The 2018 CES was a memorable event, but no topic received greater coverage than the smart home. While this has been an emerging market in many ways with things like Ring doorbells and Nest thermostats ushering in the technology, it wasn’t until massive companies like Amazon and Google made mainstream America more comfortable with a more connected home.  Amazon’s Echo and the Google Home brought voice assistant technology into more homes than ever before – especially with holiday sales bringing the minature versions of these devices down to the $30 range regularly. Beyond being used in viral videos from families that don’t understand the technology, they have become an easy way to keep life moving.

Amazon’s Show variant of the Echo brought a screen into the mix, and at CES this year, Google announced their own version of that kind of device. The idea behind the Google Assistant technology has been to offer help to the user in any way possible. It’s easy to use one to search for something on Youtube, order food, tell you a joke, or even play music. As an early bird, I have used my Google Assistant-powered speaker many times to get some high-energy music going so I can get a little extra pep in my step to start the day. While the quality of the dancing that results may be suspect, it does still provice a valuable purpose in a day to day life – even if in a limited manner.

Anyone with Hue lighting can use an Assistant-enabled device to control their lighting – so if you want red lighting in one room and blue lighting in the other, you can do that. You can also set up a slightly different tempurature if you so desire to make your day a bit more comfortable. Using a speaker to bring up Youtube content has worked before – but it has been limited to audio-only on the speaker itself. New smart displays with Google Assistant are coming from JBL, Lenovo, LG, and Sony. Having something like Youtube content viewable on the device is fantastic and brings tablet-like functionality to something that is meant to be stood up on its own.

For tasks like cooking, one popular method towards a makeshift smart home has been propping up a tablet on a case and hoping you put it in a place where it doesn’t either fall over or fall into something. Lenovo’s smart display was showcased and can be put in either a vertical or horizontal viewing mode. While most content on Youtuble is crafted with landscape mode in mind, the portrait mode option is still quite valuable for people who have minimal space to work with. If you have a small kitchen, then you need to maximize every small bit of space you have. Putting a device in portrait mode gives you more real estate to work with and will still allow you to not only hear something being done- but see it as well.

If you do have a small amount of room, then the 8 inch display will probably be your best option. Those with more space to work with should probably go with the 10 inch screen version. Beyond simply being larger, having a bigger screen is going to be easier for many people to see from a distance – so you can cook and then place the assistant on something that is further away from a boiling pot or anything that could lead to moisture building up in the device slowly. The Lenovo smart displays are set for a summer release, with the 8 inch model setting you back $199.99 and the 10 inch variant running $249.99 – so for $50 more, you do get a fairly significant screen increase.

Google posted some in-depth information about the development of the devices as well, which is fascinating to read. The new Google Assitant products are built on Android Things System-on-Modules and will receive regular feature and security updates directly from Google. The devices don’t just have Google Assistant built-in, but also feature Google Cast too. The JBL, LG, and Sony smart displays will all be released later this year – but only the Lenovo unit has a set release window.

Smart display devices are the next logical step for virtual personal assistants and can improve the quality of someone’s life in many ways. Beyond simple things like playing music, you can also use it to display better traffic routes with Google Maps. That’s something you can do on a phone with ease, but if you have a technology-challenged member of the family who might be a bit intimidated by a smartphone, then something like this could be a great gateway. Smartphone screens are also quite small, and something like a larger screen on a device like this might make it easier for older people or just anyone with visual issues to figure out how to best get from Point A to B on a given day.

These devices essentially look like a picture frame – and that’s an easy way to get someone used to the technology. You can ease someone into it just by showing off Google Photos on it, and then it becomes not only a digital picture frame – but something that can do so much more. Being able to make hands-free calls is huge – especially for people who may have trouble using a smartphone either due to vision issues or perhaps even issues with their hands. Arthritis doesn’t make it easy to even unlock a phone, let alone carefully pick a contact from a list. As long as a number is attached to a name, a simple “Call Mom/Dad” should get the job done.

Smart displays can be an incredible tool, and right now, Amazon has a big lead. However, it appears that Google has used that lead to their own advantage and allowed Amazon to pioneer the tech so that they can master it. Just having Google search results instead of Bing can be a big difference-maker depending on what you’re looking for, and the appearance of the devices is a bit cleaner and more inviting than Amazon’s jet black designs.

The war between Amazon and Google over hte past few years has been interesting – and it’s only going to intensify as each company fights to not only get their devices into more homes, but also aims to beat their competition in any way they can. Their never-ending game of one-upsmanship has resulted in smart home technology becoming something that anyone can esperience and that is only going to spread as more devices are released. 2018 is going to be the biggest year yet for the smart home – and the year where smart displays become the new smart speaker.