Amazon doesn’t have a booth at the Consumer Electronics Show, but Alexa is everywhere at the Las Vegas event this week. Dozens of companies have announced plans to work with the virtual assistant that powers the Echo, Amazon’s smart speaker.
LG is building Alexa into one of its refrigerators. GE made a fancy Alexa-enabled LED lamp. Even Ford has announced plans to add Alexa to its cars later this year. This means you’ll be able to ask any of these products to look up recipes, play music, or tell you what the weather is like.
At first glance, this might all sound a little silly. After all, consumers aren’t clamoring for a crock pot that can tell them the score of last night’s game. But Amazon is actually trying to do something incredibly ambitious: create a third major computing platform that will take its place alongside the PC and the smartphone in our homes.
Microsoft dominated the PC era, when computing was defined by a keyboard and mouse. Google and Apple are currently battling for dominance over smartphones — a platform defined by touchscreens. Amazon is trying to build the third great computing platform: one for devices that have no screen at all.
Since it unveiled the Echo in 2014, Amazon has been quietly laying the groundwork to dominate this market. The fruits of those efforts have been on display at CES this week, with a wide range of companies rushing to add Alexa to their devices. But Amazon’s dominance isn’t a sure thing yet. Google knows it’s behind, and it’s desperately trying to catch up with an Echo-like speaker called Google Home that has an Alexa-like interface called Google Assistant. And Apple and Microsoft — creators of Siri and Cortana, respectively — aren’t going to give up without a fight.