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Google: There's No Hub Like Home

By David Jones
Oct 6, 2016 1:47 PM PT
google-home-hub

No longer willing to let Amazon have the space to itself, Google on Tuesday officially launched Google Home, its long-awaited wireless hub. Google Home is an interactive personal assistant and entertainment center that takes full advantage of the company's deep advantages in Web search, AI and machine learning.

Google's vision is to place a customized version of its Google Assistant technology into the hands of every customer, said CEO Sundar Pichai, so it can be wherever they are -- whether out and about with a mobile phone, at a desk using a computer, or relaxing in the living room.

The Google Home device, inspired by the look of a wine glass or candle, is designed to blend seamlessly into the home decor.

Interactive Operation

The voice-activated speaker, powered by Google Assistant, allows users to do everything from listening to music, news and traffic updates to getting a rundown of personal schedules, getting answers to individual questions, beaming photos and video to their televisions, and controlling basic smart lighting and temperature systems.

Google first previewed Home this spring at the annual I/O developers conference. Although the company was more than a year-and-a-half behind Amazon in launching the product, it brought some advantages to the table with its Google Assistant, machine learning and AI capabilities that already were in use in phones, tablets and other devices.

By simply saying "OK Google," a Home user can take advantage of its far-field voice recognition to get a rundown of a daily schedule, listen to traffic and weather updates, or listen to music from one of several launch partners, including Google Play Music, Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, YouTubeMusic or, coming soon, IHeartRadio.

Home Automation Chops

The Google Home hub will be able to control lights, thermostats and electrical switches manufactured by four launch partners: Philips Hue, Nest, Samsung SmartThings and IFTTT.

Google Home is currently available for preorder for US$129 from the Google Store, Best Buy, Target and Walmart, and it will be available in retail stores starting in November. New users will be eligible for a six-month trial of YouTubeRed, which offers ads-free music and video.

Google Home an excellent product to go up against the Amazon Echo, said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

"Google Home has access to Google Assistant, which has access to the most popular search engine and leading-edge machine intelligence," he told TechNewsWorld. "Amazon's Echo Dot can still undercut Google with a lower price, but not in functionality."

Google Home quickly will surpass Amazon's Echo products among mainstream consumers, predicts an IHS Markit report authored by Paul Erickson, senior analyst for the connected home.

The Google Assistant technology will allow the Google Home device to bring a much more personalized experience to the user than Amazon's devices can provide, and Google's technology has greater capabilities in terms of recognizing and deciphering nuances in language, handling unstructured queries, and being available to users across different platforms.

"It's a very similar offering, with better speakers and a lower price," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"It's shortfalls are that it currently lacks the Echo's ever-more-robust ecosystem for home automation, it doesn't support multiple users, and not as many people use Google Music as use Prime Music," he told TechNewsWorld.

In addition, Google Home is only one device, Enderle noted, while Amazon's Echo is part of a growing family of devices, including the Amazon Tap and the Echo Dot, which is a relative bargain at $49.95.


David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.


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How do you feel about flying on a pilotless plane?
No way -- if there's a screw-up, you can't just jump out.
I'd do it -- flights are pretty much entirely automated anyway.
I'm skeptical but open minded, especially if fares would be much less.
I would try it if there were *someone* on board to take over in a pinch.
It's the wave of the future -- I'm resigned to it.