|Category||Intelligent Personal Assistants|
|Announced||4th October 2016 |
Consumers: 4 November 2016 
|Price||129 USD |
|Operating system||Android, iOS |
Google Home is a "smart home" device developed by Google, Inc.. Similarly to Amazon Echo, it is a voice-activated intelligent personal assistant speaker designated as a standalone device for use in households, unlike other personal assistants, such as Cortana or Siri, which require a smartphone or a computer to work. It is powered by Google's own intelligent personal assistant software, Google Assistant.
It provides the user with various services, ranging from alarm, calculator, or a weather forecast, through translator, daily news, playing music, or TV streaming, to traffic and travel information, shopping, thermostat and light control, as well as many others. It also offers access to a number of partner services, including YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, IFTTT, WeMo, Google Calendar and Google Photos.
Google Home was released on 4 November 2016 in the United States of America for $129, and on 6 April 2017 it was also made available in the United Kingdom for £129. On 2 June 2017 it became available for pre-order in Canada for $179.00 CDN with a retail date of 26 June 2017. So far, it has not been released in any other countries, but Google aims to expand it soon also to Australia, as well as Germany, France and Japan. In addition to English, it is also gaining support for multiple languages: French, German, Brazilian Portuguese and Japanese soon with Italian, Spanish and Korean coming later.
Google Home is a cylindrically shaped device approximately 14.3 centimetres high, and 9.6 centimetres in diameter. The top surface of the device has a touch-capacitive control panel and four multi-colored LED lights indicating that it is working. The device consists of two parts: first, the main white-colored body equipped with the control panel, two microphones with far-field voice recognition, and an integrated high-excursion speaker (2" driver with dual 2" passive radiators), and second, the base that can be customized with different colors and finishes to reflect the user's personal style (the default base comes in slate fabric, while the other colors need to be bought separately). The device connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi and cannot work offline. It is not battery-powered and thus needs to be connected to a power outlet.
The user can activate the device either by pressing the top panel for a couple of seconds or saying the wake word ("OK Google" or "Hey Google"). If done correctly, the four LED lights on the top of the device turn on indicating that it has caught the user's attention and is ready to listen to his or her demands. After that the user can begin issuing commands using plain language. These are received by the device's two microphones, and processed by its software, which then generates appropriate response in synthetic voice and, if the user asks for more than just some sort of information, performs the desired action.
Unlike its rival, Amazon Echo, it is even capable of recognizing different voices, and thus generating personalized answers for different people. In the official video provided by Google, this is illustrated by a young man coming to kitchen in the morning saying "OK Google, tell me about my day", with the device responding with "Good morning, Alex. Traffic to work is heavy. It is forty-five minutes by car", and then his partner saying "Hey Google, tell me about my day", followed by the device's response "Good morning, Ross. By 10 a.m. you have your first meeting". It is possible to link up to six accounts to the Google Assistant built into the device via the Home app. When adding a new account, the device needs first to learn to recognize the new voice, which is done by saying "OK Google" and "Hey Google" - the wake words for the Home - two times each. Google Home will then use this training to distinguish between voices when receiving a command and respond accordingly. It can play customized playlists, in addition to telling the user about his or her schedule and commute. Non-recognized voices can of course still ask the device to look up information, play trivia, set a timer, control smart home devices etc.
Google Home is setup by the Home app in Android or iOS. After that it could be controlled by voice, app or remote control. It is supposed to work well even in a noisy environment due to its microphones' far-field voice recognition tech, but according to the review on TechRadar, its performance in this regard is a little weaker than Amazon Echo's, possibly due to its reliance on two microphones rather than its Amazon rival's five, meaning that the user may "end up repeating [himself or herself] or raising [his or her] voice to get its attention more". The review on CNET including a video demonstration of the two devices' listening and voice-recognition skills speaks otherwise, however, so their comparative performance is probably dependent on various factors and the overall differences are mostly negligible.
Similarly to Amazon Echo, Google Home can also be used to control other compatible household appliances such as the smart lightbulbs from Philips or Belkin, or the smart WeMo coffee maker, in addition to its personal assistant functions.
Since its release on 4 November 2016, the device has received several new features, such as the multi-user support mentioned above, and further upgrades are currently under development. These include hands-free calling, proactive assistance (e.g. warning the user of bad traffic before a commute), visual responses (via the user's smartphone or television), shortcuts (triggering multiple app commands and devices at once with a single command), and various entertainment upgrades.
