What we learnt from CES 2018: Why Amazon looks set to crush Google in the virtual assistant war

“In the end, there can be only one.” – Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, Highlander


They may disagree, but both Alexa and Google Assistant cannot exist in harmony. For “neither can live while the other survives” (if you allow me to mix my movie references).


At CES 2018, more so than ever, is this becoming clearer. The price war of the last 12 months between Amazon’s Echo and the Google Home has led to a huge increase in smart speaker owners…and the introduction of the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini sees their respective virtual assistants spread ever wider throughout the home.


And manufacturers have taken notice. On display this year are an eclectic collection of various white-goods, kitchen products, lights, heating systems and …toilets – all unveiled as either Alexa or Google Assistant enabled.


But can they both succeed?


Google Assistant versus Amazon Alexa


If history is to be believed, no. See VHS destroying Betamax in the mid-1980s, the MiniDisc failing against the more popular MP3, and Blu-Ray seeing off HD-DVD – eventually consumers like to have a de facto standard. It’s easier to learn one format than many, and better for manufacturers to develop for just one format.


Why? Because developing for both increases cost or time to their business and often the small to medium sized businesses cannot afford this expense.


At the moment, Amazon Echo is looking like it’s 3 x times as popular as Google Home, which is impossible to ignore when deciding which assistant to develop for – and therefore why we’re seeing more Alexa-enabled devices than that of Google Assistant.


Google has started to push back, the announcement this year of a range of Smart Displays has been well received – and in a slightly underhand tactic, also removed the Google-owned YouTube from the new Amazon Echo Show. They want this win, and badly, because conceding even a little ground early can prove costly.


The more consumers that buy Amazon Echo; the more manufacturers will develop using Alexa. The more manufacturers that use Alexa; the more people will choose Amazon Echo over the Google Home. And so on.


What’s very interesting about this market – versus say the three-to-four year loyalty of video game consoles – is that people don’t replace their fridges or white goods nearly as often. If they buy an Alexa controlled fridge, they will be sticking with Alexa for at least the next 8-10 years – a scary fact if you are Google right now.


Is the end result confirmed? No, and possibly far from it. Google has the funds to fight back, a bigger global reach, and is available in far more languages than Amazon…it also has a little thing called YouTube. But Amazon has the lead, and that counts for a lot. If they don’t begin to catch sales of Amazon Echo or increase the number of manufacturers developing with Google Assistant – things could get out of hand quite quickly.