When Google announced its Assistant-powered Home appliance a year ago, I figure it would quickly evolve into the most powerful and useful solution of its kind, thanks to the firm’s deep search engine and machine learning expertise.
“Google is going to get this right,” I wrote at the time.
Well, that didn’t happen right away, of course. Like many, I preordered a Google Home, but by the time it arrived, I had read enough reviews bemoaning its lack of features that I returned it unopened.
But in the months since that November 2016 launch, the search giant has moved quickly to improve the device, and Google Assistant, and today it is closing in on Amazon’s Alexa-based devices from a functional standpoint. The biggest change it made was to address what I described as Google Home’s biggest flaw: It’s lack of support for multiple accounts. Google added multiple account support in April 2017.
That was enough for me to begin reassessing Google Home. But Google’s Home and Assistant announcements at Google I/O 2017, earlier this month, finally put it over the top. So I’ve ordered a second one, which will arrive today.
While I have many reasons for believing that Google will prevail over Amazon Echo—and over Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana, too—my basic opinions from a year ago are just as valid today: Google is ubiquitous, it has unmatched search engine and AI expertise, and it is thus the most well-positioned of these companies to deliver on what I call ambient computing. In other words, we should be able to—will be able to—access the underlying services we care about the most (Google’s and third parties) from anywhere at any time.
But this type of home-based appliance is, of course, still just a stepping stone to our ambient computing future.
Consider one simple issue: You have two or more devices, say a phone and a computer, and you use the trigger phrase for the digital assistant you’ve selected. “Hey, Cortana,” “OK, Google,” whatever. What happens today? Multiple devices light up and try to answer your question.
This is what happens with Skype as well: These different instances of the assistant have no understanding of each other, creating a cacophony of devices all competing for your attention. What should be a benefit becomes a curse, especially if they don’t recover well, or at all.
I’m curious to see how Google handles this, as I already have Assistant on my Pixel XL with voice activation enabled. Will it fight with Google Home? Or will they work more intelligently and not step on each others’ virtual toes?
We’ll see. But there are many more things I’m curious to test that will have more of a short-term impact too. The screen integration functionality with both phones and Chromecast-connected HDTVs. The coming hands-free calling functionality. The multiple user support. The new conversational capabilities. Proactive notifications. And much more. It’s like a whole new world is suddenly opening up.
Which is, of course, the point.
Last year, Google Home seemed like a great idea but it was initially pretty constrained. This year, it still seems like a great idea, but Google has grown the device’s capabilities exponentially. And maybe, finally, it’s ready for prime time.
I’ll let you know.