At its annual I/O developer conference, Google today unveiled a new hardware device and competitor to Amazon Echo, a portable speaker powered by voice assistance technology called Google Home. The device was widely rumored to have been in development under the codename “Chirp,” and the final product name was recently confirmed by The New York Times.
Google Home Features
Like Echo, Google Home will also include a virtual assistant you interact with via voice. Unveiled earlier today, Google Assistant is a bit of a rebranding of the Google Now voice search feature. However, the new Assistant is able to answer questions and have two-way conversations, as well as perform tasks like playing music, interact with smart home devices including Nest thermostats, and more.
These tasks will include things like ordering flowers or checking flights – things that traditionally you do via apps or the web.
A list of partners that Google has been working with on its voice actions platform for Search include a number of notable names, like Uber, Pandora, Spotify, OpenTable, Gett, Instacart, Grubhub, Mytaxi, TuneIn, HailO, WhatsApp, Saavn, Ticketmaster, and more. (see below)
However, unlike Amazon Echo, Google has not yet opened up its Home platform to all third-party developers. It hasn’t formally announced Google Home launch partners.
The Google Home Wi-Fi speaker will stream music and podcasts from the cloud, or you can send music to the speaker via Google Cast, the company said. That means that it won’t be limited to Google Play Music, but should also support other services, like Spotify. It will also work with other Google Home speakers, if you have more than one – as you can direct it to play your music on a particular device.
The speaker lets you customize the base with a variety of colors to match the home’s style, and includes LED lights, speaker, and mic. That’s a nice feature for those not happy with the aesthetics of Amazon’s all-black Echo.
The speaker ships later this year. Pricing has yet to be announced.
Google In the Home
Google today has some of the best speech recognition technology in the business, but it had yet to take full advantage of that in a consumer home gadget.
Its Nest thermostats have voice features, but not the sales momentum to become truly mainstream. What’s unclear, however, is if consumers are uninterested in smart thermostats in general – perhaps perceiving them as more of a luxury device – or if they’re hesitant to invite Google into their homes.
The Google Home device may answer that question, as it’s the first time Google has made a real effort at bringing its suite of services into people’s homes.
While it has launched other consumer gadgets – the ill-fated Nexus Q media player, its Android TV platform which runs on OEM hardware, Google Cast (previously Chromecast), the OnHub router, and so on – none have presented Google as a virtual assistant that can help you with various life tasks.
“When I walk into my house, I should be able to interact with the Google Assistant,” said Mario Queiroz, VP Product Management at Google, who worked on Google’s other hit consumer gadget, Chromecast. “This is why we’re creating Google Home.”
Look and Feel
Early reports claimed the device would resemble the company’s OnHub wireless router in terms of its shape and simple design.
Of course, both the OnHub router and now Google Home also both look a lot like Amazon’s Echo speaker with their black, circular design and sleek looks. Google Home, however, is smaller, white and customizable.
That’s also intentional.
Amazon has found a foothold in consumers’ homes with its Echo speaker, which can do things like read you the news, weather and traffic information, order and track Amazon packages, play music, control smart home appliances and lighting, and more. Plus, thanks to a growing ecosystem of add-on software called “Skills,” the Echo is attracting the attention of third-party app developers, as well.
Today, via these add-ons, the Echo can also order you a pizza or an Uber, act as your personal fitness instructor, find you airplane tickets, play games, and more.
Some in the industry have even dubbed Amazon Echo the next must-have gadget.
In addition, a recent analyst report indicates that Amazon may have already sold 3 million of its smart speakers thanks in part to its aggressive promotion on Amazon’s site, heavy holiday advertising, and its participation in Amazon’s sales holiday, Amazon Prime Day. The company has since expanded the line of speakers to include lower-cost models like the Tap and Dot, and it’s allowing developers to use its virtual assistant Alexa in their own hardware and apps.
Clearly, Google has been concerned.