Google getting its AI assistant technology into Sony’s Android TV sets is one of the easiest decisions the tech monolith has ever had to make – a move that could mount the beginning of a significant fight back for Android TV at the heart of its wider Alexa-chasing smart home push.
A burning instant question we have is “Are Amazon’s Echo smart speaker devices compatible with these Sony TVs” and can its own AI assistant Alexa live peacefully alongside Google Assistant? While neither party has provided a definitive answer, the fact that the touchscreen Echo does not allow YouTube videos to be played probably suggests the two would also butt horns if an end user wanted to, for example, use Alexa to play music through the TV set, but use Google Assistant to control Android TV and ask for the weather.
Despite devices from Google, Amazon and more providing access to third-party apps, an open ecosystem within the home is a big challenge for the smart home market. But with these rival sources of AI voice assistants persistently stepping on each other’s toes, this has opened up the market for devices such as smart speakers housing multiple voice assistants, like those from Samsung-owned Harman which sells devices compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortona. A speaker for Samsung’s own voice assistant Bixby has long been rumored, which would add another name to this list, while a more significant move recently saw Alexa slide into Huawei smartphones.
The announcement came from Sony Electronics USA so we assume that the Google tie up is limited to US TV sets at present, so expect more announcements later around the world.
The announcement says select 2016 and 2017 Sony HDR TVs powered by Android TV can now use Google Assistant to control content discovery and viewing. The software update to Sony TVs will provide Android TV users with much of the same features Android smartphone users have become accustomed to, but with some added extras including control of smart home devices.
The remote control comes fitted with a microphone button for activating Google Assistant. Specifically, Google’s AI Assistant is built into the Z9D, X800D, 750and X700D TV models, and all 2017 Sony Android TVs – ranging in price from $650 to $4,000.
Google Assistant is significantly behind Amazon Alexa in terms of shipments and homes it is present in, with market share split in the US roughly 76% Amazon, 24% Google and it needs to partner with device makers and leverage off Android if it is to have any chance of making up the difference
But in that case Samsung would have been the right choice. Samsung leads the smart TV sector in the US, shipping an estimated 2.1 million units in the first quarter of this year from total smart TV shipments of 7.7 million, according to data from Kagan. Sony is the second Android TV device to receive Google Assistant after compatibility on the Nvidia Shield was announced in September.
In other smart TV news this week, Samsung just changed the game by selecting Sling TV as the first live and VoD OTT service to become available on select Samsung Smart TVs. The focus of this integration is on live sports, as Sling TV’s VP of Product Management, Jimshade Chaudhari, said, “With football season in full swing, we know our customers want to catch every play on the biggest screen possible. Millions of Samsung customers can watch their favorite team without the hassle of installing additional equipment, additional remotes or switching inputs.”
Confusingly Dish already uses its own voice remote built using TiVo technology and can also hand over control to an Amazon Alexa.
There is no mention of Samsung Bixby voice assistant in the Sling TV release, although many of Samsung’s 2016 line of smart TVs which are integrating Sling TV are already equipped with voice control functionality of some sort.