CES 2019 takes place in Las Vegas from Tuesday, January 8 to Friday, January 11.
When he read digital store shelves last month in search of an aromatherapy diffuser, entrepreneur David Berger had a simple claim to his wife's Christmas gift: It had to work with Amazon.com Inc's Alexa software.
"She's really making the house smell beautiful, and I'm really in Alexa," says Berger who lives in Weston, Connecticut. "So this is a great gift for both of us."
Voice-enabled digital assistants race from novelty to regular computer equipment. More than a quarter of US adults will use one regularly next year, according to EMarketer Inc., and increasingly order them to mute the lights, control the television and thermostat, and even turn on diffusers to vent the scents around the house.
A recent study found that when customers consider purchasing a smart home device, they care less about the brand than if it is compatible with smart speakers sold by Amazon, Alphabet Inc.'s Google and Apple Inc. The Berger Sprayer purchased Sold of a little-known brand named Dularf is one of about 28,000 items that now work with Alexa, according to Amazon, up from 4000 in early 201
Controlling smart-home devices with a voice command remains remarkable for most people. Therefore, companies eager to kick-start the nearing market are able to make their case next week at CES in Las Vegas. The annual technological exhibition of recent years has been dominated by the announcement of new products, from cars to mirror mirrors, designed to take advantage of voice software.
"We're in a gold rush right now," said James McQuivey, who traces consumer technology trends for Forrester, a researcher.
When the Amazon launched the Echo Speaker much in 2015, the company worked to entice a number of hardware manufacturers to create their network-enabled thermostats, light bulbs and televisions compatible with Alexa. Amazon released a set of developer programming tools next year.
Google, which released its own smart speaker in 2016, took a similar approach, offering software tools for developers to associate with Google Assistant. (Apple stumbled out of the gate with its rival HomeKit because of a claim since they dropped, the peripherals produce a special chip in their products.)
Overall, Amazon and Google probably accounted for at least four out of five smart speakers sold in the United States last year, surveys show. Globally, the two companies accounted for about 60 percent of sales in the third quarter, according to research firm Canalys.
"Everyone in the smart-home industry is on the polling bus," said Brad Russell, who tracks the internet-connected home units for Parks Associates, a research firm. "They start with Amazon, so they go to Google and maybe they do Apple."
German start-up thermostats Tado is compatible with about a dozen smart-home platforms, including IFTTT and AT & T Inc.'s digital life. But Chief Product Officer Christian Deilmann says the company is increasingly focusing its energy on Amazon, Google and Apple, which have the branding and ecosystems to potentially attract millions more consumers.
Tado sales increased after passing certification programs confirming voice software compatibility, Deilmann says. (Amazon last year said companies that go through their own tests and use their "Works With Alexa" branding, see sales of a given product increase by more than 50 percent the following week.)
Tado has also benefited from the marketing muscle and cash that US giants are looking to expand their leadership. For example, Tado thermostats appear prominently next to Google Home speakers in some European stores. Amazon meanwhile contributed to a $ 50 million venture capital financing from the Munich firm last year.
A large dose of marketing will be needed to persuade consumers who turn on the ceiling lamp with a voice command, is very convenient than turning a switch. Amazon, Apple and Google must also confuse fear of inviting an ever-listening gadget into the home, could lead to privacy.
Consumer surveys show that most people still use smart speakers for music, simple questions or setting alarms, not controlling the parade of internet-enabled gadgets going to CES, showing floors next week. Voice shopping, part of Alexa's early pitch given Amazon's online store expertise, has not gone so far.
This does not deter early adopters like Berger, who showed a personal interest in programming Alexa to answer questions from Airbnb guests into a business building tool for hotel management software.
"People want it to change their lives more," he says. "Therefore, they are literally searching for" Alexa-enabled "when looking for Christmas gifts."