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Smart Home

Amazon's Alexa assistant now works with over 20K devices

Alexa's expansion is way up from 4,000 devices in January.

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Daniel Rausch, Amazon's vice president of smart home, onstage at IFA 2018.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Amazon executive Daniel Rausch stood onstage before a crowd of hundreds at Berlin's IFA tech show Saturday to share a few big numbers about Alexa.

"Just this year," he said, "Alexa has sung Happy Birthday millions of times to customers, and she's told over 100 million jokes."

Maybe Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant, hasn't sung Happy Birthday to you just yet, but -- considering the way things are going -- there's a good chance it'll get invited to your next birthday celebration.

At the start of this year, Alexa worked with over 4,000 devices. Rausch, Amazon's vice president of smart home, said Saturday that Alexa is now integrated with over 20,000 devices -- a fivefold increase in just eight months. The number of brands using Alexa shot up to over 3,500 from 1,200 during the same time. 

Highlighting that growth, IFA brought with it a slew of new Alexa-powered devices, including the Huawei AI Cube smart speaker, Asus ZenBook laptops and Yale's Sync home alarm system.

Amazon has no intention of stopping there. The company is already adding Alexa into cars, office spaces and hotels, building on its vision of making Alexa available everywhere you are. That work is already introducing the new world of voice computing to millions more people. Going forward, it could bring about the futuristic notion of having an intelligent, digital assistant with you at all times to help you get through your day and even chat with you if you want.

Though Amazon would love to make Alexa your digital buddy, the e-commerce giant faces lots of competition from lots of other voice assistants. Apple's Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft's Cortana and Samsung's Bixby are all trying to start up a conversation with you, too, by moving into more laptops, vehicles, phones and appliances.

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Amazon's Alexa-themed booth at IFA.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Here's another potential hurdle for Amazon: Following Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, this year has broadly increased concern about data privacy and security. Those issues could slow consumer adoption of voice assistants and their arrays of microphones, or turn some folks off entirely.

From Rausch's perspective, Alexa's future is very bright. He said there are now 50,000 Alexa skills -- what Amazon calls its voice apps -- and hundreds of thousands of developers in over 180 countries working on Alexa.

He made a pitch to tech execs in the audience that voice assistants aren't just for singing songs. Amazon found that adding voice capabilities to certain devices created a significant boost in sales, he said. Also, some independent developers are now making thousands of dollars a month through Alexa, with Rausch mentioning a 22-year-old college student who's making $10,000 a month thanks to his Word of the Day skill.

The smarter home

Alexa started as a device for the home, and Rausch said Amazon plans to keep building up its capabilities there, too.

"It turned out your smartphone is actually a pretty terrible remote control for your house. You don't want to fish around in your pocket, open applications, unlock your phone to control the device that's right in front of you," Rausch said. "Voice has truly unlocked the smart home. That's because it's actually simpler."

At LG's stage presentation Friday, Chief Technology Officer IP Park went even further with his company's vision for the home. He said LG plans to use artificial intelligence, home robots and voice assistants to create a home you can talk to that's more aware of your needs and that automates more tasks.

"You won't need a manual," he said, "because our devices will learn about you, not the other way around."

Alexa and its Echo smart speaker first launched four years ago, and the Echo now leads the smart speaker market in the US by a healthy margin. But Rausch said Saturday that Amazon has "barely scratched the surface" with what it can do with voice.

So far, many customers seem happy to chat up Alexa at home, and time will tell whether they'll want to keep up that conversation with Alexa all day.

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