by voice control merely by starting a sentence with the word “Computer.” And although warp speed remains far outside our grasp, our current voice-control technology is fast approaching a level that, just 30 years ago, was thought to be centuries into the future.

Popular voice-control devices and assistants can be useful for calling up news, weather and sports information, as well as making purchases. However, we still appear to be in the infancy of voice-controlled travel searching and planning.

There are three major players in the race to offer voice-controlled search functionality to travelers, and each is making progress. Released in 2011, Apple’s Siri was one of the first voice assistant programs, and even though Apple recently announced the HomePod appliance, which will expand its use, Siri currently lags when it comes to voice-powered flight searches. Most queries merely result in a list of websites, making Siri little more than an Internet search engine when it comes to travel information. But you can have some fun by asking Siri what aircraft are flying overhead.

Google Assistant, which is available on smartphones, smartwatches and Google Home devices, can now search Google Flights, offering comprehensive information on flight schedules, pricing and status. Google Home also has the advantage of linking to a user’s Gmail and Calendar services to aggregate travel information, but its functionality falls short of allowing voice-controlled ticket purchases at this time.

Finally, the Amazon Echo, with Alexa, its voice-controlled assistant, is emerging as a leader in voice-powered travel searching. Travelers can select from dozens of “Skills,” which are voice-powered apps created by third-party developers. For instance, both Expedia and Kayak now offer Skills that enable you to search flights and check the status of your travel reservations.

Korean Air is one of the first airlines to offer an Alexa Skill, which allows travelers to get the status of any Korean Air flight by number or route. Even more advanced is the UK’s Virgin Holidays app, through which you can search for a holiday package, then receive a link directing you to the booking page. Finally, Spafax’s Skill for its entertainment personalization platform Profile allows travelers to ask Alexa about the movies that will be on their next flight, and what languages they will be available in.

The era of voice-controlled travel searches has begun, but there is still plenty of progress to look forward to.

“Ask a Smart Speaker” was originally published in the 7.4 September/October issue of APEX Experience magazine.