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The Battle Over the Smart Home Was Apparent at CES

Paige Leuschner
Jan 29, 2019

Smart Home

Three years ago, at my first Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I was surprised to see that nearly every booth in the Sands (i.e., the Smart Home section) had the interesting Amazon Echo device, which let users control their connected devices with voice commands. At the time, my colleague and I thought, wow that’s really something. Since then, Alexa, the digital assistant powering that device has taken off, with Amazon claiming that more than 100 million devices with Alexa on board have been sold. This trend is only likely to continue with Amazon’s introduction of the Alexa Connect Kit, which I blogged about previously. This is essentially an Alexa-on-a-chip that makes it easier for manufacturers to bring connectivity to devices and embed them with Alexa, removing the need to pay ongoing fees for cloud services. 

Amazon’s hold on the smart home was as prevalent this year at CES 2019 as it was back at CES 2017. This year, in addition to Alexa being present at nearly every smart home-related booth, Amazon took over an entire ballroom to tout its various activities, from Amazon Web Services to its Dash Buttons, and not least its centerpiece Audi e-tron, which demonstrated the company’s investment in bringing voice to vehicles.

Google’s Competition for Alexa

However, the battle over market share in the smart home was more apparent than ever at CES 2019. At CES 2018, Google Home began to sprout alongside the Amazon Echo at booths, with vendors increasingly advertising not only Alexa integrations, but also Google Assistant integrations. Google also showed up with a bang by peppering the strip in advertisements—including the entire monorail—and displaying a giant gumball-like machine outside the main hall in the Sands where patient customers lined up to pull a lever in hopes of winning various Google devices, likes Homes and Minis. This year, Google took over CES aggressively, with Google Assistants (people clad head-to-toe in white Google uniforms) scattered throughout the show floor and advertisements up and down the strip. The company also built a two-story home in the parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) to demonstrate the company’s smart home strategy (because its booth was too big to fit inside). 

Apple’s Display

Perhaps the most surprising and meaningful demonstration was Apple’s massive 13-story advertisement overlooking the LVCC. In true Las Vegas fashion, the advertisement proclaimed, “what happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” The message appears to taunt competitors Google and Amazon, which have come under scrutiny in recent months about the misuse of customer data. This display was extraordinary not only because of its fundamental messages around data privacy, but also because it demonstrates how far the smart home has come. Apple never shows up at CES, but with Amazon and Google showing such domination in the smart home market, Apple has been drawn in and now has to participate in some way, even if only through a digital billboard advertisement. Despite the fact the company still is not officially a CES exhibitor, Apple was called a surprise winner at CES as a slew of companies announced HomeKit integrations. Each of these displays at CES demonstrated the intense battle that Amazon, Google, and Apple are undergoing to gain and control market share in the smart home, and in 2019 we will see who comes out on top.