From day one, this year's CES (formerly Consumer Electronics Show) proved that artificially intelligent smart assistants are not "the next big thing": they're the most significant technology and culture-related phenomena happening right now. According to a semi-annual report by the Consumer Technology Association, the US smart home industry might achieve a 34% growth in sales this year. Additionally, sales revenue from smart speakers that control these smart home devices is projected to increase by 93%, reaching an impressive US$3.8 billion in 2018.
While we are sure to hear much more about AI technologies such as Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, Samsung's Bixby, and the Google Assistant (promoted at the CES 2018 with the help of a voice-activated gumball machine), Amazon's Alexa outshined the competition at the trade show. From smart glasses to TVs, projectors, kitchen appliances, mirrors that serve as skincare consultants and a US$5,625 toilet (even pricier models available...), Alexa-enabled smart home devices flooded the Las Vegas Convention Center. While most of these releases still require that you also own one of Amazon's Alexa devices (such as the Echo Spot and Echo Plus), some offer a built-in Alexa system.
Granted, films, books, and pop culture icons such as Hal 9000 (the villainous machine in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey") have made us wary – and rightfully so – regarding the future of artificial intelligence. Elon Musk has repeatedly said that AI is indeed likely to destroy humankind (!), and conspiracy theorists insist on a link between Alexa and the CIA. Still (and as of now), such technologies can facilitate our lives and entertain us in various ways. Some are flat out silly, but it's hard not to laugh with Alexa's "Easter eggs," one-liners with all sorts of pop culture references and funny replies (I suggest you tell her, Darth Vader style, that you are her father).
There is no limit to Alexa's ever-growing skillset: the total figure currently surpasses 25,000, and new skills are added at an extraordinary rate. According to Voicebot.ai, it took 63 days for the number of skills to grow from 15,000 to 20,000, and 103 days after that milestone for it to reach 25,000.
Although the New York-based 360i digital market agency concluded, after extensive testing, that Google Home devices beat Amazon's Echo when it comes to practical answers to user questions, the market has shown a clear preference toward Amazon's product line. Even though Google's AI units are increasingly present in US households, Amazon still holds the dominant market share for smart speakers. The company is likely to maintain this position, many thanks to Alexa-compatible technology.
Amazon's AI has proven itself profitable much beyond Echo unit sales. The annual spending on Amazon.com by Echo owners is 70% higher than that of the average Amazon customer. This suggests that the company is more than likely to keep investing in its intelligent assistance technology (Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, January 2018).
Whether you want to join the Alexa bandwagon or you've already succumbed to the assistant's skills, you might want to take a look at some of the newest tech that supports the world's most famous AI system.
Check out our selection of 5 Alexa-enabled smart home devices.
Acer is one of the first brands to bring digital assistants to its products, starting with some top-of-the-line notebooks: Aspire, Spin, Switch, and Swift (the upcoming Acer Air monitor will also support Amazon's Alexa). The brand also made significant improvements in terms of audio: the notebooks are equipped with an advanced audio processing system and Intel's Smart Sound Technology, which offers high-fidelity audio and assures quick response to voice commands.
A feature that might come in particularly handy is the possibility to activate your computer using your voice. This works even in standby mode, as the device is ready to pick up your voice commands anytime without consuming much power. If you like the thought of having control over your computer (look, no hands!) and are not bothered by the idea that something (or someone...) is always listening, then check out some of the first Acer models to support Amazon's digital assistant:
Setting up a home cinema has never been easier, and Alexa can now be your projectionist. Some of the best projectors announced at CES this year support Amazon's smart assistant, like the Optoma UHD51A and the Acer V6820M/i.
The Optoma UHD51A projector has a 2,400-lumen lamp, a 500,000:1 contrast ratio, an RGB color wheel, HDR10 support, and dual HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.2. The projector offers integration with Alexa Smart Home, custom Alexa skills, and has 4K resolution with 60Hz support. The product will be available in Q1 for approximately US$1,699.
Acer's V6820M/i is an outstanding wireless projector for 3D home theater experiences, thanks to its HDMI 3D2 output. With a maximum 120-inch projection size and 4K resolution, you can enjoy your favorite movies or play games with that real-life feeling. The projector features Acer's AcuMotion frame interpolation system, which comes into action during fast-moving scenes by generating intermediate frames and ensuring seamless motion. Pricing and availability are yet to be announced.
If one of your favorite sports is channel surfing, then owning an Alexa-enabled TV is close to bliss. Not only can you switch between channels using voice commands, but you can also control smart home devices and display settings like contrast and brightness. LG's new TV range works equally well with the Google Assistant and is powered by the signature α9 Intelligent Processor, for which the company received an honoree title at CES 2018's Innovation Awards. LG's TVs come in various sizes, and their OLED displays guarantee crystal-clear and sharp images. The most notable product in the series is LG's Signature W8, a development of last year's raved Signature W7. Like its predecessor, the Signature W8 comes with a high-definition Dolby Atmos soundbar and an ultra-thin design.
HiMirror released its latest intelligent beauty consultant, HiMirror Mini, at CES 2018. The new HiMirror model was awarded an honoree badge at the trade show's Innovation Awards, and not without reason: the smart skincare device is water-resistant, features a touch screen and is, of course, Alexa-enabled. The beauty consultant suggests a beauty regimen after analyzing the skin's condition and considering factors such as weather and current skincare routine. The assessment takes into account elements such as pore size, dark circles, red spots, as well as wrinkles and fine lines.
Multiple users can have private access to HiMirror Mini's features and to personal user stats, which include a chronological skin health report. This timeline is quite helpful to track progress and have a better understanding of how one's skin reacts to different seasons. Moreover, the smart beauty consultant has LED lights that'll help you adapt your makeup for different scenarios – such as sunny outdoors and brightly-lit offices, among other possibilities. Finally, Alexa integration allows the user to purchase skincare products with the help of Amazon's AI, as well as make use of other Alexa skills.
Augmented and Virtual Reality headsets
Do you remember Google Glass? Released in 2013, Google's smart glasses were way ahead of their time. The headset was highly criticized due to privacy concerns; after all, the thought of devices capable of continuously recording what's in one's visual field is an unsettling one (that's why the hashtag #glasshole became popular at the time, a jab at Google Glass' early adopters). Fast-forward to 2018, and plenty of other augmented reality glasses and VR headsets can record video. However, CES 2018 introduced the first Alexa-compatible smart glasses: Vuzix Blade. They look just like a regular pair of sunglasses but have a built-in camera and a microphone. By using voice commands, you can ask Alexa for information, and you'll see it displayed in your field of view. Alexa and other digital assistants will surely make their way to a growing amount of products, especially wearables and other wireless gadgets.
Besides our selection of Alexa-enabled smart home devices, we thought we'd also show you a CES highlight that has yet to feature smart home integration but could offer it soon enough: the Lenovo Mirage Solo. The world's first wireless Daydream headset packs quite powerful specs for a standalone headset: an LCD with a resolution of 2,560 × 1,440 pixels, a wide field of view (110-degrees), the powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset and a long-lasting 4,000mAh battery. With more and more devices supporting digital assistants, it probably won't be long until you can link this HMD to Alexa or the Google Assistant.
Overall, the Internet of Things and smart home assistants took over this year's CES. Living with Alexa, the Google Assistant, or Siri can be very convenient. Still, skeptics express privacy concerns – after all, your requests are recorded, behavioral patterns are exposed, and the data you provide always leaves traces. Not to mention the multiple cases of private conversation being recorded... How easy it is to access such information is a hot topic of discussion and might be a central debate in the years to come.