As my colleague Neil Strother put it, Alexa stole the show at CES 2017. Walking through the smart home exhibition at the Sands, it seemed as though every vendor with a device prominently featured the Amazon Echo and emphasized integration with Alexa. What struck me most about this phenomenon was Amazon’s ability to transition the smart home from an idea into a reality. The ability of device manufacturers to hone in on Alexa as the basis for the smart home, on which a whole ecosystem of connectivity and access can be built, is pushing a market that the average consumer can get on board with, as opposed to a Jetsons-style future that seems so far away. The Amazon Echo is not just the advertised Wi-Fi speaker, but an entire smart home platform.
Alphabet’s Google Home is also acting as a connected home platform and pushing the market closer to the mainstream. Google Home touts integration with many of Google’s beloved products and services, including its search engine, translation service, and mapping software, as well as a series of devices such as the Nest product line and Samsung’s SmartThings. However, Home still has a long way to go before it can catch up to the connected ecosystem that Amazon has created since the Echo’s release in 2014. This was made clear at CES, where Google Home took second place to Amazon Echo in terms integration with third-party devices and presence at vendor booths.
Outside of the Wi-Fi speaker play, others in the market are providing comprehensive solutions that are pushing the smart home forward. Vivint Smart Home, which had a booth that looked more like a livable home than a technology demonstration, not only has a whole ecosystem of devices (yes, Amazon Echo among them), but is also partnering with sister business Vivint Solar to grant consumers more control over their energy. This all operates on one platform, which includes artificial intelligence for learning user patterns and making recommendations on how to better automate devices in the ecosystem, thus bringing the market that much closer to truly smart homes.
There are still major hurdles to creating a truly smart home, such as interoperability, security, and the technology required to make a home “smart” rather than simply “connected.” However, CES 2017 showed that the smart home is becoming much more of a reality than a concept, and devices like the Amazon Echo are providing average users with a glimpse into the future.