If the annual CES technology show in Las Vegas were a high school dance, Amazon and Google would be the kids who stayed away, preferring to throw their own parties. Only this year, the tech giants are all dressed up and looking for dates.
They’re seeking and supporting partners for their voice-operated platforms, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. In the grand tradition of such classic battles as Android versus iOS and Mac versus PC, there’s a showdown in the voice-operated world over who’s going to be in charge of your home.
Despite CES’s role as an international meeting place for digital giants and startups alike, the titans of tech—not just Google and Amazon, but Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp.—have been largely absent in recent years. They might have sent staff, but they didn’t set up big tents or booths, or buy big ads to cover Vegas buildings. Microsoft once dominated the tech show, but pulled back its public-facing activities after 2012.
“Both Google and Amazon kind of thought it was cool not to go to CES,” said Patrick Moorhead, chief analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. “But it’s a required thing because of this new plane of competition in home automation and digital assistants.”
CES will be the ideal battleground this week, with 3,900 exhibitors, many showcasing home products with voice-operated capabilities—not just speakers but entire entertainment systems, kitchen appliances and security platforms. But since making and supporting a reliable voice assistant can cost billions of dollars, even well-heeled companies with broad product lines are pairing with the industry leaders.
Amazon and Google aren’t just interesting in new areas to embed their voice assistants. They also need to expand their ever-growing arsenals of voice-activated apps, what Amazon calls “skills” and Google calls “actions.”
Amazon needs to have a presence at CES if it wants to partner with the best, said J.P. Gownder, an analyst with market research firm Forrester, while Google needs to show it’s serious about the smart-home market to make up for lost time.
“Amazon has a bit of a head start here. They have more partnerships. They have more skills than Google has actions,” he said. “But Google is not taking it lying down.”
“Everything going forward is about partnership. No company can be successful by itself,” said Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association, which produces CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show. “Every tech company has to be there because they’re afraid they’re going to miss out.”
Alexa was all over CES last year. This week, even more of its capabilities will be on display. Among other things, it will be able to turn up the volume on a Hisense Smart TV, operate a Whirlpool microwave, even draw a bath and dim the lights from within Kohler’s $1,600 bathroom mirror.
Amazon is sending a number of executives to the show, including David Limp, senior vice president of devices and services. During CES, the company will also be hosting workshops and presentations focused on Alexa-based products.
“Amazon is excited to support our partners at CES and you’ll continue to see Alexa show up in new use cases, categories, and devices through the week,” a company spokesman said.
Amazon will have an outdoor promotional area near the show’s epicenter at the Las Vegas Convention Center. But close by, a much larger space is allocated to Google, which also bought “Hey Google” ads covering cars of the Las Vegas Monorail.
Google is also sending executives to the show, but its technology will be found in many other booths: LG will be showcasing with a built-in Google Assistant, while Cauldryn, maker of heated water bottles, is joining with Google to integrate voice-activated controls.
The smart home controlled by voice assistants is the hub for a broad range of industries—energy management, retail, content delivery, even next-generation transportation, said Jonathan Collins, an analyst with ABI Research. Whoever controls the smart home, he said, will tap into a valuable information stream.
Appeared in the January 8, 2018, print edition as ‘Amazon, Google to Duke It Out in Vegas.’