Business  |  January 18, 2018

Voice Hardware Gains Momentum At CES

Ryan MacInnis

Ryan MacInnis

Director of Marketing

In 2017, voice was coined as “the technology to watch.” At this year’s CES, voice stole the show. Amazon, Google, Facebook and Samsung all made voice or AI announcements that will fundamentally change how we experience some of their products.

Here is a look at some of the biggest voice announcements:

Facebook Works On Amazon Echo Show Competitor

It’s expensive. It looks exactly like the Amazon Echo Show. And it’s from Facebook. Meet Portal, Facebook’s rumored voice-enabled hardware, expected to go on sale in a few months. Per Cheddar: “The device is designed to work in the home and represents Facebook’s first serious foray into selling consumer hardware, people familiar with the matter said. Rather than position the device as a smart assistant akin to Amazon’s Echo speakers, Facebook intends to pitch Portal as a way for families and friends to stay connected through video chatting and other social features.”

It is a fun distraction from the silent voice work Facebook is doing. True to its DNA, Facebook has Oculus, AR developments and a mobile network that reaches over 1 billion users. Voice is an integral part of that strategy. Portal, at a whopping $499, won’t be as commonly adopted as Alexa or the Google Home Mini, given the $400 difference in price, but much like the Echo Show, there is tremendous value in that screen. It gives you a home base for all things voice.

Prediction: It will be the “controller” of how we use voice to interact with Facebook and all the products it releases in the future.

Samsung’s 2020 AI Commitment

At CES, Samsung made the pledge to voice-enable all its electronics and products by 2020. Head of research H.S. Kim said it was part of the consumer-product strategy, to better connect those devices, appliances and products and give you, the user, a more succinct experience. This is interesting for obvious reasons, including the race to connect all the “things” in your home.

Amazon, Google and now Samsung are vying for that spot. But even more interesting, Samsung has been behind on a voice assistant. It acquired Viv a few years back and plans to leverage its technology to make Bixby, the Samsung voice assistant, that much smarter.

Amazon vs. Google, The Rivalry Continues

While there were no major announcements from either company (aside from Google’s Echo Show competitor), there wasn’t any shortage of third-party integrations unveiled. Here are some from both sides:

Amazon Alexa: Vuzix voice-enabled digital glasses, The Kohler Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror, HP, Acer and Asus computers and voice integrations with Toyota and Lexus car models.

Google Assistant: Sony Headphones, Schlage’s smart lock, Phillips’ new kitchen TV, Hisense TVs and Kia adding Google Assistant to its car models.

Alexa, which Bezos said wasn’t meant for shopping, has been extremely aggressive in the retail space. This makes sense, given that Amazon is the No. 1 search engine to research and buy your favorite products; it’s used more frequently than Google for ecommerce.

It will be interesting to see where these two companies take their stances. Alexa, which has been deployed much like Google Assistant for integrations, lacks some of the efficiency surrounding voice capture accuracy that Google has. Many retailers have turned to Google because they don’t want to partner with Amazon.

The jury is still out as to whether these platforms will continue to reach as many horizontal use cases as possible, or if they’ll take a stance on one in particular.

Apple Is MIA

If you glanced at anything CES-related in the last week, Apple didn’t show up. No ads, no product announcements, no pulse. This isn’t anything newsworthy, given that Apple tends to skip CES each year, but particularly interesting when it comes to Siri.

Google, Amazon and even Samsung, are making a lot more splashes in the voice-enabled space, which is drawing in consumer interest. Apple might be busy with the Homepod, which is already delayed for shipment, or maybe it is working on making Siri better, which many argue has languished in the voice-assistant space.

CES, while usually an event of the future, has shown real ways in which voice use cases and voice-enabled products will be available to us in the short-term.

This story, “Voice Hardware Gains Momentum At CES” was originally published by MediaPost.

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