Google makes play for smart homes and lifestyles

Google assistant sets to bring voice-based recognition to home and lifestyle management.
Published: Mon 23 May 2016

Google has been circling the smart home space with its acquisition of Nest and its smart thermostat and last year the launch of the Brillo Internet of Things platform and the Project Sunroof to enable householders determine their rooftop solar potential, now available in 42 US states and growing. [Engerati-Google And Apple Square Up For The Smart Home and Google’s ‘Project Sunroof’ To Map Solar Potential]

Now the tech giant has gone a step further with the launch of the Google assistant – also signaling the growing role for voice recognition, alongside or potentially overtaking devices such as smartphones, for control of the many functionalities.

According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, explaining its background at the company’s developer conference earlier this week, people are increasingly interacting naturally with Google, and they aren’t just looking for the world’s information but are actually expecting Google to help them with their daily tasks.

“The assistant is conversational – an ongoing two-way dialogue between you and Google that understands your world and helps you get things done. It makes it easy to buy movie tickets while on the go, to find that perfect restaurant for your family to grab a quick bite before the movie starts, and then help you navigate to the theatre. It’s a Google for you, by you.”

Google Home

Alongside the Google assistant, the company has previewed two new products that will draw on it.

Google Home is a voice-activated product that claims to bring the Google assistant to any room in one’s house. With voice command it is set to let the user enjoy entertainment by for example requesting a song, manage everyday tasks such as setting an oven timer or turning on lights, and get answers from Google.

“It’s designed to fit your home with customizable bases in different colours and materials,” commented Pichai, saying that Google Home will be released later this year.

The second product is a messaging app, Allo, which effectively extends the concept to smarter lifestyles. The intention is that one can interact directly with the assistant in chats, either one-on-one or with friends. Examples quoted include asking the assistant for things like one’s agenda for the day, photos from one’s last trip, or if planning a dinner with friends, suggestions for nearby restaurants. A ‘Smart Reply’ facility suggests responses to messages based on context, and includes ways to make chats more expressive, including emojis, stickers, and the ability to get creative with photos. An Incognito mode provides end-to-end encryption, discreet notifications and message expiration.

There is also a companion app, Duo, for one-to-one video calling- the aim being to make video calling faster and more reliable, even on slower network speeds.

Google to rule the world?

“The assistant is an ambient experience that will work seamlessly across devices and contexts. So you can summon Google’s help no matter where you are or what the context,” said Pichai at its launch.

The question is whether people will want Google “understanding their world” so intimately or whether ultimately it will be accepted as the price of progress.

Google also have some credibility to regain when it comes to the smart home. Through Nest, the company has come under fire for withdrawing support for – and effectively disabling – the Revolv home hub. [Engerati-Securing The Smart Home] There was also the widely reported case of a software update leading to failure of Nest devices. [Engerati-A Return To The “Dumb“ Home?] While no electronic technology can be 100% failsafe without costly redundancy, the more it pervades our lives and lifestyles, the closer it needs to be.

By the way, no word yet but presumably the Nest devices, which already have a voice recognition capability, will integrate with Google Home.