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CES 2019: “Alexa, can I have integration with that?”

Let’s get one thing clear, CES is huge. I mean really, really big and not just in its physical size and scale – which stretches over 2,700,000 ft² – but also in terms of its importance to technology. It would be easy to say that a consumer exhibition is addressing exactly that audience however the residual value this event brings to business in enormous.

Stepping out my transport onto the street for the first time in the Las Vegas Strip was an experience. It’s is genuinely difficult to take in the madness and scale of absolutely everything!

With that out of the way, let’s get stuck in to some of the detail.

If there’s one thing dominating CES 2019, then it is the battle for the smart home. The market for voice activated assistants will be a long running technology which is open to developers and manufacturers to dream great things. Of all of the skills and actions available, few find their way into daily use but those that do tend to become part of everyday life for a growing number of people who have grown accustomed to barking orders at an inanimate object. All of this plays out on two major platforms.

Google Home has some catching up to do with Amazon Alexa and boy are they are throwing everything at it.

Hundreds of Google Home staff dressed in white Google branded jump suits are on tens of stands around CES ready and willing to demonstrate the latest and greatest tech that interconnects with the Google Home software environment. Billboards and visual displays in and out of the exhibition locations are punching you in the face with their messaging reminding you that there is more to Google than search and an alternate to ‘the other lot’. I counted over 20 different companies operating their own IoT/Smart Home software, but most have conceded that it’s important to include the voice integration with one, the other or both of the two big players.

To kick things off we going to take a look at the current market leader, Amazon Alexa. Figures report that Alexa works with twice as many devices as Google Home (20,000+) and an ever-increasing number of skills (commands) which extends to more than 50,000. Their impressive showcase not only exhibited a wide range of everyday technology devices, software integration showcase, an infrastructure workshop (AWS) and was by far the most popular destination for most visitors to CES.

As soon as you enter the exhibition space at the Sands Convention Centre the first possible bit of prime estate belongs to Amazon. The queues for entry further pique the interest and heighten the curiosity of what awaits the intrepid tech enthusiast. The space opens up with a set of 6 smaller circular display areas surrounding a fine-looking Audi Q8 – which I completely ignored – with a huge circular canopy proclaiming popular commands.

There is a plethora of high-quality tech being showcased all around the room and greedy eyes are feeding.

Essential ingredients come first. The connected home needs connected WiFi and the Netgear Orbi Whole Home Mesh WiFi is the device of choice displayed. Extensive WiFi coverage throughout a home is crucial and whilst not the cheapest on the market the Orbi certainly looks the part.

In the same section is the beautiful HP Envy 34 curved screen with integrated PC which makes me feel that I’ll never look at ‘normal’ monitor ever again. The problem might be with the price as at just under £2,000 you would expect performance to be every bit as staggering as it’s looks.

There is also something else that’s featured heavily and it’s a product which business users might overlook as a priority but is an essential part of a modern business. The product range of headsets from Jabra, Plantronics and Bragi are for those who value quality over cost. The marketeers from these companies have been hard at work trying to ensure the headsets are seen as a material part of UC.

The Polycom 8500 conference unit will be on the hot list for C-Level execs as it is an elegant conference phone with a really nice interface. The 8500 looks familiar with its triangular structure, comes with the high-quality voice you expect from them and now you are able to shout commands at it without having to go to the bother of pressing buttons.

Every single product that is laid out on display within the Amazon space comes with ‘Alexa built-in’. Each comes with its own purpose of seeking the attention of buyers for a simpler relationship with technology.

Messaging around the display area points towards integration with our busy business lives with quotes like “Alexa, start my meeting” and “Alexa, get my report from salesforce”.

There is no escaping the fact that using voice control has now made strides into the home office environment and will no doubt attract both SME and enterprise users. Because of the familiarity of Alexa in our home lives, and our familiarity from our own experiences as consumers, there are a surge of developers working with the SDK to develop many more ways to tame technology and ensure users have to think as little as is possible in their daily lives. In the business ecosystem and techstack there is an encouraging amount of practical time saving applications and benefits pleasing both users and bosses.

An added development to the suite is the Alexa Connect Kit (ACK) which is being used to work with Amazon Dash for replacement components. The clunky dash buttons were little more than a gimmick but have paved the way for Amazon to carve out yet another slice of the pie with automatic ordering of consumables.

It’s easy to complain about the impact Amazon has made on the high street and the added threat of continued creeping market share in the traditional distribution channel. The thing is that it is clearly being driven by demand of convenience from us consumers and they and their partners are doing it very well indeed.

Tomorrow we’ll reveal how Google are responding.

Paul Richens is the MD of strategic marketing consultancy Tricca.

Read more CES news here.

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