Google Home is a voice command-driven household smart speaker that allows the user to search for information, play music, stream TV, set tasks, make hands-free calls, shop, control various household appliances etc., as well as access various partner services, such as YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, IFTTT, WeMo, Google Calendar, Google Photos, and several others.
Company & People
Google Home has been developed by Google, Inc. based in Menlo Park, California, a leading subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc. based in Googleplex, Mountain View, California.
- Larry Page - co-founder of Google and CEO of Alphabet
- Sergey Brin - co-founder of Google and President of Alphabet
- Sundar Pichai - CEO of Google
- Mario Queiroz - VP of product management at Google, "the man behind Google Home"
- 4 October 2016: the announcement of Google Home at the company's hardware-announcing event
- 4 November 2016: the release date of Google Home for the United States of America
- 6 April 2017: the release date of Google Home for the United Kingdom
- 26 June 2017: the release date of Google Home for Canada
One feature of the enhancement provided by Google Home is the control of smart devices. While a considerably large amount of these is already available for households, such as "smart" lightbulbs, thermostats, coffee machines, or various switches, Google Home provides a solution to control them all at once via a single device. Since the development of "smart home" devices is still in its beginnings, one can expect that the variety of these will grow even further in the future. Similarly to Amazon Echo, Google Home also supports the IFTTT (if-this-then-that) app. This app allows the user to create even more complex commands than those available in the original list, such as "open the garage when my car enters a drive way" or "read the news headlines every day at 8 a.m.".
Another enhancing feature of Google Home is that it can provide various kind of information just after the voice command. It includes the weather forecast, the density of a traffic on the supposed way, the recipe, which its user requires for cooking and more. It could read headlines from the news and it could answers user's questions. Moreover, if asked to do so, it can also link the original online sources of the provided information (e.g. the recipe in question) on smartphone or computer. It is also capable, among other things, of converting currency, tuning musical instruments, booking flights, or translating between various languages.
Even though Google Home does not have an equivalent of Amazon Echo's "Skills", it supports a number of third party services, such as Uber or Domino's, thus enabling the user to order a taxi or purchase pizza by a single voice command. Other documented third party services supported by Google Home include 21 Blackjack, Best Dad Jokes, Product Hunt, Tender, or Todoist.
Google Home also offers a very helpful feature of remembering things. The user can simply ask the device to remember anything, preferably something about specific items, like "where you put it" or "what it is" (e.g. "OK Google, remember that I put my passport in the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet"), Google Home will confirm that it remembers what it has been told it by speaking it back to the user, and the user can then ask the device where that particular item is or what he or she said about it (e.g. "OK Google, where is my passport?"). While the remember feature of Google Home works best for items, the user is free to get creative and use it to remember other things, such as when he or she last did something (e.g. "OK Google, remember that I watered the hermit crabs this morning"; or "OK Google, remember that I called mom today"). In these cases, the feature is less reliable, however, and recalling the desired thing may prove to be somewhat difficult, because the user has to pay special attention to how he or she phrases the command. While it does not necessarily pose a problem in some cases ("OK Google, what did I tell you about the hermit crabs?"), in others it can get quite tricky and the exact phrase required can feel unnatural to say and can be even grammatically wrong ("OK Google, what did I tell you about 'called mom'?"). Thus, recalling the items Google Home has been told to remember can be finicky at times, especially if the user can't remember how he or she originally phrased the commands. To recall everything Google Home has been told to remember, however, the user can simply say "OK Google, what did I tell you to remember?". Google Home can be also asked to forget anything that it has remembered - for example, saying "OK Google, forget what I told you about my passport" will stop the device from storing anything it has been told to remember about the user's passport. However, as reported by CNET, managing everything Google Home has been told to remember is clunky at best. The only way to find out everything the user has had Google remember is apparently to ask. There's no way to manage it in the Google Home app. Moreover, the reminders for each remembered item have to be deleted individually, so it may take some time.
Because of voice control, Google Home can be very helpful for elderly and disabled people. Furthermore, it provides many new possibilities for disabled people, especially quadriplegic, and makes them more independent. It could be also easily controlled by visually impaired people.
Ethical & Health Issues
The main issue with Google Home is that it provides Google with a significant amount of the users' personal data, which the company can then use to serve its own needs without their control. While it is true that the user can to a large extent choose which information he or she will provide (the device does not, of course, "force" the user to disclose anything), many of Google Home's essential features are based of making use of the user's personal data, and therefore without sharing it, the device cannot be utilized to its full potential. There have been also privacy concerns. Since the device always listens, there is possibility that it spies in their users' household. The listening of the device could be turned off by the button, however, or simply by telling it to stop listening.
