LAS VEGAS — There was no Amazon booth or glitzy Amazon keynote at CES this year, but the e-commerce giant’s presence was felt all over the place with auto manufacturers and device makers in a race to integrate Amazon services into their products.
When it was launched, the company’s Echo smart speaker seemed novel, but somewhat frivolous. Some thought the device was a lame competitor to Sonos, but in reality the Echo is all about building Alexa, the company’s voice-recognition platform, into a wide variety of consumer devices.
Shortly after the launch of Echo, Amazon rolled out a $100 million Alexa Fund and a set of APIs called the Alexa Skills Kit, both designed to encourage the integration of Alexa’s voice capabilities into third-party products. CES 2016 showed that other companies are jumping on board.
Early in the week, Ford announced that its SYNC in-car technology platform will integrate with Alexa, enabling drivers to turn off house lights from the car or to remotely start the car from the kitchen.
Vivint, a maker of home security and control systems, also launched Alexa integration at CES, enabling Vivint users to ask Alexa to lock doors, enable and disable security systems, adjust the home’s temperature or control lights and garage doors via voice commands. Alarm.com announced similar capabilities for their lighting and home comfort control systems. Ceiling fan maker Big Ass Fans (yes, that is their company’s name) showed off Alexa-enabled ceiling fans at the show.
HomeAdvisor, the online provider of homeowner tools and resources, also launched Alexa integration at CES, allowing homeowners to arrange appointments for home repairs like plumbers or electricians via voice command.
Even other makers of other connected speaker systems are eyeing up Alexa integration. The French company Invoxia introduced Alexa integration for their Triby device, a connected speaker designed for the kitchen that streams audio, makes phone calls and captures doodles. With Alexa integration, the Triby becomes voice-enabled, allow users to tell it “Alexa, play jazz” or “Alexa, ask Triby to call Mom.”
Amazon Dash Replenishment Service
Similarly, the Dash Button seemed to be a gimmick when it launched, catering to consumers at their laziest. But once again, the Dash is all about building a platform for other device and appliance makers to build Amazon e-commerce into everyday devices.
At CES this week, Whirlpool was the first appliance maker to demonstrate a washer and dishwasher with Dash Replenishment Service in action. “We saw Amazon Dash really a great consumer way to enhance what our products are doing,” said Whirlpool representative John Kroonblawd. “We see this as a really great opportunity to build a relationship with our customer. Partnering with them on something like this just made a lot of sense for us.”
GE has also announced it’s intent to integrate Dash into their appliances, and we’re guessing that more appliance vendors are on the way.
Amazon Prime Video
CES is not complete without a bevy of TV technologies, and once again Amazon was featured prominently by a variety of TV manufacturers including Sony, Samsung, LG, Hisense and Panasonic.
Amazon has been touting that they were the first video service to offer HDR content to support the new HDR TV sets. They also began offering 4K Ultra HD movies and TV shows a year ago, and now offer hundreds of titles in the new format.
Given that the first 4K Blu-ray players were just announced at this year’s CES and are not yet available, it is clear that streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix are likely to run away with the 4K content market, leaving physical media in their wake.
Amazon’s recently purchased semiconductor company, Annapurna Labs, also took the opportunity during CES to launch a line of platform-on-a-chip systems targeted at device makers for the connected home.
The company’s ARM-based chips are designed to be used in Wi-Fi routers, storage products, video streaming and other IoT devices in the home. Given this news, we may see many smart home devices at future CES shows that are powered by Amazon-designed chipsets.
Where Amazon is headed in the smart home
There seems to be a great deal of momentum for the Alexa voice-recognition platform, despite its small number of users. It wouldn’t surprise us to see a slew of “smart home technology” companies follow what happened at CES and begin announcing their own Alexa integration.
Dash Replenishment Service integration with appliances also seems poised to explode. Appliance makers need continuous innovation and increased convenience to get consumers to buy the latest and most expensive gear. Any device that relies on supply replenishment is a candidate for the service, and it unlikely that any of the manufacturers want to own the e-commerce part of the equation.
Amazon isn’t the only tech company trying to become the hub of smart home technology. Samsung is heavily promoting SmartThings as its IoT platform, Apple wants vendors to use HomeKit, and Google is in the mix with its Brillo services announced last year.
Which company will own the “smart hub” of our everyday life is going to be a messy question as each of this companies pursue their own agenda, but Amazon may quietly have an advantage here. Services like Alexa and Dash offer simple, single-purpose APIs combined with access to the world’s most powerful e-commerce service, something that the other tech companies cannot currently compete with.