The Google Home connected speaker, which started shipping in the US back in November, is seeking to compete with the likes of Amazon’s Echo (which launched in the UK last fall) — offering a physical housing for Google’s voice assistant tech, the eponymous Google Assistant, to position its listening ear perpetually inside your home.
The company mocked up a fake house in London this morning to demo the device to journalists. Which may or may not be a fitting metaphor for the extensively hyped concept of the ‘smart home’.
But for those Brits who dream of sitting on an impossibly white leather couch, next to Google’s always listening microphone primed and ready to tell you what the weather is tomorrow, or add something to your to-do list, or inform you where the nearest petrol station is and how to get there then today is a special day indeed.
Unlike the Amazon Echo, Google Home does not have such a sprawling ecommerce back-end to plug into — and while Google Home offers some limited ecommerce options in the US, it does not appear to be bringing any such services to the UK as yet.
Given its head-start with the tech, the Echo has also amassed considerably more third party app integrations — such as services like JustEat and Uber. So you can already ask Alexa (Amazon’s voice assistant) to order you a taxi or a takeaway. But won’t yet get joy out of Google Assistant on that front, though JustEat is apparently planning to support the device this year.
Google Home is being priced at £130 in the UK — so it’s slightly less expensive than Amazon’s Echo (£150). While the app-controlled Google WiFi router is priced at £130 for one unit (or £230 for two, for those with more internal real estate to blanket with wi-fi).
In terms of localization, the Google Home speaker is able to deliver news briefings from a selection of UK publications including the BBC, The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Sun, The Telegraph, Huffington Post, Sky News and Sky Sports.
Otherwise, it’s capable of playing music on command from a small selection of music streaming services, assuming you’re a subscriber — such as Google Play Music, YouTube Music or Spotify Premium (subscriptions for these services are not included in the price of the device).
Owners of a small number of other connected devices such as the (Google-owned) Nest thermostat, Philips Hue lightbulbs or Samsung’s SmartThings hub can also control additional connected devices via Google Home voice commands. Google’s Chromecast can also be controlled via the speaker.
Buyers should be aware that all voice interactions with Google Home will be data-mined by Google to build a clearer picture of your domestic life and preferences for ad targeting purposes. The company says it stores your conversation data in perpetuity — unless you actively opt to delete it (which it says is possible).
Google also appears to retain any conversation data of users who uninstall Google Home and delete their account — you have to actively go into the setting and delete the conversation history prior to deleting your account if you want to remove your conversation data from Google’s servers. And even after a deletion Google says it may also still retain some “service-related information” pertaining to your account.
While the Google Home speaker listens locally for a so-called “hotword” — aka the phrase “Ok, Google” — before it starts streaming your conversations to Google’s cloud for processing and storing, it’s of course trivially easy for this to be triggered accidentally, and whatever you happen to say at such moments will also be recorded in perpetuity on Google’s servers for data-mining and potentially passing to third parties. Welcome to the ‘smart home’.