The Google Assistant was the clear winner of CES 2018. Not because it was the biggest innovation, or even the most exciting thing on the show floor, but simply because Google managed to ensure visitors didn’t walk anywhere without encountering the helpful AI. In fact, the Google Assistant didn’t just adorn nearly every stand in the Las Vegas Convention Center, but it was also present outside the halls either through billboards or through a unique takeover of the world-famous Las Vegas monorail.
It’s not surprising that Google wanted to dominate headlines at CES 2018. Last year it was all about Amazon Alexa, and that was without Amazon having to spend copious amounts of money to force the narrative. Google could have probably achieved the same hype had it kept its wallet closed, but the company’s spending ensured that Alexa was barely talked about at the show. That’s despite the Google Assistant still supposedly lagging Amazon – with the latter said to boast a 70-76% share of the US smart speaker market.
Thankfully, Google is doing all it can to close that gap, and if CES 2018 is anything to go by, it hopes to close it fast. In fact, Google announced partnerships with some of the largest companies in the world, while the Google Assistant made its way to new speakers and new form factors. Here are just some of the highlights from the Google Assistant at CES 2018:
New Google Assistant Speakers
It seems the Google Assistant seems to the favourite among third-party speaker manufacturers. While we’ve seen many Alexa-enabled speakers launch in the past few years, including the ever popular Sonos One, Google has managed to convince quite a few big manufacturers to adopt its voice assistant.
At IFA 2017 the Google Assistant could be found on five major new speakers, including the Panasonic GA10, Sony LF-S50G, Zolo Mojo by Anker, TicHome Mini by MobVoi, and the JBL Link. At CES 2018, there were even more manufacturers throwing their support behind the Google Assistant.
Bang & Olufsen was arguably the biggest name throwing its weight behind the AI. While it didn’t have a smart speaker with the Google Assistant at CES 2018, the company did commit to launching a product with it at some point in the future. In the biggest vote of confidence to the Google Assistant, Bang & Olufsen completed omitted Alexa from its announcement, while confirming that it will also be adding Siri support in the future.
Klipsch was the next major manufacturer to announce support for the Google Assistant. It was also the most exciting, as it chose to forgo the traditional design of a smart speaker, and instead took inspiration from the mid-20th Century. The new Heritage Wireless speakers carry a slightly higher premium, with two models being made available in the form of the The Three and The One. The Three is a stereo tabletop speaker with an integrated subwoofer, while The One is a smaller tabletop speaker with a rechargeable battery. They’re priced at $499 and $349, respectively, with both being made from a wood veener.
Those looking for an all-in-one smart speaker-cum-smart home hub have not had many choices outside of the Amazon Echo Plus. Thankfully, the Milo from Hogar Controls hopes to change that. Basically, it’s a smart speaker that houses a Z-Wave smart home hub, but unlike the Echo Plus, those communicating with the Milo will hear the Google Assistant rather than Alexa. That gives this smart speaker a lot of potential, with it able to control just about any product that interacts with the Google Assistant, as well as act as a hub for any products using the Z-Wave protocol. What’s more, the Milo also supports Zigbee, something the Echo Plus doesn’t. There’s no word whether it’ll be available in the UK, but in the US it’ll be priced at $149.
Altec Lansing may not be a company that is all that familiar in the UK, but in the US the company has been a player since 1936. At CES 2018, the company debuted a new line-up of speakers supporting the Google Assistant, dubbed GVA. There are three speakers in the line-up, with the GVA1 being a compact speaker for the home, while the GVA3 is a rather large offering designed for on-the-go. The flagship is the GVA4, which boasts a Qi wireless charging pad, a small LCD screen, and a stereo speaker system. All will be available by the end of the year.
The final major Google Assistant speaker launch at CES 2018 has arguably the most striking design, although it looks less like a speaker, and more like a piece of gym equipment. Zolo, the audio company owned by Anker, debuted the Model Zero in Las Vegas, and its design has taken a lot of inspiration from a dumbbell. This speaker is far from dumb, however. That’s thanks to the Google Assistant integration, which allows it to play music using voice commands, or control smart home devices. Little else is known about the speaker, apart from the fact it’s scheduled to land in the autumn.
Google Takes On The Echo Show With Smart Displays
It wasn’t just about smart speakers at CES 2018, as Google decided that it was also interested in launching brand new formats for its voice AI. Rather than come up with a completely original ideal, Google decided to borrow the form factor of the Amazon Echo Show, but stuff the Google Assistant inside. Unlike Amazon, however, these smart displays are not being manufactured by Google, and are instead made by third-party manufacturers.
Smart displays run on the Android Things platform, a variant of Android designed for the IoT, but the interface has been custom designed for the Google Assistant. That means it will be able to display responses from the Google Assistant right on the screen, while it will also be capable of showcasing richer content that isn’t possible on a speaker. That includes things like recipes and YouTube videos. Google will also be leveraging its Duo video calling app to enable video conferencing from smart displays too. That means it can do just about everything the Echo Show can, other than YouTube – that’s something only the Google smart displays can do.
