As The AI War Rages, Google Assistant Is “Very, Very Likely” Coming To Nest’s New Secure System

When Nest introduced a new home security system called Nest Secure at a press event this week, there was one glaring omission from the announcement: An explanation of how natural-language AI created by Nest’s Alphabet sibling Google would eventually control all of it.

Back in May, at Google’s I/O conference, CEO Sundar Pichai said that, “we are rethinking all our products and applying machine learning and AI to solve user problems. And we are doing this across every one of our products.”  But only at the end of Nest’s launch event on Wednesday did cofounder Matt Rogers announce that Google’s Assistant will soon be available inside one of his company’s existing products, the Nest Cam IQ Indoor.

When I asked why the Assistant wasn’t already available in all the new home security products, Rogers laughed and said the addition of the Assistant to more devices is “very, very, likely” coming soon–including to the Nest Guard, the company’s new in-home controller for Nest products.

“You want to be able to interact with the system in every way possible,” Rogers said. Speaking to the Assistant through a Nest device, then, would join the Guard keypad and the Nest app as ways of doing that.

Matt Rogers

“So the Assistant might send you a notification while you’re on the way to work saying, ‘We saw you were the last one to leave the house; would you like to arm the system?,’” Rogers explains. Then the user could simply reply “Yes” and the Assistant would arm the system.

Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant all sit at the middle of growing connected home ecosystems that are competing to become the operating systems of our lives. That’s why, in connected home platforms and products, it’s becoming table stakes for companies to provide a natural language assistant to hear spoken commands to turn off lights or lower the heat. Users often don’t want to have to physically interact with devices and apps to make them work.

Consumers will expect the same thing from home security systems. This isn’t news to Rogers. But the Assistant would bring more than just voice recognition and natural language technology to the Nest ecosystem. It would also use machine learning developed by Google to understand each Nest user’s habits and make helpful suggestions. And it’s that deep Google AI that might give Nest products an edge over other home security systems.

I also asked Rogers if Nest’s products would soon be integrated with the Google Home natural language smart speaker. He didn’t say whether that was on the near-term roadmap, instead explaining that Assistant can be built into existing Nest products so that users can talk to their security devices in the same way they talk to Google Home. Rogers said it’s likely that two additional microphones will be added to the Nest Guard device to make it better able to hear and understand the voices of people in the room. This makes sense because the Nest Guard is designed to sit near the front door, waiting to be armed or disarmed by people leaving or returning home. Moreover, your entryway might not be an ideal place for a Home device.

Nest was acquired by Google three and a half years ago in 2014, and acquired the home camera company Dropcam shortly after. But from 2014 to 2016 its product lineup of smart thermostats, indoor cameras, and smoke/CO2 detectors didn’t change. Nest was slow to release wholly new products, and slow to capitalize on Google’s AI brain trust.

That began to change over the past year when Nest engineers began working closely with their Google counterparts to build Google’s computer vision AI into Nest cameras. It started with person recognition (distinguishing a human from a dog or a tree), and has progressed to facial recognition (matching faces in front of the camera with profiles of faces it’s seen before, like the postman). The person recogition is part of the free tier of service bundled with Nest Cam IQ units; face recognition requires that you subscribe to the extra-cost Nest Aware service.

“All of this came after the ouster of founder Tony Fadell,” writes Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson in a recent research note, “and although that’s likely in part a coincidence, it’s notable how much more quickly the company has appeared to be moving in the past year.”

Another explanation for why it’s taken a while for Nest to intermingle Google technologies into its devices is sensitivity over the possibility of Nest sending the data it collects in homes back to Google for purposes such as ad targeting–a scenario that people began worrying about the moment the acquisition was announced in 2014. It remains enough of a concern that the company has underlined the fact that its use of Google machine-vision technology does not involve it sharing the face matches it makes with Google.

