With Amazon’s voice assistant in a can, Echo, the company found a small but smart niche of users and a foothold in the smart homes of the future. It hasn’t had much competition–until now. Today at I/O, Google announced its own Alexa-killer: Google Home.
It may look like a Muji-brand aromatherapy machine, but Google Home is really more like a super Chromecast for your entire living space. By prompting the device with the phrase “okay Google” or “hey Google,” Google Home can stream movies to the biggest screen in your house, send text messages for you, book you a reservation at a nearby restaurant, make changes to your schedule, pull up your travel itinerary, tell you when you need to leave for work, and control your other smart home devices. You can even tell it to synchronize music to all the speakers in your home.
It’s a bottle that houses Google Assistant–Google’s natural language processing AI–and gives it a home inside your space.
In a lot of ways, Google Home feels like a natural evolution of several of Alphabet’s products and services. In appearance, it looks a bit like someone took a katana to an OnHub router. It integrates seamlessly with Chromecast, and uses its existing streaming APIs. It pairs up with all of Google’s smart home initiatives, such as Nest. It uses all of the advances Google has made in natural language processing and Knowledge Graph to contextually understand users, no matter how they express themselves.
It’s all of the power of Google, always listening and centralized in a soft white tube of high tech.
True, Amazon’s Echo already does many of these things. Part of what has made the Echo such a sleeper hit is how surprisingly capable it is. Amazon updates Echo every week with new commands. Echo’s anything you want it to be, including an elaborate kitchen timer, the best radio you’ve ever had, a shopping assistant, and so on.
But Alexa can’t, say, read you an incoming email in your Gmail account, locate your Android phone, translate a conversation in real time, send directions to your phone, stream a video to your TV, or any of the millions of things Google can do that we all take for granted. So as good as Echo is, it’s going to have a hard time competing with Home, for the simple reason that Google’s secret weapon over Amazon is just being Google.
Home will be released sometime later this year, and no pricing details are available yet. But make no mistake: This is an important product. Introducing Home during today’s keynote, Google CEO Sundar Pichai made it clear that he views the future of Google as “ambient.” It will exist everywhere, not just on your phones or your devices. Increasingly, what we think of as “Google” is becoming decoupled from what we think of as computers. Home takes that decoupling to the next level.
Google is no longer something you just use on a screen. It’s a disembodied voice, floating through your home. With Home, the bottle trapping Google’s genie has been smashed.