Multiple sources tell TechCrunch that Google is building a tabletop smart screen for video calling and more that will compete with Amazon’s Echo Show. The device could help Google keep up in the race for the smart home market after Amazon just revealed a slew of new Echos and as Facebook continues to work on its codename “Aloha” video calling screen.
Two sources confirm to TechCrunch that the Google device has been internally codenamed “Manhattan” and will have a similar screen size to the 7-inch Echo Show. One source received info directly from a Google employee. Both sources say the device will offer YouTube, Google Assistant, Google Photos and video calling. It will also act as a smart hub that can control Nest and other smart home devices.
Our sources say that Google previously was working on products with larger screens that would compete with full-sized televisions, but it’s now more focused on the Manhattan device. We’re told that the original target launch date was mid-2018. But due to the Echo Show there’s intense internal pressure to get this launched in 2017, though it may still end up released in 2018. That’s because there are a ton of moving parts to establishing the smart hub partnerships, plus it’s exploring the possibility of service partnerships with Best Buy Geek Squad and Enjoy for home installation.
Our sources say that the device will run a version of Android, making it easier for third-parties to build apps for it. One app the team is particularly interested in seeing run on the device is Netflix, though that’s not confirmed yet.
It’s unclear what the price of the device will be or what exactly it will look like. The image up top is just a TechCrunch-made mock-up based on the Echo Show. Google did not respond to a request for comment before press time, but we’ll update if we hear back. Google does have a hardware event on October 4th, though there’s no indication that we’ll hear more about this device then.
Why Google Needs A Smart Hub Screen
The inclusion of YouTube on the Manhattan device gives more clarity to why Google recently pulled YouTube off the Echo Show. At the time, Amazon told The Verge “Google has chosen to no longer make YouTube available on Echo Show, without explanation and without notification to customers. There is no technical reason for that decision”.
Google responded that “Amazon’s implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show violates our terms of service, creating a broken user experience”. The Echo Show didn’t have all the subscriptions and video recommendations YouTube may believe are critical. It seems Google is willing to sacrifice added reach for YouTube to protect its integrity…especially when its own similar device where it controls the experience is on the way.
There are plenty of other reasons for Google to launch a smart screen.
- It’s another way to get Google Assistant into people’s homes, which Google wants to become the voice operating system for your life.
- It’s a vector for Google’s video chat apps like Duo and Hangouts. The tabletop form-factor could be popular with kids and seniors who might be less comfortable with a phone or traditional computer, and would appeal families who want to see each other while catching up.
- It could allow Google to become the center of people’s growing array of smart home devices. Typically these gadgets require a hub or bridge that connects to ethernet or Wifi and then beams connectivity to the wireless devices, but having different hubs for every device can be annoying. A Google-made omni-hub that worked with many different partners could simplify set up, lock in Google as an essential part of the smart home, and compete with Amazon’s new Echo Plus hub.
- It creates a new surface for experiencing the company’s other products like Google Photos, which could get a growth boost as people see the device running as a digital photo frame and want to download the app powering it. This could also be a differentiator from Amazon since the competitor’s Prime Photos service isn’t nearly as popular as Google Photos
Essentially, there are few reasons for Google not to launch this. It already has Google Wifi units, Google Home smart speakers, and Chromecasts. But what’s lacking is a screen and smart hub. The Manhattan device would perfectly complement Google’s existing offering. Finally, a smart screen would help the company keep up with Amazon’s Echo team that seems hellbent on leaving Google in the dust.