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An illustration of Google’s CES booth on its invite for the tech trade show.

Last year’s big story at CES was the rise of Amazon Alexa as the voice assistant of choice in everything from cars to refrigerators. But this year, the Seattle-based company will have plenty of company — and competition — at the giant tech trade show in Las Vegas.

Google has wrapped the Las Vegas Monorail with a prominent “Hey, Google” ad, and it’s putting up a big outdoor CES booth, complete with a twisting blue slide, setting the stage for Google Assistant to grab its own share of headlines and industry partnerships this week. In a post previewing its CES presence, Google promises new integrations, devices and other new developments for Google Assistant.

The search giant’s presence illustrates the emergence of the voice assistant and smart home market as a key battleground in the tech industry. Google traditionally hasn’t had a booth at CES, and the company hasn’t made this kind of mark on the annual event since its co-founder Larry Page delivered a closely watched keynote at CES more than a decade ago.

Amazon will have its own booth for Alexa at CES this year, and it’s promising “exciting new announcements from brands building magical voice experiences with Alexa technology.”

Microsoft Cortana is also expected to have a presence at the show, primarily through industry partnerships, although the Redmond company no longer has its own giant booth on the CES show floor. Apple, which competes in the smart home through its Siri voice assistant and HomeKit platform, is a perennial no-show at CES, preferring to announce its new products at its own events.

Google has an edge over Amazon on smartphones thanks to Android, and benefits from Android Auto in cars and Google-owned Nest in the home. But Google Home and Assistant have been playing catch-up to Amazon Echo and Alexa in the market for smart home speakers.

That market is growing quickly, with analysts at the Canalys research firm projecting more than 56 million smart speaker shipments in 2018, the majority in the United States.

But much more than their own first-party smart speakers, industry partnerships with device makers will be key for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant to reach critical mass, which is why CES is such an important battleground for them both. Google said last week that Google Assistant works with more than 1,500 smart home devices from more than 225 brands.

After dominating CES last year, Amazon showed additional momentum for Alexa in advance of this year’s show with announcements that the voice assistant is coming to Hisense televisions, Garmin’s automotive infotainment platform, and even an Alexa-enabled bathroom mirror from Kohler.

Kohler Konnect-Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror with Alexa. (BusinessWire Photo)

The Alexa-enabled mirror, the Kohler Konnect-Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror, will be available for purchase in March. However, Kohler says it will also offer connected bathroom products featuring Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit technologies in the future — an implicit nod to the fact that the competition in the voice technology and smart home market is still wide open.

By the end of this week’s show we should have a better sense for whether Amazon will extend its lead or if Google Assistant will make serious inroads against Alexa in the coming year.

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