Amazon’s digital brain Alexa is growing outside the online retail giant, with PC maker Lenovo and Dish Network both announcing Alexa-powered and supported devices at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Tuesday.
Lenovo debuted its own voice-activated speaker, the Smart Assistant, and it runs on Alexa. Dish said its customers can now pair a Hopper DVR with an Alexa-powered speaker like the Amazon Echo and control it using their voices.
Alexa is likely to be a hot topic this week at CES, with early pitches and announcements revealing a new wave of third-party devices and gadgets that will integrate the voice-activated assistant. Alexa’s momentum in third-party devices reflects the company’s surprise early lead over competitors including Google, Microsoft and Apple in the market for voice-controlled devices. Amazon debuted Alexa in its Echo devices, but the virtual assistant can also be integrated into third-party hardware through Alexa Voice Service.
The Lenovo speaker looks like a cross between the Echo and Google Home, and it comes in light gray, green or Orange. It has eight far-field microphones instead of seven like the Echo, allowing it to hear voice commands clearer from farther away. Like the Echo, Smart Assistant has its own app, according to the Verge, though it is unclear if it will log voice searches like the Amazon Alexa app.
Smart Assistant will be released in May and starts at $129, less than the Echo, which regularly retails for $179, and equal to the price of Google Home. A special Harman Kardon edition of the speaker, which boasts better sound quality, will sell for the same price as the Echo, $179.
Dish says it is the first television provider to offer full compatibility with Alexa. Sometime in the first half of this year, the fruits of the new partnership will debut, and customers will be able to use voice search to find and play programs based on channel, title, actor and genre.
In addition to Voice Service, in 2015 Amazon opened up Alexa to developers and encouraged them to build skills for the Echo and other Alexa-powered devices. Developers have so far created and posted to an online marketplace more than 5,400 skills that Alexa can execute. Developers who want to add to Alexa’s abilities can write code that works with Alexa in the cloud, letting the smart assistant do the heavy lifting of understanding and deciphering spoken commands.
Amazon has encouraged companies to build on top of Alexa in several other ways. It started a $100 million fund to invest in companies that will push the boundaries of voice-based interaction and created an Alexa. As part of that fund, Amazon also announced in November the Alexa Accelerator, a new program it will launch later this year in partnership with Techstars. Amazon is challenging university students through the $2.5 million Alexa Prize to build a “socialbot” for Alexa that can have an intelligent conversation about pop culture and news events.
Alexa arrived in Vegas a few weeks before CES’s opening day. Earlier this month, the Wynn hotel announced it would equip nearly 5,000 hotel rooms with Echo devices to improve the guest experience.
GeekWire will be tracking Amazon’s CES footprint at the big convention next week. Check in for updates from the speaker sessions and show floor.