The first big announcement from Google’s I/O conference is a natural extension of Google’s core search function — a smart home hub called Google Home that will compete directly with Amazon’s Echo device.
Google Home can do a lot of things that Echo can – but also a few more that it can’t yet. It’s a bluetooth speaker for playing music and podcasts around the home, and it’s also a wifi connected speaker to connect via Google’s cast system. Users can chat with the device by saying “OK Google” and asking various questions that can be answered via Google’s vast search engine coupled with data it knows about the user.
For example, Google’s pre-recorded demo video shows a family preparing to go to school/work in the morning. The dad starts a morning playlist for himself in the kitchen and then wakes up the kids by extending the music to all rooms. The daughter asks Google how to translate her homework into Spanish. The mother asks Home to order something from the internet, and the device is able to comply.
Amazon’s Echo can do most of those things already, but it can’t communicate with other devices the way Google Home is promising. Not only can other speaker systems be paired with Google’s device but so too can smart TVs. Ask Google Home to play the latest episode of Silicon Valley, and the device will serve it up on the TV. (It looks like users would need a Chromecast or Android TV to make this feature work.)
Likewise, Home can send info directly to a user’s smartphone to take on the go. In the demo video, Google showed the dad asking Home how his commute to work looks and the device said there’s an accident along the route. Home went on to send the alternate path to his phone.
Google Home is also just prettier than the black tube display of Echo. It has a more subtle swoop design that makes it a little more decorative and appropriate for placing around a user’s home. There are no buttons at all, and the top lights up with Google’s four colors. It can also be customized with different colored bottom grills in various materials including metal and plastic.
None of these features were demonstrated live on stage, but these are the kind of features Google is promising. There’s no release date for Google Home yet, but reviewers and early adopters will have a chance to try out the device “later this year,” according to Google.
We’ll want to test the quality of the speakers, how responsive the voice commands are, how much it really is to connect your home in this way, and how good the actual responses are. But, it sounds promising!