Amazon and Google are currently in the early stages on an epic battle to control your home, the effects of which will be be felt for years to come.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual assistants that promise to organise your life are just about the hottest topic in tech right now. Everyone has one, whether it’s Amazon’s Alexa, the Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, or Microsoft’s Cortana.
They tell you the news, read you your calendar, play music, control your heating — and they’re no longer limited to just your smartphone. Both Amazon and Google are racing to bake their virtual assistants into as many devices as possible, as they struggle to gain the upper hand in an epic new frontier for tech companies: The home.
On Wednesday, at its annual I/O developer conference, Google announced the Google Assistant SDK. This will let developers and product makers build the Google Assistant into just about anything. Want to stick it in a new refrigerator? Sure thing. How about an alarm clock? Not a problem. A toaster? Go right ahead.
Both Google and Amazon have already had their AI assistants integrated into some home appliances, including fridges. (Samsung has also signalled its intention to include its Bixby assistant in appliances.) But Google’s SDK promises to radically accelerate the deployment of AI assistant into countless other products.
It’s crucial for the warring companies that they get the upper hand in these early stages — because once customers are locked into an ecosystem, they’re far less likely to change down the line.
People tend to replace their smartphone every one-to-two years. Every time they get a new one, there’s the option to switch platforms — whether that’s from Android to iOS, or Windows Phone to Android. Sure, most people don’t, but it’s not too difficult.
In contrast, people buy home appliances for far longer, and they certainly don’t replace all of them at once.
So once you’ve got an Alexa-powered fridge, you’ll be using Alexa for years. And if all your appliances are running Google Assistant, and one breaks, you’re not going to buy an Alexa-powered one to replace it. (Because the AI assistants run in the cloud, you also won’t need to buy new devices to upgrade them — they will get smarter over time automatically.)
The promise of virtual assistants is that they work seamlessly across devices to help organise and streamline your life. On a practical level, that’s great for consumers — but it ties them in more tightly to a single tech company’s ecosystem than ever before.
Right now, it’s early days. For Google and Amazon, it’s all still to play for. But it won’t be that way for long.
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