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Alexa, Watch Out!

Google’s Assistant is about to be everywhere .

Google Assistant, as seen on a smart display from LG.
Google’s Assistant is about to power a bunch of companies’ home speakers and smart displays, including this one from LG.
Google

LAS VEGAS—Amazon’s Alexa voice software may have won the holidays. But Google’s rival A.I., the Google Assistant, is just getting started—and it’s playing to win.

On the eve of CES, the company has announced a cavalcade of new partnerships that will put Google’s voice in everything from smart displays to smart TVs to cars to headphones. The full list of partners and products is too long to replicate here, but you can read it in Google’s official blog post. The smart displays—from JBL, Lenovo, LG, and Sony—will compete directly with Amazon’s Echo Show, while the headphones—also from Jaybird, LG, and Sony, along with JBL—are poised to take on Apple’s Siri-powered Air Pods.

Oh, and smart speakers? Google already has the Home, Home Mini, and Home Max to rival Amazon’s hit Echo devices. Now it’s announcing plans to integrate the Assistant into voice-powered speakers from no fewer than 13 different companies, including JBL, Jensen, iHome, Altec Lansing, and Bang & Olufsen.

In short, Google wants to make its Assistant ubiquitous, so that you’ll talk to it not only on your Google Home or Android phone, but on your Android TV, Android Auto, and other voice-enabled appliances of all kinds.

This mirrors Amazon’s strategy, which has been called “Alexa Everywhere.”

The success of Amazon’s Echo and Fire TV hardware has given it an edge so far. But Google has a lot going for it that Amazon doesn’t, because so many people already have Android on their phones. And it’s now clear that Google is willing to cannibalize its own Home devices in pursuit of software supremacy—a strategy that mimics its approach with smartphones, where it focused on developing Android for third-party handset makers to compete with Apple’s iOS.

All of these companies—throw in Microsoft (Cortana) and Samsung (Bixby) here—are pushing hard, because A.I. assistants work best when they get to know your personal preferences. But Google, more than the others, appears to be determined not just to keep pace with Alexa but, if possible, to overwhelm it.

To underscore the point, Google also announced a new term for the various things you can use Assistant to do: It’s calling them “Actions.” This matches Alexa’s “Skills” and reinforces Google’s new emphasis on working with third-party developers to make Assistant a major platform in its own right.

A big question now is whether people will actually be comfortable putting Google’s A.I. all over their house and car, and whether those who have already fallen for Alexa can be persuaded to start saying “Hey Google,” instead. Google is certainly determined to find out.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of CES 2018.

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