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(From left) August Home CEO Jason Johnson, SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson, Mike George, VP of Amazon Alexa, and Rishi Chandra, VP of Product Development for Google Home. (GeekWire Photo by Monica Nickelsburg)

LAS VEGAS — Amazon’s early lead with the Echo smart speaker left competitor like Google playing catch up. But a few months ago Google Home arrived on the scene, competing directly with the Amazon device. The rivalry was on everyone’s mind during a CES panel on the future of the smart home, which included top executives from both Amazon and Google.

Mike George, vice president of Amazon Alexa, and Rishi Chandra, Google Home’s vice president of product management kept it very cordial during the session … for the most part.

But George did take one opportunity to gently gloat about Amazon’s clear lead in the category. It happened when Chandra was describing how ubiquitous virtual assistants will be in the future.

“We talk about smart home as a separate, distinct experience for people but it’s really not,” Chandra said. “It’s an extension of what the assistant is going to be in your entire life…in the end, the assistant’s going to be pervasive around when you’re at work, when you’re just in the car, when you’re at school, whatever it might be…”

Before Chandra finished, George jumped in with, “In your hotel room in Vegas.”

It was such a subtle dig, imperceptible unless you knew the Wynn hotel here in Las Vegas recently announced it would equip each of its 4,748 hotel rooms with Amazon Echo devices.

Chandra took the comment in stride.

“Exactly,” he said, chuckling.

The rivalry is fueled by a desire Google and Amazon share: to be the voice-controlled operating system of the connected home. Why? Because many believe connected devices for the home will be the next frontier in consumer technology.

That was the impetus of the panel, entitled “The Next Big Thing.” Chandra and George were joined on stage by Alex Hawkinson, Founder and CEO the Internet of Things platform SmartThings, and Jason Johnson, CEO of the smart lock manufacturer August Home.

They covered a wide range of topics including barriers preventing the smart home from breaking through as a mainstream market. Cost, difficulty of use, and security all came up as reasons everyday consumers haven’t yet adopted the technology.

Despite these obstacles, George thinks the smart home is close to becoming mainstream. And, if his comments are any indication, Amazon is working hard to make it happen.

“Some of the simplest things, even though it’s a light switch or a thermostat, are going to feel like magic to the 90 percent that haven’t touched this yet, and if we can make every piece of that process of acquiring it, getting it installed, seamless so that my mom, your mom can use it, we win,” he said. “And then they begin to see the value of smart homes, see how it leads to security and other things. It’s going to take a while but I think it’s moving faster than the 90 percent realize.”

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