Google getting its AI-driven Assistant technology into Sony’s Android TV sets is one of the easiest decisions the search giant has ever had to make – a move that could spearhead the beginning of a significant fightback against Amazon Alexa in the smart home battle.
It is unclear to what extent users will be able to use Amazon’s Echo smart speaker (also driven by an AI application, Alexa) with the Sony Android TVs, now that Google Assistant is integrated. The fact that the touchscreen Echo does not allow YouTube videos to be played suggests Google and Amazon would rather butt horns, but consumer pressure may make that impossible.
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 nascent market. But with these rival AI voice-activated 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 Cortana. 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 Android smartphones.
The announcement from Sony Electronics USA 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 2.1m units in the first quarter of this year from total smart TV shipments of 7.7m, 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.