'Hey Google' is all over Las Vegas as the smart assistant battle hits CES

Key Points
  • As CES gets underway in Las Vegas, Google is introducing new smart displays for its Assistant.
  • The company will also start referring to Assistant's abilities as "Actions," similar to Alexa "Skills."
  • Google has an outsized presence at CES this year.
Google has a giant display advertising its hardware products at the 2018 CES show.

Google typically keeps a low profile at CES. Not this year.

As techies swarm Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show, the world's biggest internet company is squarely out to capture their attention. It's created a giant "playground" in the parking lot of one of the convention centers, complete with a slide and a faux gumball machine.

The words "Hey Google" — used by consumers to ask questions of the voice-powered Google Assistant — are plastered on multiple casinos as well as the monorail that whisks attendees between conferences halls.

A gigantic gumball machine as part of Google's display at the 2018 CES.

Google isn't explicitly saying it, but the company is spending all this promotional money in an aggressive push to take on a single rival: Amazon.

On Monday, Google announced a slew of new products and updates for Assistant, its artificial intelligence software that lives on a range of devices like Home smart speakers.

Google debuted partnerships with JBL, Lenovo, LG, and Sony to launch new, Assistant-powered "smart displays" equipped with front-facing cameras that will let users watch media and make video calls, similar to Amazon's Echo Show.

Since Amazon launched the $230 Show last spring, both Google and Facebook have reportedly been working on their own versions. It now appears that Google will be leaving the hardware production to partners, at least at first.

Google also announced that it will start referring to Assistant's capabilities as "Actions," akin to how Amazon has "Skills" for Alexa.

They're not perfectly analogous. Google's Actions include asking your Assistant for directions using Maps, as well as features enabled through third parties, while Amazon's Skills only refer to Alexa voice apps built by third-party developers.

Amazon recently said that Alexa has over 30,000 Skills while Google just announced that Assistant can perform more than 1 million "Actions." Users can search for Actions via a newly launched directory page.

If you've been following the news blasting out of CES at all, then you've probably noticed the trend -- companies are building smart assistants into everything, including ovens and refrigerators, countless new headphones and speakers, and cars.

Google said on Monday that new partners will be launching Assistant-optimized headphones this year and that Assistant is coming to the more than 400 car models that already run its Android Auto operating system. Meanwhile, Panasonic announced this morning that, alongside Assistant, it was launching Alexa Onboard, which lets users interact with Alexa in their cars, even when there is no network connection.

Amazon has a giant lead in the market. According to the latest CIRP estimates, Amazon's Echo products controlled 76 percent market of the U.S. home smart speaker market compared with 24 percent for Google's Home devices.

For the next few days, the two companies are taking their battle for the living room to the CES showroom.