Fresh off the launch of the Google Pixel, the new Google Hardware division is back with its second product: Google Home, a voice command appliance and Google Cast-enabled speaker. There is basically no interface at all to this product—it’s all voice commands, all the time. I hope you like speaking to your electronics.
Google started its voice recognition journey all the way back in 2007 with “Goog-411,” a completely automated phone number lookup service run over a 1-800 number. The human-powered 411 services offered by carriers would apply extra charges to your phone bill, but Google 411 was completely free. Google’s goal wasn’t to make money on the project, it just wanted to gather as much human speech as possible to build its speech recognition algorithms. Almost 10 years later, the company is finally ready to build a product that completely revolves around voice commands. Google Home is the “Star Trek Computer” the company has always talks about building—at least, it’s version 0.1.
Yes, Google Home is boldly going where Amazon has gone before. This is an Amazon Echo clone to some degree. Google was beaten to the punch. It’s now here to fight the market leader, but recall Google Search, Gmail, Chrome, Google Maps, and Android were “clones” of existing products, too. There’s no telling if Google Home will be as successful as those products, but the existence of an established player has never been a much of a roadblock to success for Google before.
A Google product makes sense in this area. A voice appliance is, basically, a search engine. You give it some kind of input, and its job is to search through tons of content and third-party integrations to pick out the correct result. It’s the same kind of voice recognition and natural language processing technology that Google has been working on for years at Google.com, on Android, and in the Google app.
Google Home is packing Google’s usual “OK Google” voice system, which has recently been upgraded and rebranded as the “Google Assistant.” You’ll also get a heavy dose of Chromecast compatibility and media playback via the built-in speaker system. At $129, it’s $50 cheaper than the Amazon Echo. If you want to drop the cash on multiple Google Homes, they’re also designed to seamlessly mesh together, both in audio playback and voice command response.