Amazon’s Alexa has become the household name when it comes to smart assistants, but its ongoing fight with Google Assistant is getting more difficult than expected. Products can support both Alexa and the Google Assistant, and since smart home companies want to sell products to as many customers as possible, Alexa has been getting fewer and fewer exclusive victories.
Google used its massive presence at CES this week to send a message that it has bigger plans for the Assistant, too. Even at other companies’ exhibits, Google deployed employees dressed in white clothes and Assistant-themed hats to talk visitors through the features it could provide on third-party devices. It also launched a new interpreter mode on Google Assistant that’s being piloted at hotels in Las Vegas, New York, and San Francisco.
In contrast, Amazon’s presence felt small. Amazon had two main booths for new products — one for Ring and another for Amazon Key — neither of which seemed fully prepared. At both booths, live demos of important Amazon features were not available. Ring’s new Door View Cam wasn’t activated nor connected to the app, and one booth over, Amazon’s Key for Garage didn’t have much to show.
In an email, an Amazon spokesperson pointed out that there were two other booths for Alexa products. “This was our first public presence at CES and we obviously took a different approach from other companies,” the spokesperson said. The two other booths didn’t show new products and were dedicated to auto and Echo devices.
In an interview before the show, Amazon’s SVP of devices and services Dave Limp said, “Customers do not care about an ad campaign on the Las Vegas Strip.” And that may be why its presence felt diminished. Alexa has already established itself in the smart home industry, while Google Assistant still feels like the underdog with something to prove (even if it is technically on 10 times more devices, thanks to its presence on Android).
But Alexa’s apparent lead no longer feels as strong when you’re looking at the breadth of gadgets out there, because third-party device makers aren’t playing favorites. Devices like the U by Moen shower, the Lockly Secure Pro smart lock, and locks from August, all sport compatibility with Alexa and Google, while HomeKit looms on the horizon. Getting all those systems on one device took “the better part of last year” for Lockly, says CEO Lee Zheng. “Obviously Apple HomeKit will take a little bit longer.”
Very few companies have taken a definitive stance on smart assistants, and that means we’ll continue to see these all-encompassing devices, allowing the different assistants to grow and thrive all at once. Alexa may have taken an early lead in this race, but it’s not even close to being over yet.
Update January 14th, 1:46PM ET: This article has been updated with comment from Amazon.