“Siri, give me directions to the stadium.” “Hey Cortana, what time is the movie playing?” “Alexa, turn up the lights.”
When it comes to voice-activated virtual assistants, there are a few top dogs that are not only meeting tech consumers’ every whim (sort of), they’re also helping to build a fierce loyalty to specific tech brands. Microsoft’s Cortana integration has been called the only good thing about Windows 10, for example, and Amazon’s Echo was so popular there are now smaller connected devices that let you have a Spot (a mini Alexa that feeds off your main hub) in every room and a Tap (a portable Alexa) to carry with you for playing music.
Now Google has jumped into the competition with its Google Assistant, which later this year will power a device called Google Home. It looks for all the world like a college dorm ambient light lamp, so much so that you run the risk of people picking it up to see what it is. Google’s VA aims to not only connect your home (ie, your Nest thermostat) and serve as a question-and-answer box, but also plans to leverage its powerhouse search engine with your own accumulated preferences to anticipate your every query. Or something like that.
Journalists who covered Google’s live demo press conference this week had a lot to say about it, most of it focusing on how Google is going to wipe Amazon’s Echo off the map with this new device. But this article by Paul Miller for The Verge is a little more unbiased, at least in terms of highlighting the pitfalls of both setups, as well as the areas where Google has its work cut out for it if it hopes to even catch up to the Alexa.
Then if that’s the case, if all VAs have their benefits and their pointless functions, how is Google Assistant/Google Home a game changer?
Basically, Apple and Amazon needed the competition. Apple doesn’t offer a home connected model that lets you walk into a room and call out your every command. And Amazon doesn’t offer a phone, so users have to purchase an additional device that looks for all the world like a Thermos and carry it around with them when they’re away from their desktop Alexas. Google Home is building a VA scale that could potentially do it all, if it works, that is. That single drop of serious competition could spell great innovations across all models of virtual assistant.