Google Home: Bluetooth Connected Speaker
Google Home: Bluetooth Connected Speaker
Author Nikhil Kanamarla
Today, Google’s senior vice president of Android and Chrome OS tweeted, “I have a feeling eight years from now we’ll be talking about Oct. 4, 2016.” The search giant just held its latest hardware event, showing off a large number of new products and services, including Google Home. Home was introduced as part of Google’s ambitious push to become a vertically integrated hardware company, and the first step of this plan is a advance into the living room. Google is attempting to mirror the development process of Apple products. The company builds and optimizes the software with the hardware, which creates a consistent user experience with fast software updates and reliable performance. Vertical Integration is a key part of the quality of Apple’s products. Steve Jobs ushered in this design philosophy early on with the launch of the Macintosh computer. The biggest upside to this type of design is the full autonomy a company gains over both the hardware and the software of a product.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the Home is it’s simple and sleek appearance. The device comes in a design that is meant to blend into its surroundings, with a familiar white aesthetic and various detachable fabric and metal bases. The Google Home also has two microphones allowing for great voice recognition. The top of the Home acts as a touchpad, to play or pause music and modify volume. All interaction is triggered by the phrase “Hey Google” or “Okay Google”. For example, if I am sitting at my desk and want to change the music, I would say “Hey Google, play my electronic concentration playlist on Spotify.”
The Home also brings with it many useful and convenient functions. For example, the Home can stream music over bluetooth from a variety of sources, create lists and timers which help for organization, and answer questions using the power of Google Search. The device can also relay weather information, calendar information, and the news in a quick and reliable fashion. These functions come in the form of the Google Assistant, an AI assistant which is similar to Amazon’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri. The key part of this functionality is that the Home can have human conversations, allowing it to understand the context of a search and use that in subsequent searches. For example, if you were to ask “Who is the current president of the United States?”, the assistant would return with “Donald Trump.” Then, if you asked “How old is he?”, it would return that the president is 70. The key part in this example is the Home being able to understand who you are referring to with the pronoun “He” and keep the conversation going.
The Google Home also integrates smoothly with other hardware and software products. For example, the Home can play a Youtube video on a Chromecast through a simple voice command. It can also interact with IOT (Internet of Things) devices such as the Nest thermostat, the Philips Hue lightbulb and SmartThings. On the software side, the Home can relay the top featured products on websites such as Product Hunt and Amazon. Meanwhile, the Home’s already impressive list of compatible softwares and hardwares are growing rapidly.
However, there are a few notable drawbacks to the Google Home at this time. The Home can’t send messages, make calls, or read emails, but that functionality is hopefully coming soon. The Google Home also tends to work better with Android phones than iPhone. This is due to the closed ecosystem of iOS, which is unlikely to change in the coming future. An example of the compatibility issues with a closed ecosystem is the calendar. For example, if I were to ask “What’s on my calendar?” using an iPhone and it’s default calendar app, then the Home won’t be able to tell me. However, if I ask the same query on an Android device, it works perfectly. Another drawback to the Home is the lack of multi-account capabilities. This is because the Home cannot recognize individual voices, making separate, specialized accounts impossible. The addition of this feature would make the Home more useful for everyone in a family. Finally, many consumers will be wary of purchasing a Google Home because of privacy concerns. However, there is a microphone mute button on the back of the Home if needed. This allows the Home to not listen to users unless they press the touchpad.
In conclusion, the potential of the Home’s advancement vastly outstrips its current functionality. Google’s cloud infrastructure and artificial intelligence capabilities will allow the assistant to improve over the coming years. This will eventually make the Google Assistant much more capable than Amazon’s Alexa, as Amazon doesn't have the engineering talent or funds to match Google’s efforts. While the Amazon Alexa currently has over 1,000 hardware and software integrations, I predict the Google Assistant will eclipse that number in the coming months. Because of this, the Home should also become the center of the IOT interface in the connected home of the future, acting in tandem with a smartphone as the access point to all the devices in your house. From your lights to your washing machine, in this new IOT world the Google Home will be essential.
The battle for the living room has certainly intensified. Google has succeeded, and possibly excelled, in creating a product that can compete with the $180 Amazon Echo for a lower price of only $130. The Home blends into its surroundings while the Echo appears to be a dark, towering skynet-esque device. The Google Assistant is better than the Alexa in terms of integration into apps and contextual information. And the final nail in the coffin is the Google Home’s ability to expand and sharpen its capabilities at a quicker rate than the Echo. The Google Home is a powerful bluetooth connected speaker powered by the Google assistant, coming soon to living rooms everywhere.