CES, the global consumer electronics and consumer technology trade-show that takes place every January in Las Vegas, Nevada, had an unexpected highlight this year — an AI (Artificial Intelligence) assistant. Amazon's Alexa was everywhere — in speakers, phones, and other devices. In 2015, Amazon took the farsighted step of declaring the smarts of Alexa open for developers to use. It has taken a year and a half for the tech industry to reap the benefits of AI assistant's openness.
Lenovo launched a speaker at CES 2017 with AIexa on board. While the device might compete with Amazon's ever popular Echo, it shows that the company is open to following the Android model of letting developers use the code to develop a product.
And, this is not just limited to speakers — Huawei is launching the Mate 9 smartphone with Alexa onboard. While Siri is limited to Apple, and Google Assistant is currently just available on Pixel phones, Amazon's assistant can be a great option if it is integrated well into smartphones.
As far as competition goes, Apple has been trying to improve Siri since launching it in 2012 but the results have been pretty frustrating. Google, on the other hand, has great mileage in the artificial intelligence game. It first introduced the smarts on the phone through Google Now and upped the game by launching Google Assistant in 2016.
While Google Assistant is a great first attempt and will surely improve over the time, right now it is on a limited number of devices. The Pixel phones and Google Home — a voice activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant which is currently available only in selected countries — are the only ones carrying Google's smarts. Many feel that Google had the power to launch the speaker early but it was much delayed for reasons unknown. The tech community is still eagerly waiting for a device from Apple to compete with Google Home and Echo.
Amazon Echo, a hands-free voice controlled speaker, has scored great sales numbers. The device has sold over 5 million units in the US within two years of being launch. And in 2016, sales grew by almost 9 times. Echo has been launched in two more versions, Dot and Tap.
Amazon has introduced the Echo in the UK and Germany as well. While people living in other countries haven't had access to the popular speakers, the open project will help them get Alexa through other devices such as Lenovo's speakers and Huawei Mate 9.
There were a bunch of other gadgets at CES which had Alexa, including a robot, a smartwatch, and even a refrigerator, demonstrating the AI assistant's adaptability and versatility. By now, Amazon has collected a large amount of data which will improve Alexa's performance over time. There are things, such as ordering items on the Amazon site and calling an Uber for a specific address which Alexa does very well. These are functions not available with Siri or Google Assistant. Amazon's assistant is also better integrated in some other respects — for instance, in being able to launch a skill on hearing the command, "Start a 5-minute workout."
Right now, Amazon is on the top of its AI game with an Android-like approach that seems to be benefitting them. But 2017 could see quite a few competing devices coming up. Google and Apple both have to roll up their sleeves to match Amazon's reach.