Google Home, Take 2

Posted on May 23, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Hardware, Mobile, Android, Smart Home with 26 Comments

Google Home, Take 2

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.


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Comments (26)

26 responses to “Google Home, Take 2”

  1. khanman

    I'm curious to get your take on how adaptable Google Home is to someone living in the Microsoft world, and would love you to write something on this. I find the Echo to be more Microsoft-friendly.

  2. Care

    I'm an admitted Windows phone holdout, but this is why I haven't enabled Hey Cortana on my Xbox One. I use it constantly on my phone for handsfree calling.

  3. wolters

    Music, via Google Music, still has some problems. You can't simply shuffle your music. I can tell the Echo to "Shuffle My Music" and it does just that. Might be a minor issue to come but I am a music lover.

  4. dcdevito

    I still think a hardware refresh is coming in the fall, I'm waiting

  5. bfarkas

    Echo has solved your main issue nicely. If i stand in between two of my echo devices and say the trigger word, both light up, but the one that is hearing me better proceeds to carry out my request and the other silently stops listening. The only way you know it is happening is the blue ring lighting up and then going dark.

  6. Lateef Alabi-Oki

    If you have multiple Google Assistant devices and you trigger the keyword, only one of them will respond to your request.

  7. MutualCore

    Honestly I think Paul & Brad overhype this 'ambient computing' thing because THEY are deeply into it. Nobody I know owns an Echo, Google Home or even smart lights. This is way overhyped right now and Microsoft is taking their time to get it right with the software.

  8. Mark from CO


    Another nice article that underscores Microsoft's vulnerabilities.

    I think the market facts are such that Microsoft really has no chance in this segment. The easy reason why? No consumers. This is a consumer product primarily. It will primarily attract consumers. Google has billions of consumers. Amazon, as a Technology retail firm also (most likely) has billions world wide. Apple, probably, falls a distant third, but still a sizeable and committed number of folks. Microsoft?  Doesn't it have 500 million W10 users? Indeed, but 99% of W10 users use either an Android or iPhone. For a Microsoft customer, which would you choose to use? My guess - an ambient service that integrates into the phone platform your using!

    Microsoft is three years late (a lifetime in Tech years) and will be at least 3 generations behind Amazon and Google. What gives us any hope that Microsoft can really not just match, but exceed, where its two main competitors are right now?

    Mark from CO

  9. Bats

    Lol... This is not Google Home Take 2. It's actually Paul Thurrott Take 2. This is what happens when you don't pay attention to what the developers are saying, you end up believing in false facts and.....FATAL Flaws. Multi account support was always coming to Google Home, but like all of Google products it takes time.... like Surface Pro and USB-C. GOOGLE just wants to release the product so they can control the standards. It's a play from the Microsoft playbook without the bugs.

    Anyway,.... Who is Paul trying to fool? He's gonna do nothing but look for ways to bash the product, because it's from Google. Plus it gives him something to write about. Lol.

    • ym73

      In reply to Bats:

      Are you seriously saying that Google's software, including android, has no bugs? Android in the beginning had many bugs, it was slow, and to this day it still has plenty of security issues. Any software that is supposed to run on an endless combination of hardware will have bugs. Even Apple, with its limited selection of hardware, has plenty of bugs, just less than windows and android.

      • Tony Barrett

        In reply to ym73:

        Sure, Android has plenty of bugs, so does iOS, and MS definitely do - more than they'd ever admit to. Bugs are a way of life with software, but it's down to how seriously the developer takes them. Google *seem* to care, and take time to bring things to market with as many bugs squashed as possible. MS just release any old junk at whatever stage of development - hardware and software.

  10. wunderbar

    i personally can't wait for the Home to Come to Canada. Will order it the second I'm able.

  11. Simard57

    I am surprised that these devices do not come built to be used as a home intercom system. If I have one upstairs and one downstairs, a natural use would be to be able to make them aware of each other and use them as an intercom.

    Alexa doesn't do this

    I see no evidence that Google does either.

    • evox81

      In reply to Simard57:

      I suspect that there's a very simple reason they have no interest in incorporating such a feature: Most people won't buy more than one of these. And the relatively niche nature of such a feature means adding it wouldn't entice people to change that habit.

      Besides, you can already buy wireless intercoms.

    • ReformedCtrlZ

      In reply to Simard57:That functionality looks like it'll be implemented with the Alexa calling Amazon has announced to be come later this year. The way Amazon is implementing calling seems like it will benefit them, I'm not sure how well the Google calling will lend itself to such a setup, but it would definitely be a nice feature - a big selling point for customers interested in purchasing multiple devices.

  12. Franqueli Mendez

    The Google Assistant is smart enough to only answer on one device. Both your phone and Google home will respond to the key phrase but the Google home is the one that responds. Your phone will say the question is being answered on another device.

    • Jeffsters

      In reply to Franqueli Mendez: This is pretty common as when having two iPhones side by side, while both will trigger to "Hey Siri" , only one will respond. What I find interesting is that this works even on different iCloud accounts with the same user voice. I have an old iPhone 5s that's in a nice dock in my kitchen as an Alexa like device always on and listening. I've placed this on it's own ICloud account linked through the Family Plan. However when my daily use iPhone is present, while both awaken, only one responds. I still haven't figured out how they are aware of the other and that it's the same request from the same person. BTW: Does the phone actually say " the question is being answered on another device" out loud?

  13. Simard57

    what is the point of the Premium Comments thread on articles that are not Premium?

    What is the point of Standard Comments on articles that are Premium?

    anyway - I meant to post this in this thread

    I am surprised that these devices do not come built to be used as a home intercom system. If I have one upstairs and one downstairs, a natural use would be to be able to make them aware of each other and use them as an intercom.

    Alexa doesn't do this

    I see no evidence that Google does either.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Simard57: Premium comments are from premium people, and as such are of higher quality. They are segregated so we can tell them from the more common responses.

      I want the intercom feature too. Curiously I could potentially call your echo from mine, but not another of my own. Strange that no-one thought about there being a dozen ways to call someone not in my house, and chose to add another, rather than solving a problem that doesn't have a simple solution at this point.

  14. siko

    I admire your faith in Google. Curious nonetheless. Good luck!

  15. ReformedCtrlZ

    @Paul - If you set up both devices with the same google account then the home will handle the request. You simply get a message on the phone that says something to the effect of "the request is being handled on another device." That feature was there when I first got the home a few months ago which I was very pleased with.

  16. Vuppe

    I actually just had my Pixel say "answering on another device" to me this morning. Not that I have another device. Or had asked it anything.