Another issue may be with Google Home's remembering feature. When asked to remember some sensitive data, anyone can then recall these simply by using a proper voice-command. More importantly, as reported by CNET, "managing everything you've told Google Home to remember is clunky at best. The only way to find out everything you've had Google remember is to ask. There's no way to manage it in the Google Home app". Thus, the user has no accessible overview of what the device has been told to remember, and access to these data cannot be effectively managed, except by telling the device what exactly to forget.
As with other intelligent personal assisstants, there is also a danger that users of Google Home may prioritise the contact with the device over the social contact. Especially, when the personal assistants tend to be more human-like.
Public & Media Impact and Presentation
So far, the reception of Google Home has been generally positive and its reviews have been mostly favourable. Since Google Home has been released only after its rival, Amazon Echo, had been already available to customers for several months, it has been intensively compared with its Amazon counterpart. The comparative reviews speakly almost uniformly in Google Home's favour, although there are some areas, where Amazon Echo allegedly performs better. Andrew Gebhart of CNET created a comparative list of both devices' features and capabilities, and considers Google Home to be "in the lead", even though "the Echo's far from finished". Swapnil Bhartiya of CIO was even more decided on the matter:
I feel that Google Home has a clear edge over Amazon Echo in every department. As a tech enthusiast I have both. I like both. Though I lean more towards Google Home as it offers a very natural conversation and it will gain even more features with future updates.
In general, Google Home has been rated better than Amazon Echo for its better-looking design that can integrate anywhere around the home, touchpanel controls, greater future potential, and more in-depth conversational and search-based results (i.e. simply being "smarter"). Another advantageous feature of Google Home is its multi-user support enabling personalized answers, which is something that Amazon Echo is still not capable of. And last, but not least, it comes $50 cheaper than its Amazon counterpart, which costs $180.
Compared with Amazon Echo, however, it has also been rated unfavourably in certain areas. It has less third-party app support than Amazon Echo, the Google Assistant does not supposedly sound as good as Amazon Alexa, and it is not much good for a non-Google user.
Based on the available reviews, Google Home has been thus considered to be overally the better one of the two. It has been also agreed, however, that in its current state it has many limitations, and therefore more is expected from it in the future. As written by Dan Seifert of The Verge, "the Home is a pretty useless assistant in its current form":
Sure, it can answer questions like how far away the moon is, or tell me how many cups are in a liter, or set a timer for my cookies in the oven when I ask it to. I can ask it to wake me up at six in the morning, then ask it to snooze the alarm when I don’t want to wake up at 6AM. It can give me a news briefing on command, put things on a shopping list, or tell me the score of the most recent Broncos game and when the next game will be. A lot of these functions are exactly the same as the Echo’s, but Google’s intelligence shines through in small ways: it knows that when I ask to be woken up at six tomorrow, I’m referring to 6AM and not 6PM. Alexa isn’t smart enough for that and asks me to clarify.
It’s also smart enough to remember the context of prior questions, so I can use pronouns with follow ups, which is something Alexa on the Echo cannot do. An example is asking "Who is the president of the United States?" and then asking "When was he born?" or "When did he take office?" and so on. It will even tell jokes. The only thing that really spoils this conversational experience is the fact that I have to say "OK Google" before each and every question.
But as smart as the Home and Google Assistant is, none of the things it does are proactive — at least, not yet. They all require me to ask it to do something. A true assistant would know when I need to wake up in the morning based on my schedule, or know when I need to leave for my next meeting. It would know that I typically go grocery shopping on Sundays and would have a list of usual things I buy ready to go in the morning and ask me if there’s anything I’d like to add. Even better, it’d place an order for those groceries for me, so they’d be delivered to my door automatically.
Many of the features that have been missed, such as the proactive assistance mentioned above by Seifert, are currently under development, however, and even more are likely to come in the future.
We have not recorded any public policy that regards Google Home yet.
Related Technologies, Projects, or Scientific Research
There are many related technologies supported by Google Home. These include TV and video streaming devices (Google Chromecast, Google Nexus Player, Nvidia Shield, Razer Forge TV, and Sony Bravia TVs as well as Vizio Smartcast TVs), smart speakers (Google Chromecast Audio, Vizio SmartCast Crave, and LG Music Flow products), smart thermostats and climate control (Nest, Honeywell, Ecobee), smart lighting (LIFX, Philips Hue Bridge), and various other compatible products (Smart Lock etc.).
Full list of Google Home compatible products has been provided by CNET.
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