Google at CES 2019: Out of the darkness and into the light

Contrast noun : an easily noticed or understood difference between two or more things.

Continuing the theme on the battle between the giants of voice assistants, I was looking forward to finding out where Amazon Alexa and Google Home differ. From a visual and marketing perspective the darkness, clean lines, perfectly stage managed, clinical feel of yesterday’s of Amazon Alexa area, gave way to the light welcome of energy and enthusiasm of Google Home.

In every possible way, Google have succeeded in bringing a bright, enthusiastic and confident atmosphere to CES with their Hey Google branding and jolly assistants dressed like Christmas elves full of bright eyes, cheerful smiles and a little bit of dancing.

Maybe I’ve been in the States too long or maybe I’m just mellowing but the playful approach by Google in demonstrating the technology is quite infectious.

If the tech giants brand loyalty is built on convenience and apathy, then they are ignoring that here at CES. In comparison to Google, Amazon looks a little aloof from a certain perspective. We’re not here to report back on and judge the marketing efforts. Well, not entirely…

Google have based themselves in a separate pavilion outside the LVCC. There is no escaping their presence as touched on yesterday, so I skipped happily past the 2 hour queue to play the Google Home Gumball Prize draw machine and strode purposefully towards the fun palace. The cheerful greeters were out in force channelling attendees, somewhat, curiously past the main hub and towards the Google Assistant Ride. Moving into the pavilion the first impression is how much smaller the showcase space was compared to the overall building which was nevertheless crammed with lots of examples Google branded kit and the oddly sounding ‘Friends of Google Assistant’ with a couple of cars thrown in – and yes I ignored the vehicles once more.

Unlike Amazon there was no business products on display with everything pointed at consumers. With the boast of 1 billion devices worldwide capable of working with Google Assistant, the back wall contained Nest hardware, bought by Google in 2014, sitting alongside the hero Home product, Pixel devices and well, security cameras, digital lock engineered in partnership with Yale and that’s about it.

It was hard not to feel a little underwhelmed after all of that build up.

Once again it’s the developers working with Google that are trying to find added value for their products using the development kit.

The significance of the software to Smart Home device makers means that they no longer have to worry as much if their product will work with every other smart home gadget. So long as it can be integrated with Alexa or Google Assistant, that’s all they need. Avi Greengart, research director for Global data noted that “Your lighting or thermostat may not be made by Google or Amazon, but Google or Amazon is going to be the way you control them”.

Personally, I think that this is the most interesting thing to come out of CES which is the developments in software rather than the hardware related releases. The range of products on show exceeds 10,000 so there is continued scope for better business and consumer products and we are far from being at peak voice assistant.

It’s difficult to know which of the platforms will win out but it’s likely that hardware manufactures will create smart environments that interact with both. It’s worth noting that Samsung have also entered the fray with Bixby that I’ll be digging into today.

As for the other exhibitors some highlights are smart displays, connected TVs and a whole load of smart bathrooms and furniture. Kohler had an entire smart bathroom to show off at this year’s CES, which includes, its Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet which is compatible with Alexa. I didn’t get to try this out you’ll be pleased to read, so I’ll have to limit our discussion to its voice-controlled mirror, which has a Google Assistant model launching soon. It will be available starting at $1,249 for the 24-inch model or $1,624 for the full 40-inch model.

It serves as a reminder that not only every business is now a tech business but everything we can see touch and play with is being evolved for a smarter life.

Paul Richens is the MD of strategic marketing consultancy Tricca.

Read more CES news here.

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