Which voice in your fridge? Makers pick virtual assistants

PHOTO: An Amazon Dot is shown on top of a Hopper at the Dish
Network booth during the 2017 CES in Las Vegas
Thomson Reuters


By Paresh Dave

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Who would you rather have in your fridge?
Alexa, Cortana, or some as-yet unknown virtual assistant?

Manufacturers of appliances and other products are considering
factors such as ease of use and language support as they pick
voice technology from what they view as a wide open battle
between Alphabet Inc’s Google, Amazon.com Inc and others.

Consumer demand is surging for the ability to summon music, order
food and control lights by voice commands. Amazon.com’s Alexa
voice assistant is the early leader and could spur up to $12
billion in Amazon sales in 2020, Stifel, Nicolaus & Co
analysts projected this week.


Amazon and Google combined have sold more than 30 million home
speakers with virtual assistants, according to analyst estimates,
and the firms are working with hardware partners to get the same
software into more devices.

Hardware makers’ varying strategies and decisions, described in
interviews with Reuters at this week’s consumer electronics
industry’s CES conference in Las Vegas, reflect differing
strengths of Google, Amazon and peers.

Google Assistant attracts them with its expertise in answering
complex questions, its ability to adapt to different settings and
broader language support. Alexa can be used to command more
devices, is associated with making purchases, and has become a
household name. Microsoft Corp’s Cortana is optimized to work
with its services, including Skype.

Apple Inc, whose Siri assistant features on millions of iPhones,
has yet to weigh in on the market.

Assistant makers are scouting for partners and offering
technology for free, expecting to capitalize on their brand’s
deeper integration into customers’ lives. An advanced microphone
can add as little as $8 to the cost of a product, according to
chipset maker MediaTek Inc.

Neither Amazon nor Google is forcing exclusive deals, hardware
executives say, with the understanding that consumers may prefer
a different assistant in different settings.

LG Electronics Inc chose Google for televisions it unveiled this
week, but opted for Alexa in refrigerators because of its online
shopping functionality.


When Lenovo Group Ltd decided to create an assistant-enabled
screen last summer that would sit on a kitchen counter like a
mini-TV, it turned to Google. That was due to a many-year
relationship that would help the PC maker get the product in
stores fast, said Jeff Meredith, vice president for consumer
computers and smart devices at Lenovo.

The biggest brands are not the only players in voice assistants.

Television maker TCL Corp is turning to video set top box
manufacturer Roku Inc, which makes TCL’s TV operating system and
has data on TCL customers that could improve personalization,
said Chris Larson, senior vice president for North America at

Roku’s assistant will be less complicated than Google or Alexa,
and TCL had to stick to one assistant because it would too
expensive to support multiple models, Larson added.

JBL, by comparison, offers several speaker models, each with a
different assistant.

People can use a speaker with Cortana for Skype calls and access
to their Outlook work calendar, said Michael Mauser, president of
lifestyle audio at JBL parent Harman Kardon, a Samsung
Electronics Co subsidiary.

Users who want multiple speakers find Google’s linking
functionality more appealing, he said.

Ford Motor Co’s announced a year ago that Alexa would come to
cars. That followed outreach by Amazon, which had seen social
media posts about people using the portable Echo Dot smart
speaker in their vehicles, said David Limp, Amazon’s senior vice
president for devices and services.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Peter Henderson and Daniel

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