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Everything is a virtual assistant now

Mike Elgan | Jan. 9, 2017
At CES, we're learning that virtual assistants like Amazon's Alexa will be delivered as a utility to almost every appliance in your home.

Amazon's Alexa won CES this week.

Amazon's virtual assistant, which first appeared more than two years ago on Amazon's Echo smart speaker, seemed to be popping up everywhere at the annual International CES trade show in Las Vegas this week.

Amazon opened Alexa to third-party hardware developers in the summer of 2015. Now, a year and a half later, the number of devices that support Alexa are dizzying. (We also learned this week that Alexa now offers more than 7,000 "skills," which is what Amazon calls apps or third-party capabilities.)

The chatter about Alexa at CES is broadly muddled, with reporters talking about devices "supporting Alexa." But not all "support" is created equal.

Most of this "support" is relative banal. It means that a smart device gains the ability to be controlled or monitored through Alexa.

Appliance maker Whirlpool, for example, announced this week a new line of home appliances available in "early 2017" that respond to Alexa commands. They'll let you change the temperature of your Whirlpool refrigerator by telling Alexa. And the virtual assistant will be able to tell you if your Whirlpool washer and dryer is running and how much time is left before the clothes are done.

lg fridge  

The LG Smart InstaView fridge has Alexa support built in. It's like a giant Amazon Echo that also keeps your food cold.

Dish Network's Hopper DVR boxes are getting Alexa control. As with Apple TV, you'll be able to use voice commands and conversation to find shows and change the channel.

ADT Pulse also got Alexa support this week. After February, users will be able to arm and disarm their home alarm security systems and deadbolts by talking to Alexa. Access to the security system is granted when you speak a four-digit PIN code. Of course, when you speak a PIN code, others can hear it, then later use it from outside the house (if they yell loud enough) to disable the security system. Users should be careful with this one.

We also learned this week that Alexa support is being extended to the Belkin WeMo Dimmer Wi-Fi light switch and WeMo Mini; Carrier Cor 5C and 7C Smart Thermostats; Element, Sieki and Westinghouse smart TVs; First Alert OneLink Environment Monitor; the Incipio CommandKit Wi-Fi light switch and Wireless smart power strip; Vobot Clock; iHome's iAVS16 bedside speaker; SkylinkNet™ connected home suite; Coway's Airmega smart air purifier; Hubble Hugo mood-tracking smart camera; Sensory VoiceGenie; Jam Audio speakers; Bixi gesture controller and other devices.

I like this brand of "Alexa" support. But it's not nearly as interesting and culture-changing as the other kind: When devices actually deliver Alexa itself.

 

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