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Google Assistant expands to a billion devices and 80 countries

Google's virtual assistant reached a lot of new territory in 2018.

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James Martin/CNET

As CES 2019 was getting underway, Google touted some impressive growth for its Google Assistant in 2018. 

The search giant released Google Assistant in 2016 to compete with Amazon's Alexa voice-activated virtual assistant. When it debuted, Google Assistant was limited to the original Google Home smart speaker and the company's Pixel phone. On Monday, Google announced that its Assistant is expected to hit the mark of 1 billion devices this month. That number includes smart speakers, smart displays, phones, headphones and more.

Google Assistant's army of gadgets has also spread itself across the globe. Devices are available in 80 countries and 30 languages -- up from 14 countries and eight languages at the beginning of 2018.

It turns out 2018 was a productive year for Google in the smart home as well, with the company adding a number of useful features to the Assistant such as touch controls in the app and on smart displays. Google will try to build on this momentum at CES this week with a huge expected presence

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Google's announcement comes as its rivalry with Amazon continues to heat up. Last week, the e-commerce giant said 100 million Alexa-enabled devices have been sold so far. Both of the figures by Amazon and Google don't tell the whole story, though. For example, Google's 1 billion Assistant devices also include Android phones, which come with the software already installed by default. 

The Assistant is a major part of Google's growth going forward, especially as people do less of their searching on desktop computers and directly on Google's iconic homepage. CEO Sundar Pichai has repeatedly said the company is going all out on artificial intelligence.

But when it comes to market share for smart speakers -- the gateway to the smart home for many consumers -- Google still needs to catch up. Amazon's Echo devices dominate the world of smart speakers, with 73 percent of the market. Google's Home devices come in second with 24 percent, according to a report by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, though the research firm notes Google is "making strides."

Google has been trying to drum up enthusiasm for the Assistant at CES. The company plastered the words "Hey Google" -- one of the trigger phrases for the Assistant -- over one of the main entrances of the Las Vegas Convention Center, as well as on the city's monorail. 

CES 2019: See all of CNET's coverage of the year's biggest tech show.

CES schedule: It's six days of jam-packed events. Here's what to expect.

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