Amazon might have flubbed the Fire Phone, but it sure found a hit with the Echo: the Alexa-powered smart home assistant has wowed users while folding them deeper into the retail giant's ecosystem.
And Google wants a piece of that action. Not content to power more than a billion phones, tablets, watches, and laptops and be the go-to web destination for just about everyone, Google aims to invade all of our flats later this year with the release of its Home voice assistant.
The attractive little device can blend in well with your kitchen counter, entertainment center, or bedside table, and give you immediate access to the newly enhanced Google Assistant. You'll use it to search the web, ask myriad queries, control your connected home devices, and plenty more - all without pressing a button.
Eager to bring Google's Home into your own home? Here's what we know so far.
Short and sweet
The Amazon Echo is a tall, black cylinder with a large speaker grate: in other words, it screams tech. Google Home, on the other hand, is built to hide in plain sight and coexist in any room without disrupting your usual home décor. In that respect, it's following in the footsteps of Google's OnHub routers, which also put smarter tech in your space without obviously looking the part.
It has one physical mute button on the back, otherwise there's a touchpad on top for quick commands (like play/pause or changing volume). The LED lights, meanwhile, are subtly blended into that top, white portion. The look is customisable, too, as you can screw off the bottom portion and replace it with one of several different colour metal and fabric options.
Despite its small statue, Google claims that Home has a Hi-Fi ("high-excursion") speaker within, so it ought to be able to fill your home with booming music. The Echo already does a nice job with this, but Home could be even better.
Luckily, you'll have options for playing music and audio through Home. Google says it can pull up songs, playlists, podcasts, and more from an array of services: certainly Google Play Music, but also YouTube Music and others. Fingers crossed for Apple Music eventually, as well, but we're not betting on it.
And if you're listening to something on your Android or iOS device, you can easily cast that music to Google Home with a tap of a button. Furthermore, multiple Home devices and other Google Cast-compatible speakers (via Chromecast Audio, if needed) can be linked together so you can play the same music in multiple rooms at once, or even all rooms of your house.
Google Home will also play nice with any Chromecast devices or Cast-enabled TVs in your house. You can ask Home to pull up a YouTube video or content from the Play Store and it'll send that right over to your television for viewing. Now that's handy.
Ask and receive
Of course, Google's prowess comes with search, and Home is equipped to answer your most curious queries. Thanks to the Google Assistant's newly-unveiled upgrades, you can ask more complex questions and even toss in follow-ups to dig deeper.
One example Google provided was, "What was the U.S. population when NASA was established?" It's a layered question with multiple components, and most voice assistants would probably just attempt a feeble web search. With the Assistant built in, however, Google Home should be able to give you a concise response without delay.
Home will also let you set alarms and timers, manage to-do and shopping lists, pull up package delivery information, give you a heads-up on traffic concerns for your commute, and read off travel itineraries from Gmail. Need more examples? Alright, how about ordering you movie tickets or changing your dinner reservation in an instant?
Google says it'll work with developers to add in more extensive functionality with third-party services, as well, making it easy to order food delivery, send flowers to a loved one, or order a car from a ride-sharing service to come pick you up at your doorstep. Those features might not be available right when Home hits stores, but they're on the roadmap – and Home will only grow smarter over time, especially the more it gets to know you and your tendencies.
Seriously smart home
Beyond handling your entertainment needs and answering your silliest (and most serious) questions, Google Home also aims to be the hub of your increasingly connected home.
Naturally, Nest hardware will be compatible since it's all owned by Google: the company's smart thermometers, smoke detectors, and security cameras will all be controllable with your voice via Home, letting you make changes wherever you are.
But we'll surely see a lot more cross-compatibility with other devices, too, letting you manage lights, switches, and locks with a simple voice command. Philips' Hue lights and SmartThings platform are compatible, plus you can use IFTT for custom smart home recipes. Maybe Home is just what you need to start making your home work smarter for you.
Release date and price
Google Home is available now for pre-orders in the United States, at a price of US$129 - that's $50 less than the Amazon Echo, and a lot cheaper than we expected Google's feature-packed device to weigh in at. The device will begin shipping on 4 November.
Notice that we only have a U.S. date and price? Yeah... unfortunately, there's no Indian info to speak of just yet. Amazon's Echo took almost two years from its U.S. soft launch to make it to India (just recently), and Google will likewise start only in the States.
Google's earlier example video showed a family home with at least three of the Home units in various spaces, along with a couple of connected speakers – but that's probably an ambitious target for most flats. You'll do just fine with one centrally located Home, we imagine, assuming you want always-on access to the Google Assistant and all the (helpful!) data mining that comes along with it.