The smart display that everyone was talking about came from Lenovo. Available in two sizes, an 8in and a 10in model, the Lenovo Smart Display is a super sleek device that wouldn’t look out of place on any countertop. Users will be able to choose between two finishes to match their décor, with a white or bamboo backing for the device offered. The wedge-shaped design also means that the Lenovo Smart Display can remain standing unaided.
Lenovo has also packed a speaker into its smart display, so while it’ll predominantly be used for watching videos or looking at recipes, it can also be used for just generally listening to music. It probably won’t sound as good as some of the other smart displays launched at CES, as it’s by far the thinnest, but it definitely looks the best. The 10in model will launch this summer priced at $249.99, while the 8in model will be $199.99.
Outside of Lenovo the most memorable smart display comes from LG, in the form of the LG ThinQ WK9. This smart display is memorable for all the wrong reasons, as it’s by far the ugliest device of its type. Instead of being a thin device with minimal bezels, the ThinQ WK9 is essentially a normal Bluetooth speaker with a screen slapped in the middle. It’s not even a particularly nice screen, with massive bezels leading to an 8in size. There is a silver lining, however. The speakers on the ThinQ WK9 should sound better than those on the Lenovo Smart Display. That’s not just because they’re larger, but also because they’ve been tuned by audio specialists Meridian Audio.
Those looking for something in the middle of the LG and the Lenovo will have the option of the JBL Link View. This smart speaker looks considerably better than the ThinQ WK9, while also offering a better sound experience, thanks to the two 10W speakers which are flanking the 8in display. The bezels are still a little too large on the JBL Link View, but the rounded nature of the device makes it look a touch more exciting than LG’s offering. Like the Lenovo Smart Display, however, the JBL Link View won’t be out until the summer.
Google Assistant Comes To TVs Of All Shapes And Sizes
Since Google announced the roll-out of Assistant to Android TV, the market has been flooded with options for users looking for a bigger alternative to a smart display. Whether it’s the Nvidia Shield TV or Sony Android TVs, the Google Assistant has been able to queue up content and control the smart home from the big screen since CES 2017.
Thankfully, consumers are about to get even more options when it comes to choosing TVs with Google Assistant. That’s because the AI is leaving the confines of Android TV and is making its way to third-party operating systems from some of the world’s largest TV manufacturers.
The biggest new adopter of the Google Assistant is LG, which has pledged to launch the Google Assistant on its 2018 line-up of OLED TVs. What’s surprising about this adoption is the fact that LG is still committed to using its WebOS smart TV platform, albeit with a Google Assistant overlay. This represents the first time that Google Assistant has been available on a third-party smart TV operating system.
On LG’s OLED TVs, the Google Assistant will be capable of doing everything one would expect it to do on a TV. That means it’ll be able to control smart home devices and play music, but it will also be able to line-up YouTube videos and even play the latest episode of Black Mirror on Netflix. What’s more, users will even be able to use the Google Assistant to turn their TV on and off, as well as control the volume.
LG isn’t committing to solely using the Google Assistant, as its 2018 OLED TVs will also be controllable through Alexa, although users will have to have a separate Alexa-enabled speaker in order to do that, and will also be unable to turn the TV on or off.
Hisense is going about the adoption of Google Assistant a different way. The company has announced its 2018 flagship models, the H10E and the H9E Plus, which will ditch Hisense’s in-house OS in favour of Android TV. That means that LG and Sony won’t be the only TVs to offer both the Google Assistant and Dolby Vision technology. Hisense will also be matching its rivals by offering Alexa support, although once again users will have to have a separate speaker.
While most new TVs offering the Google Assistant have thus far been flagship offerings, Philips is taking a different tack by bringing the AI to its new 24in kitchen TV. The 7703 Series is one of the most interesting new sets with Google Assistant included, as it’s designed to sit on the countertop in the kitchen; much like a smart display. Unlike a smart display, it can receive live TV, as well as stream content from Chromecast. Users can also use the TV for getting recipes or playing YouTube videos with their voice, while setting timers is also a breeze. Basically, Philips has created the ideal kitchen companion.
While Sony also announced that the Google Assistant will once again adorn its 2018 TVs, it wasn’t just about embedding the AI into the sets themselves at CES 2018. In fact, for many people it was the announcement that TiVo would be adding support for the Google Assistant that would have been the most exciting announcement.
TiVo currently dominates the American set-top box market, while it’s also popular in the UK thanks to Virgin Media. Its adoption of Google Assistant will massively expand the number of people having access to the AI, and even though it will also support Alexa, it will be Google’s offering that will gain the most functionality.
Using the Google Assistant TiVo users will be play, pause, search for recordings, and even control their smart home. That’s on top of everything else that the Google Assistant offers. There’s no word on when it will get the functionality, however, and it may not extend to Virgin Media’s box.
Google Assistant Grabs The Wheel
Last year there was a lot of buzz about car manufacturers adding in Alexa control to their dashboards. Ford was the biggest proponent of the voice assistant last year, but this year, much of the focus was on the Google Assistant being the de facto in-car voice assistant.
The biggest news for the majority of users was the roll-out of the full Google Assistant to Android Auto. That’s especially notable because Android Auto is supported by almost every car manufacturer, meaning those with Android phones will be able to access the Google Assistant in virtually every car. That blows Alexa out of the water in terms of accessibility.
