Which voice in your fridge? Makers pick virtual assistants

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Who would you rather have in your fridge? Alexa, Cortana, or some as-yet unknown virtual assistant?

Manufacturers of appliances and other products are considering factors such as ease of use and language support as they pick voice technology from what they view as a wide open battle between Alphabet Inc’s Google, Amazon.com Inc and others.

Consumer demand is surging for the ability to summon music, order food and control lights by voice commands. Amazon.com’s Alexa voice assistant is the early leader and could spur up to $12 billion in Amazon sales in 2020, Stifel, Nicolaus & Co analysts projected this week.

Amazon and Google combined have sold more than 30 million home speakers with virtual assistants, according to analyst estimates, and the firms are working with hardware partners to get the same software into more devices.

Hardware makers’ varying strategies and decisions, described in interviews with Reuters at this week’s consumer electronics industry’s CES conference in Las Vegas, reflect differing strengths of Google, Amazon and peers.

Google Assistant attracts them with its expertise in answering complex questions, its ability to adapt to different settings and broader language support. Alexa can be used to command more devices, is associated with making purchases, and has become a household name. Microsoft Corp’s Cortana is optimized to work with its services, including Skype.

Apple Inc, whose Siri assistant features on millions of iPhones, has yet to weigh in on the market.

Assistant makers are scouting for partners and offering technology for free, expecting to capitalize on their brand’s deeper integration into customers’ lives. An advanced microphone can add as little as $8 to the cost of a product, according to chipset maker MediaTek Inc.

Neither Amazon nor Google is forcing exclusive deals, hardware executives say, with the understanding that consumers may prefer a different assistant in different settings….

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