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It’s difficult to gauge all the important trends at CES if you don’t roam the show floor (I leave that to my colleague Dean Takahashi). On the flip side, you better sit back to see the biggest trend — or, put another way, whatever was overkill this particular year. For CES 2018, that was Amazon’s Alexa.
Sure, other AI assistants had a presence, whether that was Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, or even Baidu’s Duer. But Amazon’s assistant dominated. If you had to pick a single feature that every product touted, Alexa topped the list.
An assortment of speakers and sound bars naturally showed off Alexa integration, but so did desktops, laptops, phones, routers, TVs, cars, headphones, washers, dryers, refrigerators, light switches, smoke alarms, toilets, and even exhaust vents. Some could only be controlled by Alexa from another device, but most had some version of the voice assistant built right in. Even Apple’s HomeKit partners jumped on board. In other words, if you were showcasing just another electronic, whether that be the latest iteration of your existing product or a new one altogether, Alexa was your feature highlight this year.
Many products that debut at CES don’t sell very well, or never even make it to production. The reality is that some of these “products with Alexa built in” are already dead — their short lives consisted of just CES 2018, which concludes today.
Still, Alexa is going to be around for at least a few more years. In 2017 alone, Alexa gained so much functionality, we wrote a post about just to keep track of it all. It makes sense for some companies to jump on the bandwagon in hope of being part of the hype.
The trouble is that Amazon (and Google) has first-party Alexa (and Google Assistant) products that are quite good. If you were already going to buy a new electronic shown off at CES, then the addition of Alexa is probably a nice bonus. If you’re specifically looking for an Alexa device, though, you’re probably better off getting an Echo directly from Amazon.
When everyone has the same CES strategy, the feature in question stops being a differentiator. It becomes a buzzword.
For Alexa fans, and Amazon, more competition is a great thing. For electronic makers, it’s just the way the game is played.
Next year, I hope the buzzword is 5G.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.