Saturday, May 21, 2016

My doubts about the Smart Home

The perfect world of Google Home


This year at I/O, Google looked into the future with lots of bright ideas that implement various Google technologies. There were some cool things like the new Google Assistant or the new Android Instant apps, but what caught my attention most is Google Home. The big reason why I feel so excited about it is because I just reviewed the Chromecast earlier this week and the Google Home speaker feels like the extension of that.

Just like what the Nexus Q could've been, Google Home Is the central hub for Google's vision for the smart home. People are calling the Google Home as the true competitor of Amazon's Echo speaker first introduced last year and even Google made it clear about where they got the inspiration to build a talking speaker.

Right now, concrete information about the technical specification and actual functionality that the Google Home is capable of is still scarce. But there is a video that Google played during the announcement to introduce the product to the crowd of developers at Google I/O. That video made me real excited and also doubtful about the validity of the product.



Check out the video above if you haven't

The first thing you notice about the Google Home is that it blends in nicely in a home environment. And the coolest design aspect has to be the 4 LED lights on the top of the hub. Additionally, Google is making the Home a little bit more customizable with a replaceable base.

Ecosystem

In terms of functionality, Google Home is Similar to Amazon's Echo line of speakers, but opposed to revolving around Amazon services, the Home revolves around your Google account. While you might not be able to buy something from Amazon through Google Home, Google is promising that their hub for the smart home will be an intelligent piece of hardware that is able to blur the lines between all your devices. Provided that the hardware you are using is supported by Google Home.

Comparing Google Home to the Echo, Google's solution has a big advantage over Amazon's one mainly due to Google's expertise in the voice recognition and contextual search field. Just like the Echo, Google has built the Home to primarily be a voice assistant. Google Home will work with first party hardware like Nest and Chromecast but at the moment Google isn't detailing support for third party smart home hardware.
Google Chromecast (2015) Review"At just $35 (or sometimes even lower depending on where you are looking), the Chromecast is a dirt cheap option to get videos from your smartphone to your TV without any wires. A word of advice, if you want to get the Chromecast in any other color than black, you will need to." Continue reading.
And that is where my doubts come in. I have not much experience in smart home tech nor have I personally used the Amazon Echo. But I do know what makes a good smart home hub. Being able to connect with a wide range of hardware is the single most important thing. Even if you have amazing voice recognition and the knowledge of the internet, not being able to work nicely with other hardware is going to be a problem.

Here's the thing, from what I can see, the smart home thing is very similar to the platform wars we have with smartphones and tablets. It won't be long before every other tech company comes out with their own solution. But given the competition amongst tech companies, I doubt that there will ever be a perfect smart home hub because as more smart home hubs begin to pop up, some companies will choose to take sides.  

This means that choosing a smart home hub will solely depend on which ecosystem you want to buy yourself in.

Functionality

Tracking packages, switching off the lights, playing your favorite playlist, changing your thermostat temperature all with your voice. Frankly speaking, doing all of these tasks with your voice sound very cool and futuristic.

In my opinion, Google might be able to pull off the perfect smart home solution mainly because their contextual search is as good as it gets. You just can't beat Google search. But by how much does this search advantage give Google the edge in the real world?

Google says that with your voice you can easily change your calendar appointment, book movie tickets or reserve a table for dinner. It is clear that this is a best case scenario of utilizing what Google Home has to offer but also begs the question of support outside of the US. As most of these services like Fandango and Open Table are not openly supported in places other than North America. 

What Google Home needs the most is to support a lot of services and hardware. Only then will it have the opportunity to take over my home.

The idea of controlling your home through a virtual assistant is still cool as ever but there are a lot of small bits and pieces that Google (and other aspiring smart home hub makers) need to fix before this idea of a smart home hub can be a global phenomenon. Google Home will be arriving later this year for a unnamed price and unsure market availability.

Insider Talk

This has been some week, lots of exciting news. The Google I/O keynote this years wasn't the most exciting one as most of it was just things that we were expecting. No crazy demos of any sort. I was actually planning to write something about the new Android Daydream platform but there isn't much to talk about that yet. I will save it and talk about my opinions about VR for later this year. Maybe after WWDC next month? 

Personally, I think that the Google Home name is very confusing. It's hard to talk about it without confusing people. They should've given it a less common name. 

Stay tuned for the Surface Pro 4 review coming in a couple of hours.

Btw, check out the new site design. Most noticeably is that the font has been updated to Google's Roboto font. 

dw