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Google Assistant Gains Momentum in Smart Home Race

By Peter Suciu
May 5, 2018 5:00 AM PT
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Google Assistant, the artificial intelligence software built into Android handsets and the Google Home smart speaker system, now can control more than 5,000 smart devices, Google announced Thursday. That's up from just 1,500 products in January -- and the list of supported products includes everything from cameras and security systems to doorbells, locks and lights, to dryers, dishwashers and refrigerators.

Google's smart home platform has grown exponentially since its released in the fall of 2016. It can turn an ordinary living room into an entertainment center, with the handset designated as the main control panel for gizmos and gadgets throughout the house.

Google now supports devices from every major electronics product brand, and the list continues to grow. Google recently announced that it would offer support for IKEA lights and Deutsche Telekom's Magenta hub of products.

Plans for this month include Google Assistant integration with DISH's Hopper family of set-top boxes; security alarm devices from ADT, First Alert and Vivint Smart Home; smart door locks from August and Schlage; and home security cameras from Panasonic.

Many other products will add Google Assistant compatibility in the coming months, including Hunter Douglas window treatments, Hisense's line of H9E Plus TVs, and LG appliances.

Catching Amazon

Google and Amazon appear to have a solid lead in the smart home space. Amazon earlier this year boasted Alexa voice assistant integration with around 4,000 devices. That number hasn't been updated since then, but it is clear that the two companies are well ahead of rival systems such as Apple's HomeKit and Samsung's SmartThings.

Those platforms each list support for around 200 devices. Given that manufacturers may be inclined to pick just one "team" to support, closing the gap could be very difficult.

"This race is a sprint from the beginning," said Josh Crandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research.

"It looks like Google and Amazon are breaking away from Siri -- HomeKit -- in the first lap," he told TechNewsWorld. "There's no doubt that Google considers this race incredibly important and recognizes it is playing catch-up to Amazon's Alexa product."

Ecosystem of Developers

Google has been able to leverage its vast ecosystem of developers to bring all of its own technology to bear in this race with Amazon.

"By making the announcement, Google is letting the industry know that it's serious about unlocking the potential of Google Home," said Crandall.

"Developers and [Internet of Things] companies will take heed that 5,000 devices are interwoven into the fabric of Google Home, and start developing for the platform if they haven't already begun to do so," he predicted.

"In other words, Google is saying 'Look at all of the third-party development happening on our platform. If you don't support Google Home, watch out, because we're here to stay,'" Crandall said.

More Than Support

The number of supported devices may be meaningless to most consumers -- especially as most consumers aren't about to go out and replace all their products and devices just to add smart home functionality, regardless of which company provides the support.

"The total number of supported devices [won't] have much to do with success or market staying power of these branded AI-based services," explained Paul Teich, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

"This is really about adding value to consumers' lives," he told TechNewsWorld, "but the only standards that matters here are 'does the system give me a useful answer to my question?' and 'did it do exactly what I asked it to do?'"

Thus the number of supported devices may not matter much at this point.

"APIs are easy to adjust for, or even to use multiple services," Teich pointed out.

Two-Company Race?

Consumers ultimately will decide which platform or platforms will be winners in the smart home market.

"Amazon has an upper hand here. It is already directly connected to more consumers in a more intimate fashion than Google, and Amazon is more connected to Apple customers," suggested Teich.

However, "t doesn't really matter how many consumers are actually integrating these products into the platform yet," noted Netpop's Crandall.

"All they need to know is that when they are ready to integrate smart home appliances into their smart speakers, the speaker they have selected will have sufficient support," he added.

In the end, the competition could come down to two platforms that both give consumers some choice while declining to support a plethora of incompatible devices.

"Similar to the need to support Android and iOS, developers and IoT companies may have to support a couple of platforms for voice interfaces," said Crandall.

"In a similar vein, you'll notice that there are only two major smartphone operating systems," he added. "Developers can't support three, and as a result Windows Phone has disappeared. It's clear that the momentum in this space belongs to Amazon and Google. If something doesn't change soon, Siri and HomeKit will be sitting the rest of this race out."


Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and FoxNews.com. Email Peter.


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