CES 2019: Google Advances Assistant Against Amazon’s Alexa

Google has announced a platform aimed at building its Google Assistant tool into more third-party devices, as it ramps up its presence at this week’s CES conference in Las Vegas to compete with Amazon’s Alexa.

The Google Assistant Connect platform was just one of a slew of Google Assistant announcements at CES, which is also showcasing artificial intelligence in a number of other fields, including navigation and safety features for cars and improving TV video quality.

This year’s show, which runs through Friday, also features the usual dizzying array of consumer products of all kinds, from headphones to smart toilets.

Assistant Connect is Google’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa Connect Kit, a hardware module that simplifies the process of building devices that feature the popular Alexa virtual assistant.

The Google Home Mini smart speaker. Image credit: Google


Amazon, which also competes with the likes of Apple, Samsung and IBM in the virtual assistant market, was the first to popularise such services, and in order to catch up, Google has steadily increased its presence at CES in recent years.

While both Alexa and Google Assistant are omnipresent at the show, Google this year tripled its floor space and set up eye-catching features such as a roller coaster and a giant gumball machine.

The company said Google Assistant is set to be present in one billion devices by the end of January, in 80 countries and in nearly 30 languages.  (While the numbers are impressive, Google is estimated to control about 28 percent of the smart speaker market, trailing Amazon’s 41 percent.)

Assistant Connect is set to increase the assistant’s presence by building its features into more devices, although, in this case, the devices are designed to connect to an existing Assistant device, rather than operating independently.

Google showed examples of such third-party devices including a smart button, which could be placed anywhere in a home and set up to carry out any Assistant task or set of tasks, and a palm-sized e-ink screen that can display upcoming calendar events, a weather forecast or commute details.

Interpreter mode

Also at CES Google announced Interpreter Mode for Google Assistant, designed to allow the service to operate as a dedicated translation device — running at a hotel check-in desk, for example, to display translations for travelers who don’t speak the language.

Other new Assistant features include the ability to automatically check in to flights by saying “Hey Google, check in to my flight”, and additional functions when operating alongside Google Maps on Android or iOS, including auto-punctuating messages dictated by voice and sending those messages via platforms such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger in addition to standard text messages.

Lenovo also introduced an Assistant-powered Smart Clock, which, while its features are limited, can draw on information in users’ calendars and has other smart features.

Smart devices, TVs

Virtual assistants — mainly Alexa and Google Assistant — are omnipresent at this year’s CES, being built into smart TVs, cars, pianos, garden parasols and a toilet.

Robots are also a notable feature of the show, with Samsung showing off its Air Bot, which moves from room to room in a house purifying the air.  Other robots include the Ubtech Walker, which fetches objects such as slippers, and Temi, which works as a sort of moving smart speaker.

Intel and Facebook announced their collaboration on an AI chip, while Intel also said it’s working with Resolve and the National Geographic Society on artificially intelligent cameras designed to automatically detect poaching activity on wildlife reserves in Africa.

The advanced television tech on display includes LG’s curved screens and a commercial version of its roll-up display, set to arrive in a consumer version later this year.

Samsung notably announced it would be adding Apple features to its smart TVs, including an iTunes app and support for HomeKit and AirPlay 2, with Vizio and LG also announcing support for HomeKit and AirPlay.

While Google and Amazon are competing to push their virtual assistants into as many third-party gadgets as possible, the television announcements are a rare indication of Apple opening up its tech to other manufacturers.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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