I live, breathe, and sleep in a Google world.

Ironically, I often do this from an iPhone and an iPad Pro in my daily routine. My laptop of choice is typically a Chromebook Pixel (because I hate the overhead of Windows 10 when I'm only typing and browsing the web). And, for the past year or so, I've been talking out loud to a personal assistant named Alexa in my office.

I'm known to ask her some unusual questions, and some of them even work. I've ordered a pizza (green olive and extra cheese), locked my front door, and asked her to read me a Bill Bryson book. She doesn't have an English accent, but maybe that's a future skill. Unfortunately, if they add that I may never test it, because there's a new personal assistant in town and "it" doesn't have a name (yet).

Google announced the Home speaker yesterday, a device that--at only $129--costs exactly $50 less than the Amazon Echo. You can talk to the Google Assistant, which needs a friendlier name, and get directions to a meeting, ask about the weather in Minneapolis, and even help you with research on a new project at work. "How many people live in the U.K.?" actually tells you it's 64 million. "When was the iPhone first released" gives you the answer, with less typing on a keyboard.

During the keynote to introduce the products, Sundar Pichai (the CEO of Google) noted how this is the new Google, an A.I.-driven, machine learning enabled, deep learning empowered company that is ready for the coming age of superintelligence--a buzzword that basically means we won't know if we're talking to a human or a machine. Say what you will about that being dystopian, but it's coming.

What are some of the coolest features on Home? I haven't tested one yet but it's clearly intended as an all-purpose product for home and, in my opinion, the modern office. The Home speaker will let you control the Nest thermostat, the Philips Hue lights, and the Chromecast streamer. We'll use it to lock the doors and turn on the sprinklers eventually, but for now it can also translate phrases for you from one language to another, control apps like Spotify and Pandora, and engage in dialogue with you where it understands the context of the conversation.

The fact that it ties into Google will have some obvious implications. Maybe we will use the Google Assistant on the Home speaker to talk to our car in the near future. We can connect and sync up with an Android phone today to many recent makes and models, so it's not a stretch to ask Google to back the car out of the garage for you. Ford is already working on this with Amazon, and Tesla lets you "summon" your Model S sedan using a keyfob. I can easily picture a future scenario where you ask Google to drive your autonomous car over to Starbucks and pick you up.

It's a bold move, but there are some questions about the speaker itself. Let's say the A.I. is so vastly superior to Alexa that we decide to talk to the Assistant all day long. If the speaker is terrible compared to products by companies like House of Marley or Beats, we won't use them at home or in a conference room. The Home is too small to have powerful, room-filling sound. And, Alexa has a serious head start. My Echo connects to the Vivint security system and can open the garage doors at my house. I can order products from Amazon.com, and the assistant knows which books I have in my Audible audiobook library. There are countless third parties that offer a "skill" for Alexa, including my personal favorite--ordering a Domino's.

I'll do a full hands-on review soon comparing the Home to other similar speakers and the Echo, and test out the speaker in a business context to help me in my daily routine. Stay tuned. Until then, get ready for the A.I. assistant battle.

Published on: Oct 5, 2016
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