Google Home now competes with Amazon Echo in household automation
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Google Home, Google's answer to Amazon Echo. Photo credit: Google

Google Home, Google's answer to Amazon Echo. Photo credit: Google

Google Home hopes to take a bite out of Amazon Echo

To further its Google Assistant blitz, Google also debuted on Tuesday its answer to Amazon Echo in the field of household automation: Google Home, which was first announced at I/O 2016.

It will be available at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and on the Google Store for $129, with a six-month free trial of YouTube Red included. Retail versions will go out on November 4.

Google Home. Photo credit: Google

Google Home. Photo credit: Google

The tower has a touch panel alongside voice operation. As the Verge correctly predicted, the device has been built with music streaming in mind to try and claim an advantage over Echo. It also has multi-room audio support, so when making requests, only the device that clearly heard the user will act on the input.

Google Home's speakers. Photo credit: Google / YouTube

Google Home’s speakers. Photo credit: Google / YouTube

Google’s Rishi Chandra, speaking at the conference, emphasized the music features in particular paired with YouTube Music where Google Assistant can search playlists and albums for user-requested content descriptions. It also supports Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio.

“When you know what you want to watch, just ask for it,” he told the audience.

Google Assistant’s “snippets” feature will also alllow it to answer pre-set questions where the user may not know what website to direct the question to. Unlike Echo, though, it is not as linked-in to e-commerce portals for online shopping.

One of the more whimsical features of Home is that it can do a “coin toss” when prompted … though we just have to take its word whether the result is heads or tails.

Google hopes that Home will take away market share from the Echo, which first debuted in 2014.

Should you be concerned for your privacy?

The demonstration videos showed how Google is working with appliance manufacturers and other home service companies to automate houses. One of the new areas all of this opens up, though, is home security. Echo uses a distinct user-selected “wake word” as an activation key, and Home will also have the option to turn off the device when recording is not desirable. But speaker devices such as these still come with several online privacy concerns, in particular its storage of voice clips from its users and location tracking.

Since some of the apps supported include door locks, it is advisable that users set up a passcode rather than just leave the command setting at “unlock the lock” without a prompt. The Gizmodo review of Echo ($179.99), which uses the Alexa voice command software, noted that Alexa was not able to distinguish between the reviewer and her roommate’s voices.

The candle-like tower will support Chromecast, which also got an upgrade announced today: to Chromecast Ultra ($69), with Ethernet and 4K video. It will be available later this November.

To learn more, you can watch the announcement here:

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