The Consumer Electronics Showcase Will Be a Battleground in the Digital Assistant War

The 2018 Consumer Electronics Showcase kicks off in earnest this week, and one story seems likely to dominate – Google’s push to gain traction for its voice-controlled Google Assistant and related gadgets.

Google’s effort is quite literally visible across Las Vegas, which CES turns into the focal point of the consumer tech industry at the start of each year. The Verge reports that the “Hey Google” tagline, used to activate the Google Assistant, has been plastered across the city’s monorail, multiple billboards, and a dizzying array of pop-up buildings and booths. More substantively, tech analysts expect announcements of Assistant integration with a variety of devices such as televisions.

Google’s effort is premised on the idea that voice control is, as Steve Wozniak put it in 2016, the next big platform in computing. Voice control, and the artificial intelligence underlying it, promise to make interacting with both the internet and the real world seamless – and the big players are fighting to lock consumers into their ecosystems.

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At least for now, smart speakers are the main beachhead from which smart assistants integrate other devices and services. While Apple’s Siri introduced the idea of a voice interface for the masses in 2011, Amazon managed to capture much more enduring interest with its Echo speaker, introduced in 2015. The Echo fundamentally worked better than Siri, and can now help with everything from entertainment to a home’s utilities to, of course, shopping.

Google’s answer to the Echo, the Google Home speaker, was released nearly two years later, in late 2016. Apple is running even further behind, with its HomePod expected early this year. Amazon’s jump on the competition has given it a huge market share advantage — as of late last year, Amazon’s Alexa ran 69% of smart speakers.

But the sector is still nascent, and Amazon’s dominance is already slightly eroding. Google has a particular advantage, as analysts speaking to the Washington Post pointed out, because both Android phones and services like Google Calendar and Gmail are already so widely used.

Google recently announced that it had been selling more than one smart speaker every second since mid-October, and last year vastly expanded the number of devices linked to the service. CES will be Google’s chance to build on that momentum.

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