Taking On ADT

A whole industry of companies, such as ADT and Vivint, provide a combination of professionally installed hardware and subscription monitoring services. Nest is now offering both parts, only the hardware part is do-it-yourself. Its $499 Nest Secure kit consists of a central brain device (Nest Guard), a couple of window/door sensors that also do motion detection, and a couple of Nest Tabs–half-dollar-sized keychain devices that log the user in and out of the security system.

If the system detects a human moving in the home when no one is supposed to be there, it can sound an 85-decibel siren and notifies the home owner via the app. The system might also send a notification to MONI Smart Security, a security monitoring service Nest has contracted with. MONI may then dispatch police to the home if the Nest system detects something dangerous like a break-in. Nest has not yet announced how much the MONI monitoring service will cost.

Nest isn’t the first company to try to rethink and simplify home security systems. Asked why he thinks its approach will work, Rogers told me it’s all about offering the right mix of automation and user control. “We could do everything for you, but we want to give you enough control to where you are still in the driver’s seat.”

Nest Hello [Photo: courtesy of Nest]

Along with the Nest Secure gear unveiling, Nest used its event to preview its first smart doorbell. Nest Hello–which will be available later this year at a price to be announced—is outfitted with a microphone, a speaker, and a high-quality camera. The camera uses AI to recognize that a person is coming up the walk, or even recognize a familiar face when the person gets close, regardless of whether they push the doorbell. If Hello recognizes the mail carrier, for example, it might notify the user through the app. Then the user can talk via the doorbell’s microphone and speaker. A user who is otherwise occupied and can’t speak can trigger a canned “just leave the package at the door” announcement.

Nest didn’t invent the doorbell cam, and will be facing stiff competition from both Ring and SkyBell. Both of those companies have products that can detect motion and suspicious activity around the doorway, take video of it, and send notifications to the user via an app. But with Hello as with its other products, Nest may hope the infusion of Google AI will empower its security technology to identify and understand threats more quickly and accurately.

How Your Kids Can Use Google Home   

Photo via Google and StoryCorps

Sometimes, I’ll hear the voice of my four-year-old daughter in the other room, and I’ll wonder, who is she talking to? And then I’ll realize, oh, it’s Google Home, the wifi-connected, voice-controlled smart speaker that has become her little buddy. (Yes, I realize how weird that sentence sounds.)

The future is now, and there are many ways that Google Home can help and entertain kids. They just need to begin any command or question with “Hey Google” or “OK Google.”

Here are some ideas to get started. (Note: Look out for similar guides for other smart assistants soon.)

Call Grandma

Home can make phone calls, which is handy for kids who don’t yet have phones. Grandma and grandpa would so thrilled. Also, if they have their own Google account with contacts, you can add it so that when they say, “Hey Google, call Dad,” Home will distinguish their voice and ring their dad, not your dad.

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Get Homework Help

Google Home is able to … Google. Kids can ask questions they’re stumped on, and it will find answers from trustworthy sources. For instance: Hey Google, who has the largest signature on the Declaration of Independence? Hey Google, what’s the capital of Arkansas? Hey Google, how many different shark species are alive today? Hey Google, how far aways is the moon? Hey Google, how do you spell ‘extraterrestrial’? It even tackles questions you might not hear every day. Hey Google, what’s the gestation period for camels? (It’s around 410 days, in case you’re curious. Oof.)

Play Games

We played Mad Libs with Google Home and it was silly fun, resulting in a story about nuns with sticky armpits. There are also other simple games kids can play: Hangman, Ding Dong Coconut (a memory game where you associate words with sounds), the Name Game (you start with a name and then come up with words that rhyme with it), Magic Door (a choose-your-own adventure game), Akinator the Genie (a character guessing game) and Magic 8 Ball.

To further stretch kids’ brains, Home has loads of quizzes, including ones on American Presidents and math. The most elaborate game seems to be “I’m Feeling Lucky,” a trivia show complete with a buzzer, audience reactions and quippy one-liners from the host. It supports multiple players, making it a fun family night activity.

