Google unveiled its Amazon Echo competitor, Google Home, at its I/O conference last week and a cursory comparison of the two home speakers armed with smart personal assistants makes it tough to pick a clear winner. That is, until you dig a little deeper into what both digital butlers can do.
Both devices sit in your home or office, where they are always listening for a wake-up phrase. Home and Echo can both stream music from a handful of services, control certain smart home systems, and handle other conversational requests like managing a calendar or to-do list, checking on flight status and packages, and basic search queries.
Google Home will not be available until later this year, so we can't say if it is on par with Echo's really superb voice recognition abilities and decent-enough sound output. But we can presume it will have a few advantages, given Google's long track record building out its Google Now voice assistant, which it is essentially now repackaging as the "Google Assistant" for Home.
Google's voice assistant has the ability to understand follow-up questions, technically making it a bit smarter than Alexa, the platform that powers Echo. It also seems safe to assume Google's assistant may be able to handle searches a bit more robustly and integrate well with other native Google services like Gmail, Hangouts, and YouTube.
One trick that's unique to Google Home is its ability to control other screens and speakers in the house that are connected to a Chromecast.
But my hunch is that's not nearly enough for Home to catch up with Echo's significant head start. Amazon's Alexa platform has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year thanks to the ability of developers to create new "skills" for the Alexa platform, ranging from ordering a pizza to playing all sorts of trivia games to hailing an Uber.
When Google unveiled Home, it didn't announce when or if it would allow developers similar access to create something analogous to Alexa's skills for Google Assistant.
Perhaps this will happen over the summer, perhaps not. If there was ever a time to send the message to developers to start thinking up ways to take advantage of Google Home and Assistant, I/O would have been it. Google Now, with its voice recognition capability, has been around for years, but the company has yet to throw open the doors to developers and turn it into a full-blown, voice-controlled platform.
Until Google converts assistant to the type of platform that allowed Alexa and Echo to grow into a sleeper hit over the past year, Google Home is likely to go the way of so many forgotten hardware products that have come out of Mountain View.