Smart assistants have reached the point where they can help you with just about anything, but they are not limited to smart speakers or your smartphone in your pocket. They work just as well on your computer as well.
Whether you're using a desktop or laptop computer, we'll show you how to get Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa up and down. If you prefer the built-in Windows and MacOS options – Cortana and Siri, respectively – we have them covered too. We will not delve deep into the assistant's voice commands or functions, but we will touch some of the common ones.
Amazon has an official Windows app that you can download and install from here. A newly updated add-on handsfree voice control, which means you can now call, "Hi, Alexa," and get the assistant to switch without touching the mouse or keyboard.
Launch the app and you'll be asked to sign in with your Amazon account (you need one to use Alexa). If you want to use voice control or hands-free operation, next time you need to allow the app to access the computer's microphone. You can always change these allowances later in the app's settings.
Some of the voice commands you tend to say to your Amazon Echo work on Windows as well. Just use the "Alexa" wakeup word, followed by your request. Ask to hear music, check the weather forecast, look up information from the internet, and so on.
No public Alexa app for macOS yet exists, but Reverb is a nice (and free) replacement. After installing Reverb from the Mac App Store, sign in with your Amazon credentials and you will be able to start voice commands on your MacBook or Mac desktop.
Reverb has no hands-free option, so you have to click on the app's interface ̵
Another option is to use Alexa online. This will work anywhere you can use a web browser, from Chromebooks to MacBooks to Linux computers. Fire up Alexa in your browser, built by developer Sam Machin, and you will have to sign in again with your Amazon account and let the site use your computer's microphone.
With that done, you can click anywhere in the browser window to have the program listen to the "Alexa" commands. Because you've linked your Amazon account with the tool, you should be able to get information like your upcoming calendar appointments, but, like Reverb, you can't play music or radio.
Google Assistant  At the time of writing, it is not possible to get Google Assistant on a Windows or MacOS computer, at least not in its full form. As for desktops and laptops, Google looks to store Google Assistant for Chrome OS computers, which often have a dedicated button that launches the tool.
However, you can upload Google in any browser on any computer, then tap the microphone icon to get an approach to the Google Assistant experience. You need to give your site access to your computer's microphone to say commands like: "What should be like tomorrow?" or "How old is Barack Obama?" Google will then read the response back to you as search results appear on the screen.
If you're signed in to your Google Account, it works even better. Just ask, "What's next on my calendar?" or "Show me my photos from Sydney," and Google will tap Google Calendar and Google Photos to complete your request.
Finally, this is just the voice control of the Google search engine, but not the right Google assistant. For example, you cannot stream music or control the smart light of the home. For all the extra commands, wait for Google to release an official desktop application.
Windows and Cortana
Windows and macOS come with their own smart digital assistants built-in right in, although you may not have used them extensively. To access Cortana in Windows, click the Cortana button (to the right of the search bar on the taskbar), and then say the command. You can also write questions and requests directly into the search box.
To get Cortana to answer "Hi, Cortana", no keyboard or mouse is needed. Just go to Windows Settings via the gear icon on Start menu, then select Cortana and Talk to Cortana . The same dialog also lets you set up a keyboard shortcut for the assistant and display it on the computer's lock screen.
Besides the usual assistant commands covering weather, calendar appointments and more, Cortana can also control different parts of your computer. For example, you can tell Cortana to turn Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on or off, or to launch specific apps.
It is not yet possible to start Cortana on anything other than a Windows computer. No web interface is available, so it's not an option, nor is it a program. If you absolutely must have Microsoft's smart assistant on Mac, the only option is to install a Windows emulator like Parallels Desktop.
macOS and Siri
Siri is now a fully integrated part of MacOS, and by default you can find it on the right side of the menu bar. Click on the Siri icon and you will be able to operate the assistant you want on your phone.
Open the Apple menu on Mac, and then select System Preferences and Siri to specify how the digital assistant works on your MacOS computer. You can enable or disable "Hey, Siri", voice enable, control Siri's presence on the lock screen, configure a keyboard shortcut, and turn on or off voicemail.
As with Cortana, you can get Siri to control your computer. Commands include: "Turn on Bluetooth" (or off), "Lower the volume", "Make the screen lighter" and "How much disk space is available?" You can also use Siri to launch individual apps like Safari and Mail.
Unfortunately for Windows users with a love of Siri, and perhaps with an iPhone, Apple does not seem to push their digital assistant to non-Apple hardware anytime soon. While some Apple apps are available through a browser and the iCloud portal, Siri is not one of them.