Google tries to tell Amazon who’s boss at CES

CES 2018 is emblazoned with Google branding in preparation for a year in which the company will go hell for leather against Amazon in the battle for TV and the ever-important role that voice will play in the video ecosystem. A handful of announcements stake their claims as significant from the mountain of press releases this week, combining to paint a picture in which Google leads the pursuit of owning the connected TV, while Amazon is way out front in almost every other connected device – except for smartphones.

Google has bagged a new smart TV partner this week to add to its growing list, as it announced a partnership deal with Haier for an Android TV integration on the Chinese electronics manufacturer’s new line of TV sets due out in mid-2018. They will come fitted with Google Assistant and Android apps, including YouTube TV and Netflix, and Haier smart TVs will become only the second devices to run the new Android Ereo OS, currently only running on Nexus Players.

Chromecast is already installed on certain Haier TVs but the full switch to Android TV is a big move, although the new series of 1080p and 4K smart TVs will begin shipping in North America only, with more countries to follow, so Google’s Chinese TV debut remains out of reach. Google Assistant is also housed in smart TV sets from LG and Sony.

News is not limited to the smart TV for Google Assistant, however, as four new touchscreen smart speakers were being demoed in Las Vegas. While Amazon has rolled out the Echo Show with an embedded screen, Google has gone all out by partnering with Lenovo, Sony, LG and Samsung’s JBL to produce smart assistant devices for the connected home where the screen takes center stage.

With large displays, the likes of the new Lenovo Smart Display are clearly designed for video-intensive applications from where Google can push YouTube TV as well as video and voice calls. These actions, as well as playing music and controlling smart home devices, are triggered by voice commands, but with the added option of a touchscreen to cover both bases. Director of Google Assistant, Chris Turkstra said at CES, “Our thinking is that over time, this is how people will interact with technology.”

Qualcomm developed two new chips for Google’s new line of smart displays to enhance components such as microphones, to differentiate the products from being viewed as glorified tablets.

There is a notable lack of traditional operator presence at Las Vegas this year, but Dish Network made certain its voice was heard – to support its statement at the tail end of last year that it is going “all-in” on voice control. The US operator will be rolling out Google Assistant to customers with a broadband-connected Hopper DVR, Joey client and Wally single-tuner HD receiver in the coming months, to control TV using voice commands when connected to the Google Assistant – either via the Google Home smart speaker or smartphones.

Dish also made a hardware move at CES, contracting Universal Electronics to support development of its new voice remote, contributing microphone technology for clear sound capture, data compression for efficient wireless transmission, and Automatic Speech Recognition Engines.

Google Assistant for Dish subscribers will be available in “multiple languages” – perhaps the one distinct area where Google Assistant leads over Alexa, now supporting 10 languages with more to come, while Alexa supports just 3.

Meanwhile, every company in the connected home and automotive markets were itching to get their names on the Amazon announcement list. Alexa-integration deals struck at CES, to name a few, include an in-built dash cam project with Garmin, lifestyle audio products from Hubble and a new SmartSDK developed by Frontier Smart Technologies, to provide audio device makers with a way to quickly roll out products with Alexa support.

Amazon’s Alexa eye was less focused on the entertainment sector at this year’s event, with the exception of audio and sound bar integrations. But the company has decided to target PC users by getting Alexa on-board laptops and desktops from HP, Asus and Acer, yet the demand for a smart voice assistant in the PC market is probably not considered particularly high today, and this is definitely more of a statement of intent against Microsoft’s Cortana than a threat to Google Assistant.

One final related announcement worth noting came from Israeli firm Giraffic Technologies, launching a new TV SDK for Android TV, FireTV and Apple TV – built on its Advanced Video Acceleration software for reducing buffering inside the app itself. It provides an additional client-side component of video streaming and network optimization, and adding support for these three popular TV platforms opens up a new potential customer base of streaming service providers.

Amazon will once again walk away from CES bearing the voice assistant crown, but Google made more noise than anticipated at the show – flexing its muscles just to let Amazon know this is by no means a one-horse race.