Hear Stories

Saying, “Hey Google, tell me a human story,” or “Hey Google, tell me a summer story” will play an interview with a real person from a StoryCorps collection. A great way to introduce kids to those with experiences different from their own.

Settle a Sibling Argument

Kids can’t decide who gets to choose the night’s movie or test the new scooter first? Flip a virtual coin. Just say, “Hey Google, flip a coin.” Done. No more complaining that it was a trick spin or that it bounced off Mom’s hand. There’s also a virtual dreidel and virtual dice if you want to get fancy.

Be Entertained

Home knows how to (mildly) party. It can tell jokes (“What is a sea monster’s favorite snack? Ships and dip.” Da-dum-bum, chhhhh.) It can also make animal noises, sing songs and beatbox (or, well, it tries.)

Turn on Captions

If your kid is watching TV, say, “Hey Google, turn on subtitles (or captions).” An easy way to help them gain reading skills.

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Meditate

When kids need some down time, ask Home to open Headspace. It will play one of three different free meditation sessions that are only two-minutes long.

How to Add Users to Google Home

Image credit: Spencer Platt/Getty

Sometimes all I need in this crazy world is a brisk walk to clear my head and some good music bumping through my headphones. But when that simple pleasure is interrupted every morning by my partner issuing voice commands while I’m out of the house, silencing the music in my headphones, it can be a tad frustrating. It’s especially irksome when the root cause is the multiple user preferences of my Google Home, a voice assistant that is there to, ostensibly, make my life a little easier.

If you share a voice assistant with another person in your home, you might have run into the same music playback peeve, wondering if you’ll ever find peace when your partner decides to play Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic for the fifth day in a row. Fortunately, the problem can be easily solved.

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Enable Multi-User Support

When Google Home debuted, anyone could ask it about about the weather, or traffic on the way to work, but it would only provide answers based on the registered user’s information. But plenty of people don’t live by themselves—or they have guests who might want to use Google Home for their own purposes. That’s why an update in April to the voice assistant enabling multi-user support was so important. It allows Google Home to distinguish your voice from your partner’s. It added support for up to six registered users, giving everyone the ability to ask when their next meeting is, or tell Google Home to play more Michael Jackson.

The person who wants to add themselves as a user will need to use their own iOS or Android device and install the Google Home app. (Before you open the Home app, be sure you’re on the same Wi-Fi network as your assistant.) In the Home app, log in with your Google account, and select your Google Home from the device list. Select the blue “Link your account” or “Multi user is now available” banner. You’ll be asked to perform a voice calibration test—be prepared to say “Hey, Google” a few times. According to the company, your voice is fed to a neural network, where Google identifies its unique characteristics, making it easier to distinguish between multiple users.

State Your Musical Preferences

Congratulations, your voice assistant can now separate you from your partner! Now, you’ll need to pick your music preference. Google Home supports free music streaming from Spotify, Pandora, and Google Play Music services. You can also use the premium versions of Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, YouTube Red, and Google Play Music to request whatever tunes you’d like. Google’s YouTube Red and Google Play Music services should work automatically, while Deezer, Spotify, and Pandora users will have to go through a few extra steps.

To connect your streaming account (individual or family accounts work just fine), you’ll have to drill down into your Google Home profile settings. In the menu, select Account Preferences, then scroll down to “Music” located in the Services section. Select the Link option for your streaming service of choice, and sign in with their respective accounts.

Accommodate Your Guests

Got visitors that love to hijack the stereo? You can prevent them from accessing your personal information while still letting them issue voice commands thanks to Google Home’s guest mode.

In your list of devices, tap the options button in the top right of your Google Home icon and select Guest Mode, where you can toggle the feature on and off. Guests can still send content using Google’s Cast functionality, though they’ll need to be on a Wi-Fi network. Select “Nearby Device” when attempting to cast content, and look for the voice assistant, which will attempt to pair with your phone via audio cues or a 4-digit pin.

