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Unless you live under a rock, you probably saw headlines this week about a war between Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. So what’s the takeaway?
Alexa in personal computers and AR glasses may be a bit surprising, but the CES 2018 theme seemed to be the same as last year: more cars and auto appliances with AI assistants, and more smart home devices for the kitchen, family room, and bedroom that respond to voice commands and talk to Alexa and Google Assistant. In addition to Alexa in everything from a car cockpit to a toilet, Samsung’s Bixby, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Assistant all showed up to vie for the world’s attention. Away from Las Vegas, reports of a Facebook video chat device named Portal that responds to voice commands also made news this week.
CES this year made clear the distinction in strategy between these tech giants that no longer treat their assistants as a novelty, but rather as a major selling point and part of their brand identity. While historic hardware makers like Samsung and Apple put their AI assistant primarily in their own devices, those with shorter hardware track records like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft encouraged companies like LG and Toyota to use their SDK to adopt their AI assistants.
What’s the best way to go?
Samsung will bring Bixby to Family Hub refrigerators and Smart TVs this year, and by now Apple has integrated Siri into virtually every Apple device, but both are still working on getting their smart speakers into consumers’ hands, and trail behind Alexa and Google Assistant in popular buzz. Brands with SDKs also seem to have the widest offering of third-party voice apps.
Amazon may be discussing major marketing deals with brands like Procter & Gamble, but it’s clear that tech giants aren’t just propagating assistants to ink advertising deals. Brands like Alexa are maturing into marketing vehicles unto themselves, a selling point not just for manufacturers like JBL and Sony, but also for Amazon’s devices and ultimate goals.
As tech giants lean harder on selling you their AI assistant, successful strategies rely on the product portfolio and long-term vision of each company. Siri may not have a sterling reputation, but Apple still probably shipped more than 100 million iOS devices last quarter. Amazon may have sold tens of millions of smart speakers this holiday season, but its ultimate goal may be, as Zuckerberg reportedly said of the coming Portal video chat device, a change in user behavior.
Facebook wants you to use Facebook for more video chats, and probably advertising. Amazon may lead the smart speaker market, now considered the most popular consumer electronic, but it wants users to shift their behavior to think of voice shopping as a normal thing to do.
We don’t yet know if integrating your AI assistant everywhere or a more conservative approach is the best way to go.
What we do know is that 2018 is going to be the year that Amazon and Google see real competition from the likes of Microsoft, Samsung, and Facebook. As the war to place AI assistants in your home, car, and workplace rages on, the way each of these companies defines a successful strategy may not depend on the number of devices sold, or integrations by other hardware makers, but rather if it helps them achieve its long-term goals.
Everything else is just noise.
Thanks for reading,
AI Staff Writer
P.S. Please enjoy this video of Eric Schmidt explaining why he thinks AI matters:
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