LG pushes its voice assistant experience beyond Google

Rather than narrowing its potential audience by cutting out Google altogether, LG Electronics is hoping that its new smart TV voice assistant called ThinQ will win over consumers to the LG way of thinking, while still providing compatibility with Google Assistant. This has the makings of a great user experience, combining features such as Google Photos and Maps with a voice assistant tailor made for navigating LG TV sets.

ThinQ is capable of handling “a few hundred” voice commands, so the limited voice processing clout of the new service within LG TV sets means that Google will still have a significant part to play, as any voice requests that LG cannot handle will be processed by Google Assistant in the cloud instead.

Basic requests about content, such as scheduling, will be processed by ThinQ as a user talks into their voice remote, but any more intensive knowledge-based requests will fall to Google Assistant. Providing these two AI systems can work harmoniously and are not jostling for position and therefore causing voice command errors, a duo of voice assistants should work well, and is a clear sign of things to come in the future.

The AI functionality of ThinQ is powered by LG’s latest Alpha 9 processor in its OLED and Super UHD portfolio of TVs, which LG says includes an improved color correction algorithm with seven times the reference color coordinates compared to previous algorithms, employing natural language processing based on its DeepThinQ deep learning technology. LG’s proprietary Enhanced Dynamic Tone mapping algorithm is also included in Alpha 9, claiming to make colors look closer than ever to the original content on the TV set.

Beyond the TV, ThinQ can serve as hub for controlling smart speakers and smart lights, further stepping on Google’s toes. It may also be the case within the smart home that more advanced voice requests are shipped off to Google Assistant to process, as with the smart TV system, but this has not been clarified.

The AI hype at CES has not distracted LG from what it does best, however, which is manufacturing OLED displays, as the South Korean electronics firm unveiled a $4.7bn investment for a new fabrication plant in China. To meet local and international demand, which has seen OLED TV sales soar 239% in China last year according to Chinese consultancy firm AVC, LG plans to produce 60,000 full panels for large TV sets every month. This is part of the $13.5bn which LG Display put aside for its OLED business last July, aiming to extend its lead in the large panel TV market and grow its smartphone display business.

That said, LG has reportedly nicked the display contract for Apple’s new 6.5-inch iPhone XL from under the nose of rival Samsung, which will also mark the first time Apple has used OLED screens in its devices. The 6.5-inch model is due to launch in September 2018, while Samsung should remain the screen supplier for the smaller 5.8-inch and 6.1-inch devices. Prior to the opening of LG’s new Guangzhou-based factory, news outlet The Korea Herald reported that LG trails Samsung in terms of monthly display production, with LG producing 6m units and Samsung 10m units.

LG could hardly have asked for a better start to 2018, ticking two of the biggest boxes in the technology world – AI and Apple.