Stacy Bingle
Stacy Bingle is Consumer Trends Consultant at Mintel. She engages clients in meaningful discussions around the consumer trends that will propel their businesses forward.
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Robots, self-driving cars, and hundreds of other part-futuristic, part-realistic devices took all of the attention away from casinos and clubs at this month’s CES 2018 in Las Vegas. At the massive annual tech show, it’s often difficult to distinguish the gadgets that will be a blip on the radar from those that will change our lives. This year, digital voice assistant integration was a prominent theme that clearly falls into the latter category.

Mintel’s research has found that nearly half of US consumers see smart assistants as useful.

As put in Mintel’s 2018 North America Consumer Trend ‘Life In Sync: Voices & Visuals,’ speak and you shall receive. The trend predicted that because of the intuitive nature of voice control, consumers would quickly become comfortable with using smart assistants to complete tasks. Already, Mintel’s research has found that nearly half of US consumers see these assistants as useful.

The big three AI assistants – Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, and Apple’s Siri – are primarily accessible through smartphones and their respective hardware hubs: Echo, Home, and yet-to-be-released HomePod. At CES, there were countless booths touting myriad devices, both new and improved, that can be controlled with a simple voice command to Alexa, Google, or Siri. In terms of which assistant has control of the market – and our homes – the competition is heating up. Last year, Amazon emerged as the clear winner of CES 2017 with more than 700 Alexa-compatible devices announced at the show. More recently, Amazon says that ‘tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices’ were sold during this past holiday season alone.

At CES 2018, though, Google Assistant proved to be a viable contender in the race to become consumers’ digital aide of choice. Historically, Google has not had much of a direct presence at the show. But this year saw the tech behemoth take over Las Vegas with billboards, ads, and experiential displays plastered with a bold, ‘Hey Google,’ the Assistant’s wake phrase. As of this month, Google boasts that Assistant now is capable of taking more than a million ‘Actions’ and is available on more than 400 million devices.

Voice in expected – and unexpected – places

Quite a few of the new devices are not only compatible with one or more of the voice assistants, but also have the AI built in so that one can now talk to, say, their ceiling lights without the need for a separate speaker or hub to intervene. Each smart ecosystem can accomplish a somewhat similar set of tasks, so the competition seems to be equally about ubiquity as much as it is capability. As the voice war rages on in both regards, CES revealed a multitude of expected – and not so expected – places where you can find voice. Among them:

  • Sound systems: JBL, LG, Lenovo, and Sony all released smart speakers with screens powered by Google Assistant, meant to rival Amazon’s Echo Show. Even as voice conversations with tech become the norm, there will always be moments when a screen remains necessary: searching for new clothes or visualizing how to deseed a pomegranate.
  • Lighting: GE is expanding its lighting portfolio with smart ceiling fixtures that can be used for listening to music, carrying out voice-driven tasks, or changing ambiance. The fixtures come with Google Assistant and Alexa included, so you don’t need a separate Home or Echo (although they’re still compatible for syncing).
  • TVs: No longer just a tool for viewing shows, TVs are becoming a large piece of the smart-home puzzle. Sony’s new X900F TV even has a dedicated Google Assistant button.
  • Cars: Mercedes-Benz announced its new MBUX, an infotainment system that’s more powerful and easier to use than those of the past. MBUX learns your habits and has an app that integrates with both Google Assistant and Alexa.
  • The bathroom: Kohler’s new Konnect system works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit to connect your shower, bathtub, toilet, mirror, and faucet.
  • Kitchen gadgets: Ovie Smarterware bills itself as the world’s first smart food storage system, designed to help you keep track of the foods in your fridge and remind you to eat them before they go bad, and works with all three major assistants.

Each of these is handy, but having an assistant-enabled device is only part of the utility. CES helped attendees envision a connected world where voice assistants and devices truly sync our lives by working together; voice one command and the rest of your smart home will know proactively what to do. Of course, not all of it is necessary. The ability to ask your toilet to flush is novel, but many folks are just fine without it. Brands need to consider what legitimate challenges and needs their tech solves. Voice technology was far from the only innovation to solve challenges and spur chatter at CES 2018.

For more learnings from CES 2018, Emily Groch, Mintel Comperemedia’s Director of Insights, Telecommunications, shares five key lessons marketers need to know from C Space 2018.

Stacy Bingle is a Consumer Trends Consultant at Mintel. Stacy joined Mintel in 2013 bringing with her an exciting blend of CPG, agency and marketing experience. Her time is spent traveling the US engaging clients across global CPG, Beauty and Financial Services in meaningful discussions around the consumer trends that will propel their businesses forward.