‘OK Google’ commands have been available on Android Auto for quite some time, but the roll-out of Google Assistant will enable far more functionality than what is currently possible. That means users will be able to control their Nest thermostat from behind the wheel of their car, while they’ll also be able to queue up tracks on Spotify using voice control. At CES 2018, Google even showcased how users will be able to order a Starbucks coffee or reserve a car parking space using the Google Assistant, requiring no other interaction from the user.
Those with an iPhone won’t be left out of the action if they have a Panasonic infotainment system in their car, as the company’s automotive division has announced native support for the Google Assistant. The Skip Generation In-Vehicle Infotainment system has been updated to Android 8.1 Oreo, which is what’s made the Google Assistant integration possible. It’s not yet known whether voice control will work on the new system, although users will be able to control car functions such as the air conditioning or the lights from an Assistant-enabled smart speaker. This is a similar route that Kia is going down, as the Korean car manufacturer also announced that four of its vehicles will be able to be controlled from a Google Home or similar device at CES 2018.
Headphones Get The Google Assistant
Google pioneered AI-powered headphones in 2017 with the hotly-anticipated Pixel Buds, but it won’t be the only manufacturer to allow users to interact with the Google Assistant from a set of headphones. In fact, at CES 2018 there were plenty of headphones boasting the voice assistant.
Sony arguably had the most exciting revelation, as it announced that it was upgrading a bunch of old headphones to add Google Assistant functionality. That’s great news for anyone who owns any of these poorly named models: The WF-1000X, WI-1000X, WH-1000XM2, WH-CH700N, WH-SP700N, or the WH-H900N.
Sony says that the firmware update will give users the ability to control their smart home and play music through voice control, although they will have to pair their phone with the headphones as they don’t come with a cellular connection.
JBL also announced that it will be bringing Google Assistant support to headphones, although it’s an all-new model. Dubbed the JBL Everest GA, these headphones need to be paired with a smartphone with the Assistant app installed. Once that’s done, users can talk to the Google Assistant by touching the sensor located on the ear cup.
A Smart Assistant Is Only As Smart As The Products It Controls
It’s all well and good being able to communicate with the Google Assistant in more places than ever, but it’s key that users get new things to control. Thankfully, the Google Assistant proved a popular addition for new smart home products, with a whole plethora being available to view on the show floor.
Those who want a smart assistant that can control almost all the hubs available on the market will be pleased to know that the Google Assistant has added support for Insteon. There hasn’t been a lot of buzz surrounding Insteon in recent months, although the smart home hub was one of the earliest examples of a DIY whole home automation system. The company is now fully committed to building interoperability between companies, and its current key focus is ensuring that users can create a complete smart home controlled by the Google Assistant.
From a smart home system to a product that has quite a niche focus. PetNet’s SmartFeeder has received quite a lot of attention, but the second generation adds the ability to control to fill the included bowl using the Google Assistant. Owners can also use voice commands to get updates about when their pet was last fed and how much food is left. The new generation won’t be out until the winter, however.
Whirlpool is another manufacturer that is integrating the Google Assistant, with users able to check on their washing load, start the dishwasher, or even change the temperature of the fridge by voice control. There will be a whole range of products that will get even more AI in 2018, with most of the range set to be out in the spring. Though it’s not yet known whether any will launch in the UK.
If smart cooking isn’t your thing, maybe smart lighting is. Thankfully, there were a few great options in this category at CES 2018, with the NanoLeaf colour-changing panels being the most thrilling. These light panels are designed to take pride of place on any wall within a home, with users able to link together one thousand square panels for the ultimate nightclub feel. What’s more, all the lights can be controlled through the Google Assistant.
Those wanting some smart lighting that is a little more traditional need look no further than the new C by GE range. Comprised of a ceiling light and a light switch, users will not only be able to turn these lights on and off using the Google Assistant, but they will actually be able to interact with the AI thanks to an in-built microphone and speaker. That may seem odd from a ceiling light especially, but it’s oddly convenient.
It’s not the only option for having Google Assistant on the ceiling, as First Alert is bringing the Google Assistant to its Onelink Safe & Sound smoke detector. This smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector combination is always-listening to users walking by, allowing them to ask the Google Assistant to play music on its small speaker. Users won’t be able to silent the alarm using voice control if they accidently burn some taste, however.
From protecting a home from smoke, to protecting a home from intruders. Schlage’s Sense Smart Deadbolt door lock is set to gain Google Assistant support. This allows users to interact with a Google Home speaker and ensure that the door is locked, while forgetful users will also appreciate the ability to ask the Google Assistant whether the door is locked or not.
What’s Next For The Google Assistant?
There’s no denying that 2018 will be a defining year for the Google Assistant, but whether it can overtake the sheer dominance of Amazon’s Alexa remains to be seen. Considering that Google’s AI is now available in more places than ever, however, it’s easy to see that companies outside of the duopoly will struggle to compete – with Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana largely forgotten about by most manufacturers. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen, although at least consumers will be able to find one product that can tie their entire smart home together.