Smart-home conversations just got louder, as Google has announced details around its voice-activated speaker, Google Home—the tech giant’s response to the popular Amazon Echo. Powered by the new Google Assistant service, voice request conversations begin with “OK, Google,” and will be able to control smart-home accessories, music services, and respond to a wide range of questions when the device becomes available in November. And in a play to bolster the busy networks in those smart homes, the company also announced Google WiFi, a distributed Wi-Fi system that will compete with products from the likes of startup Eero.
Designed to sit on a desktop, shelf, or tabletop, Google Home will respond to Assistant voice commands issued by humans stationed nearby or across the room—placing it squarely in competition with the Echo and its Amazon Alexa voice service. While Amazon has a two-year lead over Google on this voice-recognition technology, Google will undoubtedly take advantage of its search-engine prowess to help propel Assistant forward. And the concurrent launch of the new high-end Google Pixel phone—the first smartphone equipped with Google Assistant—will further promote adoption.
Predictably, Google and their Alphabet family sibling Nest Labs are touting the fact that Google Home will be able to control the Nest Learning Thermostat out of the gate. But, the Echo can already control those same thermostats. And along the same lines, Home will support integration with Samsung SmartThings smart-home accessories, another skill already supported by Echo. So things are getting quite interesting, and increasingly meshed.
To a lesser extent, Google Home and Assistant will also compete with the Apple Siri personal assistant, as there is yet no Apple equivalent of a Siri-enabled voice-activated speaker. With the recent iOS 10 upgrade and the presence of the new Home app on the launch screen of every device running iOS 10, the use of Siri to control Apple HomeKit-compatible smart-home accessories will likely rise significantly.
With Google Home—and its support for music, podcasts, or radio from services including Google Play Music, Spotify, YouTube Music, Pandora, and TuneIn at launch—Google appears to be establishing its first foothold in audio hardware. And by enabling Home speakers in multiple rooms to be grouped together in software such that they can concurrently play the same tracks, Google will be competing directly to some extent with the Sonos system in whole-home audio. Apple, by the way, recently began selling Sonos products in its Apple Stores and online, and bundling them with their Apple Music service—also an interesting development.
Google WiFi is designed to replace the typical solo router in today’s homes, and specifically to address the common scenario where multiple devices may be downloading, streaming, and sharing high-bandwidth-consuming content at once. And, like Eero, the system is architected around having multiple distributed Wi-Fi access points to optimize network access. Google will offer single and multi-packs of Google WiFi devices, which can be managed by the the Google WiFi app on Android or iOS.
The smart-home landscape continues to evolve rapidly, and we look forward to bringing these new Google products into our smart-home labs as they become available. Google Home can be pre-ordered for $129 and will begin shipping in early November. Google WiFi will be $129 singly or $299 in a three-pack, and will be available for pre-order in November in advance of its December shipping date. Stay tuned for more in-depth analysis and recommendations.
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.