Last night, I received a shipping notification: The Google Home I ordered is heading my way. But in looking at the first reviews of the device, I can see that this it has one fatal flaw. And it’s a big one.
I don’t usually look at other reviews before I review a product myself. But in this case, I feel a bit out of my depth: My wife and I tried Amazon’s Echo earlier this year, but after just two weeks of use, we decided to return it. It just wasn’t essential. Likewise, my experience with personal digital assistants—Cortana on Windows, Apple’s Siri, and Google Now on Android—has been lackluster too. I just don’t see the day-to-day benefits of this kind of interface.
I’m not a complete Luddite, of course. And I spend much of my time proselytizing the benefits of change while trying to live up to that ideal myself. That old saying is absolutely true sometimes: It’s easier to give advice than it is to take it yourself. So I keep trying.
But Google Home is coming. And in a day or two, my wife and I will once again be confronted by a little alien device in our home, one we can talk to, ask questions of, and direct in various ways.
I casually mentioned the Home’s impending arrival to my wife last night while watching what ended up being a marathon 10-inning Game 7 finale to the World Series. My wife’s take was that it had to be better than the Echo because Google was better at this sort of thing. And I added that a further benefit would be that Google-based queries could extend past this one device; unlike with Echo, we all use Google away from home too, on smartphones and tablets.
But I was troubled by our earlier experiences with Echo. By my wife coldly declaring that “we should just return it” when I asked how it was going. I needed to know what to expect.
So when I sat down bleary-eyed in front of the PC this morning and saw that the earlier reviews were in, I did something I never do.
I read them.
And I read them with intent, not to get a general feeling for the device, but rather to see whether there wasn’t one issue that many reviewers noted, one fatal flaw. And sadly, there is.
Despite being marketed as a device you can use throughout your home—Google envisions a future in which homes have two or three of these things, working in concert—Google Home has no conception at all of multiple users. That is, you must configure it with some Google account. And if it’s your account, that means that your wife, your kids, or anyone else who happens to be within earshot of the thing can run queries. Against your account.
I realize this isn’t unique to Google Home. But we all share a central Amazon account because that’s how a home works. My Google account is … mine. It’s private. As is my wife’s. And my childrens’.
As Popular Mechanics’s Eric Limer writes, this limitation is a real negative.
When my wife asks the Home what’s going on today, she’ll hear about my meetings, and the estimated time of my commute. Reminders she sets will go to my calendar, despite our separate Google accounts and extremely different and easily distinguishable voices. For me, the Home is my personal assistant. For her, well, it is still my personal assistant.
This deficiency might be easier to overlook if it didn’t fly in the face of Google’s pitch so directly. The Home is a centerpiece, and clearly meant to be a communal device with options to dig deeper into personal information. To have that second feature only available for a single user feels like a significant cheapening of the dream, a cheapening that feels all the worse the more people are involved.
Computerworld’s JR Raphael offers a similar view.
Google Home has a glaring flaw … everything that happens through that device will be tied to your Google account — no matter who’s doing the talking. And when you think about that in practical terms, there are plenty of situations in which it could be less than ideal.
I dug around and found a new Google help document that uncategorically confirms Home’s single account nature. [It says] “Today, Google Home only supports a single account on the device — but you can use multiple accounts with your music services.” So there is that one exception
You get the idea.
If it helps, Google has confirmed that the single account nature of Google Home is—wait for it—a “known issue.” This suggests that they will fix this problem. But … when? And I’m starting to wonder if I’ll be returning this thing even more quickly than I did with the Echo. Dammit.