Yes, Alexa is everywhere. You have only to look at our CES 2017 Smart Home Scoreboard to see how Amazon has married its virtual assistant to cars, refrigerators, televisions and robots.
Alexa's momentum isn't surprising given the amount of hype over the last year. For Alexa's competition, Google Assistant is still new as a smart home assistant, and Apple is sticking to its slow-burn approach to growing Siri and its iOS HomeKit platform. That's why our Scoreboard has a loose quality breakdown. I didn't want to simply hand Amazon a prize for supporting yet another smart plug.
Alexa takes form at CES 2017.
Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET
Hopefully also evident from the Scoreboard (or, perhaps, "smart home potential meter") is the breadth of categories in which you will now find these voice assistants. That expansion will help transform the experience from its current Internet of Things grab bag -- the junk drawer full of connected motion sensors, thermostats and light switches -- to a more pervasive experience that will follow us wherever we go (for better or worse).
Done right, and our lives become easier and safer, with more time for the things we truly care about. Implemented carelessly, this new connected world will threaten our notions of privacy and personal safety. The reality will ultimately land somewhere in the middle.
That outcome will be shaped by what we saw in Las Vegas this past week. Here are the highlights.
Ford is first to bring Alexa into the passenger seat
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This is the category I was most interested to see at this year's show. Ford and Toyota both hinted at bringing Alexa to their respective in-car experiences at 2016's CES, and this year Ford delivered.
I sat with my colleagues Wayne Cunningham and Ben Fox Rubin inside a Ford C-Max while a company representative demonstrated using Amazon's increasingly ubiquitous voice-command assistant, but the experience was underwhelming. The car was parked inside the Las Vegas Convention Center. The software is still in beta so not every command worked well. Ford had no smart home stuff for Alexa to control.
Hyundai and Chrysler had Google Home and Google Assistant integrations of their own here at the show, too. Chrysler's was just a concept. Hyundai lets you ask Google Home to start your car, flash the lights, or provide directions to your house, and then send the route to your in-car navigation system. Handy, but not the same as dictating commands to your home from the inside of your car.
But regardless of this somewhat halting start on the ground in Vegas, that's exactly what's happening: Tell your home to crank up the air conditioner, start the coffee brewing and raise the garage door -- all from the comfort of the driver's or passenger seat. It will eliminate driving a car as a weak point in the chain of control over your home -- but it'll also add another set of in-car distractions.
Nvidia Shield gets Amazon video, improved gaming and Google Assistant
Centralizing voice and smart home around the TV is utterly obvious, and yet somehow no one has combined all of the pieces into a single, unified product. Shame on Samsung in particular, who is best positioned to do this given its Alexa-supporting SmartThings division, and yet somehow has not.
Nvidia's new Shield TV streamer doesn't have a screen, but it might be the best solution when it ships on January 16. It brings gaming, video streaming, SmartThings compatibility (via extra $30 dongle -- converted to £24 or AU$41)), and always-listening voice help from a remote that works with Google Assistant. No other streaming device, not even Apple TV, offers that same combination of smart home control with an always-listening voice assistant to control your home entertainment.
A trio of budget TV brands -- Element, Seiki and Westinghouse -- also made some voice control progress. Their new televisions have Amazon's Fire TV service built-in, and they included the same voice remote that lets you use Alexa to turn on the TV, change inputs, change channels, and navigate among the usual assortment of streaming services. Logitech's Harmony remotes and the Amazon Fire TV also bring Alexa to your TV, but built-in methods are usually easier and cheaper.
It will take deeper integration between products to truly marry your smart home and your television. My near-term holy grail (besides verbally flipping channels) remains a video doorbell feed transmitted automatically to your TV with two-way audio support when someone comes to your front door. Maybe next year.
Also: Don't sleep on the cable companies and other service providers who have entered the smart home field. Comcast in particular is taking this market very seriously.
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