Google has undraped its smart speaker home assistant—aptly called “Home”—at the company’s device launch bonanza today in San Francisco.
Essentially, Home is a glorified speaker with an embedded personal assistant in the same vein as Google Now, but plugs into a wall socket much like Amazon’s Echo. From there, users can trigger the device by speaking the words “OK Google” and then continue forward the conversation with requests like checking calendars and questions about the weather.
Of course, all of these features, such as checking flight times or controlling your heating via Google’s Nest thermostat were already on Android smartphones. But Home isn’t a standalone hardware device to add the your mounting collection of gadgets, according to Google. Today’s launch, along with the Pixel phone, Daydream View VR, and improved Google WiFi routers, is all about software, and entrenching Google’s artificial intelligence-powered personal assistance into the lives of users.
This software is namely the manifestation of Google’s immense knowledge graph built from trillions of searches and its machine learning and artificial intelligence tools. And it’s hard to sell alone, according to Google’s own Rick Osterloh, who heads up the company’s hardware group.
“Hence Google Home,” he said on stage at the launch. “This is the right time to be focused on hardware and software. Building hardware and software together, it lets us harness years of expertise we’ve built up in machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver the simple, smart, and fast experience that our users expect from us.”
Home comes at a time when Google still lags behind in hardware sales compared to rivals such as Apple. The company’s Nexus Android smartphones were steadily gaining popularity since their inception in 2010, but last year’s Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X failed to sell impressively compared to rivals. Google paid attention to that, and this year the Nexus line has been succeeded by the Pixel phone, but even that still struggles to overwhelmingly trump Apple’s iPhone 7 with any significant features (Google instead had to boast about unlimited photo storage and an excellent camera.) And while Google’s Nest thermostat acquisition embedded some smart devices into homes as early as 2014, Amazon has had its Echo device in homes by November that same year.
But Google, unlike Amazon, has a pedigree of engineering staff and software behind it to drive innovation in AI. Naturally, Google has access to as much native data as it needs on users through Google Search, and the company’s DeepMind and machine learning labs are easily helping pushing forward the entirety of Silicon Valley when it comes to artificial intelligence. This could be Google’s trump card.
Home is available to preorder from today, and will ship on November 4 in the US at $129.