Software that listens to you: Vegas electronics show has lots of 'intelligent speakers'

Reuters

Jordan Jtakin walks though a 5G wireless broadband technology display in the Intel booth this week at the CES electronics trade show in Las Vegas. The buzz is about “intelligent speakers,” like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, that people are using to control television, lights and more in their homes.
Reuters Jordan Jtakin walks though a 5G wireless broadband technology display in the Intel booth this week at the CES electronics trade show in Las Vegas. The buzz is about “intelligent speakers,” like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, that people are using to control television, lights and more in their homes.

LAS VEGAS — Amazon’s Alexa is extending its domain to a whole new set of gadgets. Smoke alarm? Check. A $1,300 smart mirror? Check. Personal computers? Check.

In what’s becoming an annual tradition, the CES electronics trade show, being held this week in Las Vegas, has brought a flurry of announcements of new gadgets built to work with the company’s voice-activated Alexa software.

Also new this year: Some serious competition.

Google is trying to make a splash at the world’s largest electronics trade show, blanketing Las Vegas with advertisements and its share of new gizmos that can be controlled by its Google Assistant.

For the first time in several years, Google has planted the flag at CES with a large booth of its own, which GBH Insights research chief Daniel Ives attributes to the growing importance of software that can be used to manage other internet-connected devices.

Intelligent speakers, like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, are “quickly becoming the core foundation of smart homes,” Ives said.

Analysts say some consumers find it more natural to manipulate smart devices like door locks, light bulbs and televisions with their voice instead of smartphone apps or dedicated remotes.

The competition to build software people can manage with their voice is one of the hottest topics in consumer technology, drawing, in addition to Amazon and Google, the attention of giants like Apple, Microsoft and Samsung.

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Some of those companies have strengths Amazon can’t match. Google’s Assistant can be summoned on Android smartphones, and Siri lives on Apple’s iPhones. Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant is installed by default on Windows 10 computers.

But Amazon is leading the race to make software that can control other machines.

The company largely invented the modern smart-speaker category with the summer 2015 launch of the cylindrical Echo speaker. At the same time, Amazon offered a set of tools designed to help other companies build Alexa into their own devices.

Amazon stole the show at last year’s CES. Since then, the company has launched a refreshed line of Amazon Echo speakers, including a model designed to make it easy for consumers to get started using Alexa to manage their light bulbs, refrigerators and televisions.

The company doesn’t disclose sales of Echo devices beyond a year-end news release touting the sales of “tens of millions” of Alexa-enabled devices during the holiday season. Analysts with RBC Capital Markets estimated that Amazon sold 33 million Echo devices in 2017, up from 4 million the prior year.

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