GOOGLE has made a new push to regain lost ground in the battle for voice-activated gadgets by upgrading its smart assistant to handle video screens.
The internet search company announced last night that it has teamed up with several consumer tech companies including Sony and LG to build smart speakers that feature touchscreens. In doing so, Google is attempting to catch up to Amazon, whose artificial intelligence-powered Echo dominates the market for smart speakers.
The rise of Amazon’s voice assistant, which is used for playing music and answering questions, threatens Google’s core business if consumers increasingly turn to smart speakers instead of search engines to find information.
Amazon released the Echo Show, a version of its speaker with a screen, last year.
Google is relying on third party manufacturers and giving its voice software away for free in an attempt to cast its net as widely as possible. It said Sony, LG, Lenovo and JBL had agreed to make video smart speakers, which can be used for checking Google Maps, making video calls and finding recipes.
In addition, more than a dozen companies are making speakers without screens featuring the Google Assistant, which the company is also putting into televisions and car dashboards. Smart speakers are one of the key battlegrounds at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the annual tech convention in Las Vegas, which officially begins today (Thurs).
Google, which has historically eschewed the event, has made a huge marketing push this year that includes sponsorship of the city’s monorail and an enormous booth at the trade fair.
A fierce and bitter rivalry has now developed between Amazon and Google, the two main players in voice assistants. The latter recently removed the YouTube app from Amazon’s Echo Show speaker in retaliation for the web retailer refusing to sell Google’s products.
Both are hoping that CES will demonstrate the superiority of their competing technologies. Several manufacturers at the show have announced support for Amazon’s Alexa assistant, including smart glasses maker Vuzix, satnav company Garmin and “smart mirror” maker Kohler.
Analysts estimate that Amazon’s speakers have outsold Google’s by three-to-one to date, although Google says sales have picked up since the release of its cheaper Home Mini speaker late last year.
According to the Consumer Technology Association, the body that runs CES, sales of smart speakers rose by 279pc last year and are due to grow another 60pc this year.
Their success has been a rare bright light for the electronics industry after other areas such as virtual reality, drones and wearable technology have failed to live up to early hype. Profit margins are thin on the speakers, and Amazon and Google are even believed to have lost money on sales as they
discounted over Christmas. But opportunities for advertising and driving online shopping mean they could be lucrative in the future.
Apple announced its entry into the smart speaker market last year, but its HomePod speaker, which is significantly more expensive than those from Amazon or Google, was delayed in November. Apple has said it plans to put it on sale early this year.