If Apple is serious about Siri, it needs to compete on Amazon's turf

Key Points
  • Amazon and Google have something Apple doesn't have: e-commerce platforms.
  • They both have voice assistants that let you tap into that platform, but Apple's Siri can't do that yet.
Tim Cook
Getty Images

Apple has one glaring gap as it faces increasing competition from Google and Amazon: an e-commerce platform.

Here's why: on my drive home from work the other day, in the rain, my car alerted me that I was out of windshield washer fluid. Instead of forgetting and waiting for some free weekend in the distance future to buy some, I picked up my Pixel 2 XL and asked Google Assistant to order me a gallon.

It arrives today, two days from that experience.

Apple can't do that... but Google and Amazon can

In order: The Echo, the Echo Plus and the original Echo
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple's smart assistant, Siri, doesn't have a direct link to an e-commerce platform like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa do. I can't ask Siri to order me soap, a box of Kleenex or even windshield wiper fluid.

Amazon is itself an e-commerce platform and has swallowed others, like Whole Foods, to make deliveries quicker and more convenient for customers. Google has its own platform called Google Express. It announced a partnership with Walmart earlier this year but also taps into dozens of other partners, from Ace Hardware to Target, Costco, Walgreens and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Amazon can get a delivery on my doorstep hours from the moment I ask it for something, and my guess is Google will expand to get there soon, too.

Apple, so far as we know, hasn't even started.

Why it matters

Google Home
Source: Google

Today, most people think a digital assistant is best for a quick question about a favorite team's score or if you want to play a quick tune. But they're evolving rapidly and can do so much more.

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are adding features at such a rapid pace that, even as someone who receives emails about the new features, I can hardly keep up with them all. You can use them to play content on your TV, a game of trivia, or to order a pizza from a restaurant, all without getting off of your couch. Walk by either and ask it to order diapers and you'll have them on your doorstep in hours.

As consumers begin to learn the power of these virtual assistants and place the smart speakers that house them -- such as the Google Home, Amazon's various Echo products and Apple's delayed HomePod -- around their homes, they're going to become more like me. They're going to know that, while driving home, they can ask Google or Amazon to deliver a product, all while sitting in traffic.

I think this might start to push people toward products Apple doesn't offer, like Amazon Echo or Google Home. While this isn't necessarily big business yet -- at least compared to Apple's other hardware offerings -- it's going to be, and it's one we already know Apple will play in with the HomePod sometime next year.

It'll be hard to argue why someone should buy a HomePod when they can buy a similar product from Google or Amazon that can also deliver goods. It'll be even harder to argue why someone who already owns one of these products, some of which start at just $29, should buy another from Apple.

Some ideas

Source: Google Express

Apple isn't going to build its own e-commerce business from scratch -- it's too far behind, and Amazon is too big.

But it could start with acquisitions or deep partnerships with independent e-commerce companies like Wish or on-demand delivery services like Instacart. It could also make sense to follow in Google's footsteps by partnering directly with big-brand retailers, as Google has done.

Apple's e-commerce platform could be embedded right into Siri and therefore right into our iPhones and Macs. That gives Apple a leg up on Amazon, which doesn't have a smart assistant embedded into our computers (though you can just as easily navigate to its app or website). Google, too, offers Assistant on both iPhones, but it's one step away. You can't say "OK Google, buy me diapers" into your iPhone and have it work.

Siri needs this. In fact, I normally use my Apple Watch for sending voice texts if I'm sitting in traffic and want to figure out what I'm doing for dinner. I could have just as easily avoided Google Express altogether by simply asking Siri to buy me new windshield wiper fluid, but there's just nothing there.