With the smartphone space looking increasingly identikit, tech giants are turning towards the Internet of Things as a way to earn their chops and stand out above the competition.
The latest entrant to the smart-home market is Google Home, which launched today in the UK – a glacial five months after it became available in the US. With the Amazon Echo now practically a household name and Samsung’s omniscient AI creation Bixby adding yet another to string to the bow of its smart-home supremacy, can Google Home offer enough to upset the apple cart?
If we’re going to take connected home technology as seriously as the manufacturers want us to, then Internet of Things tech needs to stop acting as innovative, yet very much separate devices, and genuinely start to fit into the ecosystem of the home.
Google Home has an instant step up on the competition here. While the Echo’s detractors felt that it was purely a feed for Amazon’s commercial activities, Home will slot seamlessly into the wider Google architecture – which means Home will happily read out your e-mails, play tunes from your Play Music account and beam content to your TV via YouTube
Of course, it’s not just about fitting into a single ecosystem. The battle for hearts and minds will truly be won when a device offers seamless and simple connectivity around the home – but Google, as part of its wider framework, is already a step ahead of the competition.
Google Assistant, the artificial intelligence behind Home, is another massive draw – not least because it’s powered by Google’s souped-up search engine. Our own research at the end of last year found that Google Assistant ranks among the most appealing features of the new breed of smartphone – alongside instant favourites such as the iPhone’s dual lens camera.*
It will, however, cause concerns around privacy and data use to rear its ugly head again. Google has insisted that Home will only listen for things that users have given it permission to, yet it may be facing an uphill struggle. Consumers are already perturbed by the (partially substantiated) thought of devices picking up on snippets of conversation and consequently serving up relevant ads on your phone - tech companies are yet to properly calm these fears.
If you’ve been tempted by the Amazon Echo but couldn’t justify taking a punt at that pricepoint, the Google Home’s £129 price tag - £20 less than the Echo - might be the incentive you need.
Connected home technology is still a brave new world for a large swathe of the population – Google Home is priced as an entry level product, but with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a voice-activated digital butler.
Google Home is offering a lot in a small and fairly-priced package. Aesthetically and practically the device sits toe-to-toe with the Amazon Echo, but with a more affordable price point that should invite fence-sitters into the smart-home space.
Its real difficulty will be in winning over consumers who are already on board with the Echo.
High profile wins such as being fitted out in the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas shows that the Amazon device has made some serious headway in the market. If Google can be the first to comfortably tie together all the 'connected' devices around your house, then it stands a chance of comfortably leapfrogging all other pretenders to the smart-home throne.
Read more: Google Home is about to launch in the UK