Apart from the Pixel Smartphones, it’s Google Home — the company’s AI-powered Amazon Echo rival — that could be the most important piece of hardware displayed on stage today at the Google Event in San Fransisco.
Google is playing catch up here, following in Amazon’s footsteps after the company unveiled the Echo back in 2014. With the Echo, the retailer created a new home for AI digital assistants; those programs that are supposed to help manage your life by scheduling meetings, buying plane tickets, and so on.
Google has been working on this sort of product for years, adding Google Now functionality to Android phones and tablets since 2012. But with the Echo, Amazon found a new way to package these voice-activated smarts (in Amazon’s case in the form of its digital assistant Alexa). To date, the company has reportedly sold some 3.5 million Echo devices, and next year aims to some 10 million. Google was getting left behind. But not anymore, at least that’s what Google would hope.
Using the home as a staging post for digital assistants has been a canny move. It makes sense for a number of reasons — not just because talking to your computer is awkward in public (it completely is), but because your house is where you’re most likely to need a voice interface (e.g., while cooking, in the shower, lying on the couch while the phone is charging elsewhere). It’s also a boon for families where every person doesn’t have a smartphone, and if you don’t already own a Bluetooth speaker, then devices like the Google Home kill two birds with one stone. You get something to play music on in your kitchen or living room, and the extra functions — answering questions, setting up timers, helping with your shopping — are an added bonus.
What is Google Home?
Google Home is a Wi-Fi speaker that also works as a smarthome control centre and an assistant for the whole family. You can use it to playback entertainment throughout your entire house, effortlessly manage every-day tasks, and ask Google what you want to know.
The device itself has interchangeable bases available in various colours and finishes (such as metal and fabric, allowing you to match it to your decor). Underneath that swappable shell there is a speaker that can playback songs and allow Google Assistant to talk to you. It appears to be pretty small, as a Google executive was able to easily hold it in one hand while unveiling Google Home on stage.
At the top of the device there is a display with four small LEDs. You’ll use these apparently to interact with the device. As for buttons, there are none at the top (just dual microphones that listen for your voice). There is a single mute button on the shell.
Music and video playback
Because Google Home is a Wi-Fi speaker, it can stream music directly from the cloud. Google said it will deliver rich bass and clear highs – all from a compact form factor. With it you can access songs, playlists, albums, artists, and podcasts from your favourite music services just by asking with your voice. Or, if you prefer, you can send music from your Android or iOS device through Google Cast.
That last bit is important because, with Google Cast support, you’ll be able to use Google Home to control other connected speakers in your home. You’ll even get multi-room playback, meaning you can add one or more Google Home devices to a group of speakers in order to blast tunes throughout your house. But that’s not all: Google Home will let you control your video content.
Let’s say you want to watch the latest episode of Jimmy Fallon or some sort of cat video on YouTube. Just issue a voice command to Google Home, and the content will appear on your TV (again, thanks to Google Cast support).
Google Home can be a control centre for your entire home, because it has access to Google Assistant (see below). It will let you do the basics like set alarms and timers and manage to-do lists and shopping lists. It will also connect your smarthome and support popular network systems. That means you will be able to control smart lights, switches, doors, etc, including Google’s own Nest products). Google plans to work with developers so you can control things beyond the home too, such as booking a car, ordering dinner, or sending flowers to a loved one. And the best part is you will be able to do this with just your voice.
Speaking of your voice, Google Home will let you ask Google anything. You can ask for the weather or check facts on Wikipedia. You will have access to Google’s 17 years of search experience. That allows you to ask specific questions such as “How much fat is in an avocado?” or “What is Draymond Green’s jersey number?” Those types of questions will stump Amazon Echo and Siri, but not Google.
Because Google Home has Google Assistant, you can be conversational and ask follow-up questions like “Where did he go to college?” Google Home will be able to connect the “he” pronoun to your previous question about Draymond Green or whoever in order to serve up an accurate answer. You can even ask complex stuff like “What was the US population when NASA was established?”
Google said Google Home will give you immediate answers each time.
How much does it cost?
Pre-orders start today, and it’ll ship on November 4th. Each Home comes with a free six month subscription to YouTube Red. Google Home will be available at $129
Will you be buying one?