Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant Will Share JBL Smart Speaker

Alexa and Google Assistant will soon occupy the same line of high-end JBL speakers — a novel arrangement in the world of voice-connected devices.

(Bloomberg) — Alexa and Google Assistant will soon occupy the same line of high-end JBL speakers — a novel arrangement in the world of voice-connected devices.

Users will be able to sign into one or both assistants from JBL’s smartphone app. From there, the speaker will respond to commands intended for either assistant, like “Hey Google, check my calendar,” or “Alexa, reorder the dog food.”

Other smart speaker makers let users choose from multiple assistants during setup, but Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. say these are the first products that will let people use two assistants at once.

Three models of the JBL Authentics-branded smart speakers will debut in the US on Sept. 17 and sell for $330 to $700. 

Neither company is committing to including the other’s software on their own devices, making the tie-up a trial rather than a project destined for the masses. 

“We’re really focused on this one integration and seeing how this goes,” said Marissa Chacko, a director of product management at Google. 

Harman, which owns JBL and is a unit of Samsung Electronics Co., previously used the Authentics brand for a pair of smartphone docks. The company believes the new JBL speakers will appeal to audiophiles. “People are willing to spend more for something that sounds good,” said Soraya Kukucka, a manager of home audio product marketing at Harman.

A set of universal device commands engineered by Amazon enables each assistant to silence music or alarms being played by the other. The companies say they won’t share voice recordings, so commands sent to Alexa won’t sit on Google’s servers, and vice versa. 

“It’s frankly a little bit hard to imagine all the ways that people want to interact with one or both of these assistants,” said Aaron Rubenson, a vice president on Amazon’s Alexa team. “This is a little bit of looking at not only where we are today but where we see customer sentiment going in the future.”

Amazon popularized voice software with Alexa, a personal assistant it hoped to make as conversant as the talking computer on Star Trek. But almost a decade after Alexa’s launch, people primarily use voice assistants for utilitarian tasks like setting timers, playing music or checking bits of trivia.

Their shortcomings have been thrown into sharp relief by the advent of chatbots powered by generative artificial intelligence. Though error-prone and still under development, text-based chatbots like ChatGPT answer complicated requests with human-like fluency and can even hold conversations — tasks that often stump Alexa, Assistant and Apple Inc.’s Siri. Amazon and Google both say they’re rushing to incorporate generative AI into their assistants.  

Amazon’s Echo is the best-selling smart speaker. But more people use Google Assistant and Siri because they’re standard features of smartphone operating systems. Insider Intelligence and eMarketer estimated last year that there were about 82 million users of Assistant in the US, 78 million Siri users and 72 million Alexa users. 

Amazon, which tried and failed to build its own smartphone, launched an initiative in 2019 to promote interoperability among voice software, arguing that customers would benefit from being able to summon multiple agents on the same device. Dozens of technology companies, including Harman, have signed on. Google and Apple haven’t. 

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