Confirming earlier reports, the NY Times says that Google will introduce a voice-controlled digital assistant device for the home tomorrow at its developer conference in San Francisco. The stand-alone unit will apparently be called “Google Home” and become available in the fall.
Google Home is intended to compete directly with Amazon Echo (and assistant Alexa), which has now evolved from a single voice-enabled unit into a line of voice controlled speakers and smart-home devices. Without citing a source the Times says that “Amazon has already sold an estimated three million units.”
Amazon itself has not disclosed sales figures for Echo. However it has become the best-selling Amazon hardware product, beating out Kindles, according to Slice Intelligence.
Amazon has become the unlikely leader in the smart home race with Echo (and Alexa), which is turning into a platform for content and third party services. Most recently Kayak travel search capabilities were added to Echo.
It’s also possible to call an Uber and order pizza using Alexa/Echo. Its repertoire has been quickly expanding and consumer satisfaction with Echo is high from all the evidence available. (I love mine.) Google recognizes that virtual assistants are a potential long-term threat to traditional search. Moreover, Google doesn’t want Amazon to gain a significant lead in the smart home market.
In many segments where Google has introduced a “me-too” product it has not succeeded in the past. However with an Echo/Alexa competitor, the company has an opportunity to improve upon the current user experience.
The Alexa assistant relies on relatively structured voice commands and is often stumped by queries where it doesn’t have available data or question phasing is confusing. While Amazon does have search technology (A9), it doesn’t have Google’s massive search index, Knowledge Graph, AI chops or its historical understanding of and ability to answer questions.
Google’s search assets and structured data could enable the company to create a superior user experience. Unlike Amazon, Google could connect Home with users’ PC and mobile search histories and context to potentially offer a more personalized experience as well.
Virtual assistants offer the potential realization of the “conversational search” concept Google has been discussing and promoting for the past few years. We’ll see what Google unveils tomorrow.