Amazon took the tech world by surprise when it released a seemingly harmless little speaker, the echo, which turned out to be Trojan horse to get its voice assistant ‘Alexa’ into everyone’s lives. It was limited in its applications when it first came out but has grown into a competent personal assistant.
It was a hit that no one saw coming and so it was only a matter of time before someone copied it. At it’s I/O conference this week, Google made it clear that AI was going to be a big part of its plans going forward and Google Home is its inconspicuous looking speaker that will put the AI at the centre of your lives. At least that’s the plan.
It remains to be seen whether people find the idea of having an always listening Google device in their houses a little creepy or accept it as the inevitable way forward. The thought process behind the device seems to be solid though and there is a good chance that it will be much more successful than Amazon’s Echo could ever be.
Google is the default gateway to all the information on the internet. An entire generation of people has grown up with Google being the infallible answer to everything and simply cannot imagine their lives without it.
This means that Google is better equipped to predict any questions that people might have, understand the context in which they are framing those questions and provide relevant answers. It can also pull in information from other Google services and provide an individual experience to its users.
Amazon’s Echo is basically built as a gateway to sell more things, not provide information as Google Home seems to be. Having had the opportunity to see what Amazon has to offer and learn from the shortcomings means that Google has built a more capable speaker.
The company says that its speaker is built to provide a capable music listening experience with enough bass to fill the room. It is a small, inviting package that is customizable, allowing the users to match the base shell to the surroundings of their room and continuing the same theme of providing an individual experience.
Unlike the Echo, it also requires being plugged in and so it sacrifices some amount of portability but gains in the hardware capability that it could put in the box. For people that are looking for a solid music listening experience, they would be happy to know that Google Home is designed for multiple room use and in conjunction with multiple speakers right from the start.
Google Home will also work with any speaker that adhered to the Google Cast standard as well as any service that supports it. Of course, for the time being Google has not allowed third-party developers access to the API and extend its compatibility even further.
Thinking of the path that Google wants to traverse and make Google Home the hub for all the smart devices makes it almost inevitable that access will be provided sooner rather than later. Nest, acquired by Google last year, will build thermostats, switches, and monitors that work with Google Home but it is as yet unclear how deep this synergy will run.
Google also seems to have deliberately resisted the temptation to name its AI assistant and looked to leverage the power of its brand. Success in the consumer space has not come easily to the search giant. Google Glass was never able to overcome potential privacy concerns and other quirky hardware like ON Hub router remains a niche product.
Google will be hoping that it can find that sweet spot between capability and creepiness this time round.