Now, when any user requests a particular song, Google will identify the user and use their account’s preferences and services to serve up songs or videos.

What does Google want with HTC’s smartphone business? | Technology

Google has announced it’s acquiring a $1.1bn chunk of HTC’s smartphone business, and with it providing the once leading Taiwanese phone brand a much needed lifeline. But what does Google want with part of a smartphone business?

Google isn’t buying the whole of HTC, just a relatively large part of the Taipei-based company’s smartphone business and not its Vive virtual reality headset business. Google gains half of HTC’s research and development team – about 2,000 people – and a non-exclusive license for HTC’s intellectual property, allowing it to take advantage of some of HTC’s advances in smartphone technology.

HTC gets a cash injection, which will help it survive in some very competitive markets, and Google gets to continue its “big bet on hardware” according to Rick Osterloh, the company’s senior vice president for hardware.

It’s “a business decision to have access to one of the best R&D teams”, said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Technology Market Research. But it’s also “a sort of emotional decision to save its close partners”.

Little history of hardware

While Google is the creator of the Android operating system, which is now used on more than 2bn devices a month, or 89% of mobile devices according to IDC, it has only dabbled with making its own smartphones and tablets. It routinely partnered with firms such as HTC, LG and Huawei to make the Nexus series of a devices, which sold in low volumes and acted as showcases for each new version of Android.

Google bought Motorola in 2011 for $12.5bn (£9.24bn), and while it ran it as a separate company selling smartphones aimed at the low end, the acquisition was really about a large stock of important patents.

“Its main reasoning was to acquire Moto’s patent portfolio so as to protect against Apple (and Microsoft) while also providing stiffer competition to Samsung (although Google would never admit this),” said David McQueen, research director at ABI Research.

Google sold Motorola to China’s Lenovo in 2014 for $2.9bn without the collection of patents.

Google Pixel smartphone.



Google’s Pixel smartphone, made by HTC. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

It wasn’t until 2013 that Google’s first true own-brand hardware arrived in the form of the Google Chromebook Pixel – a £1,000 laptop designed and made as much as a developer showcase and for use internally at Google as a viable product to sell to the public. Google also launched its Chromecast streaming stick in 2013, which has since become its biggest hardware success with more than 30m units sold since launch.

Google followed up with a revised Chromebook Pixel in 2015, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the company made its own Pixel Android smartphone. The Pixel and Pixel XL were premium smartphones aimed directly at Apple’s iPhone and were manufactured by HTC for Google, with no branding or mention of HTC on the product or packaging.

The Pixel smartphones represented a new stage in Google’s ambition to do battle with its rival Apple directly, rather than continue conducting a proxy war using Android and various third-party manufacturers such as Samsung.

What Google has done with its HTC deal is buy the expertise that made last year’s Pixel smartphones, bringing the team responsible in-house.

Thomas Husson, Vice President and principal analyst for Forrester, said: “Two weeks ahead of the likely announcement of new Pixel smartphones and other emerging hardware devices, HTC’s acquisition illustrates Google’s commitment to the consumer device space. Official release of new products on 4 October is likely to demonstrate that Google is finally serious in developing a more tightly-controlled device ecosystem.”

Eyeballs on screens (and ads)

As the percentage of smartphone owners in developed nations nears saturation point and the differences between device hardware have diminished, the smartphone game has rapidly become much more focused around the services the phone can deliver rather than the device itself.

For Google, this means its plethora of web services. From Gmail to Google Play to the latest entrant in the series, Google Assistant, it’s all about keeping people within the Google ecosystem. The more time people spend with Google products, the more information the company can glean and the more potential contact points it has to sell advertising.

Google created Android as needed its search and services front and centre in the new smartphone world.



Google created Android as needed its search and services front and centre in the new smartphone world. Photograph: Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images

That was the reason Android was developed in the first place, as Google saw mobile as the next evolution of computing and needed its search and services front and centre in the new smartphone world. It’s also the reason Google pays Apple $3bn a year to remain the default search provider on the iPhone.

But as services have become more and more important, third-party Android manufacturers, including the biggest smartphone player of them all, Samsung, have started to develop their own services. Samsung’s Bixby is a clear shot across the bow of Google Assistant, for instance, while HTC and others started integrating Amazon’s Alexa.

The European Union is also currently investigating Google’s marshalling of Android for anticompetitive practices, which might force the company to stop pre-loading Google search on third-party Android devices, among other things.

Faced with the potential for a changing landscape where Android is no longer as effective a delivery system for Google services, the decision to produce its own hardware starts to make sense.

Pure, undiluted Google

Osterloh said: “Our team’s goal is to offer the best Google experience — across hardware, software and services — to people around the world.”

With the Pixel smartphone line, Google has the opportunity to drive home a device that is all Google, no longer diluted by other’s services and produce a device line that could weather the storm of EU intervention within Android ecosystem. As Apple has proved time and time again with the iPhone, when you fully control both hardware and software on a device, you can do things with the wider services-and-devices ecosystem others would struggle with.

McQueen said: “What is in Google’s favour this time is that it is buying just a part of HTC, and it is a part that can help it deliver smartphones with a premium, elegant industrial design while also providing much tighter integration between hardware, the Android OS and Google’s services.”

samsung salesmen



Samsung dominates with a global smartphone marketshare of 21% in 2016 with 311m units shipped. Google sold around 2m Pixel smartphones in 2016 and HTC sold just 13.9m with a marketshare of 0.9%. Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Despite being the maker of Android, there’s no doubt Google faces a massive uphill battle in the smartphone market. Samsung dominates with a global smartphone marketshare of 21% in 2016 with 311m units shipped, according to data from IDC. Apple is a close second with 15% and 215m units, while China’s Huawei is the third-largest smartphone manufacturer and rising, with a marketshare of 9% and 139m units. For perspective, Google sold around 2m Pixel smartphones in 2016 and HTC sold just 13.9m with a marketshare of 0.9%.

“Although shipments in the Pixel range are currently less than 2m a year, this tie-up will undoubtedly be a good thing for Google. It will help it grow scale in the high-end while turning it into a major competitive threat to the other Android original equipment manufacturers rather than just as a point of reference,” said McQueen.

Hardware to deliver voice

The next evolution of smart technology is arguably artificially intelligent voice assistants. This “ambient computing” revolution promises access to information anywhere, at any time by means other than a device – think Star Trek: the Next Generation’s ever-present computer.

The smartphone was the first wave of access to information anywhere, any time, and will likely be a ready conduit for the foreseeable future. Most smartphones already come with some form of voice assistant, from Siri and Google Assistant to Cortana and Alexa.

For Google this next stage of computing is incredibly important. Google Assistant is its latest foray, connecting various related features from search and voice commands to Google’s massive internal encyclopaedia and delivering it not only through a smartphone but also smart speakers, computers and even cars.

For Google to compete fully with the likes of Amazon in this new voice-enabled arena, it needs hardware efforts. The Google Home smart speaker was a crucial first step and it is expected to be joined by a smaller Google Home speaker on 4 October.

Geoff Blaber, vice president of research, Americas, for CCS Insight said: “As computing, AI and search become pervasive, Google needs to ensure that it can deliver its services as seamlessly and broadly as possible. That requires deeper involvement in hardware”

Whether it’s a speaker, a smartphone or a computer, in an increasingly competitive landscape, Google needs much better integration between hardware and software if its services are to continue to thrive.

Google Paid HTC $1.1 Billion To Turn Itself Into a Phone Maker

After years of half-heartedly and occasionally hamfistedly building gadgets, Google’s finally all-in on the hardware game. Google will announce a number of new products on October 4, reportedly including two new phones, a smaller version of the Google Home, and a high-end laptop. And on Wednesday, the company announced an agreement with struggling manufacturer HTC that will import a team of engineers over to Google, to help close the gap between Mountain View’s hardware ambitions and its present reality.

The tie-up’s not quite the acquisition that had been rumored, but rather a “cooperation agreement.” Google is hiring a team of HTC employees—about 2,000 people in all, members of HTC’s “Powered by HTC” division—most of whom have already been working on Google’s Pixel phones. Those employees will stay in Taipei, Taiwan, where HTC is headquartered, but they’ll become full-on Googlers. In exchange for those workers and a non-exclusive license for some of HTC’s intellectual property, Google’s paying HTC $1.1 billion. Both sides hope to close the deal by early 2018. Even after the arrangement is finalized, HTC will continue making its own phones, and building Vive VR products.

According to one source, the agreement essentially shortcuts the acquisition process. Google doesn’t need an entire company; it just needs engineers that can help it tightly integrate Pixel hardware with its homegrown software. So rather than deal with enveloping HTC whole cloth, it can simply pay for and quickly get the team it needs. A team which, again, already makes Google hardware. In some ways, all that changes is the ID badge.

Moto Memories

But the ID badge matters. Google learned this the hard way. When it plunked down $13.3 billion to buy Motorola in 2011, the marriage seemed to make sense. Motorola offered a patent portfolio that would help Google fight in an increasingly litigious mobile industry, plus plenty of cash and assets. Those were all more important, and less exciting, than another little part of Motorola’s business that Google picked up: the hardware team. It seemed that finally, after years of watching other companies make Android phones that paled next to the iPhone, Google was taking its fate in its own hands.

The beautiful coupling of hardware and software, of course, didn’t happen. Google made a big show of not favoring Moto in any way, walling the company off from the very software makers it needed to produce truly great products. “Motorola will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open,” Larry Page wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition. “We will run Motorola as a separate business.” The real problem, according to former employees, was that Google just wasn’t serious about making hardware. It saw itself as a platform company, not a phone company.

‘I don’t even think anyone’s pissed at this point. I think they’re resigned.’ —Avi Greengart, GlobalData

Today, though, the time seems right for Google to assert more control over the Android ecosystem. Android dominates so completely that even if, say, LG feels threatened by Google’s hardware aggression, it has virtually no recourse. “At least until the next big technology wave comes, and probably even then, we’re likely stuck with iOS and Android,” says Avi Greengart, who tracks devices and platforms for analysis firm GlobalData. “I don’t even think anyone’s pissed at this point. I think they’re resigned.” Plus, Google made these ambitions clear a long time ago; the Pixel already exists, and it didn’t drive anyone out of business yet.

And in a lot of ways, HTC fits Google far better than Motorola ever did. The two companies have a long history of working together: In addition to the Pixel, HTC manufactured the very first Android phone, the G1. HTC has also had a long run of success as a white-label manufacturer building devices for other companies, and even made a few of the best early Android phones, like the ceramic One X. Even its current device, the HTC U11, ranks among the best Android phones on the market.

Streamlining

If all goes well, the new team of former HTC-ers could finally centralize and simplify Google’s manufacturing, which has previously sat somewhere on the spectrum between “complicated” and “chaos.” The company built phones with Huawei and LG, routers with TP-Link and Asus, augmented-reality gear with Lenovo, and lots of in-house products with various contract manufacturers. While Apple preaches the integration of hardware and software, Google’s been all over the place.

Tighter control over manufacturing affects more than just the bottom line. “Bringing that design capability in-house would likely allow Google to design exactly the phones it wants to, giving it both more freedom and a greater ability to optimize designs to get exactly what it wants and needs from the hardware,” says Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. New technologies like augmented reality and virtual assistants, especially, require massive power and optimization. Apple’s ARKit works so well in part because of Apple’s new A11 Bionic processor, and its dedicated GPU and neural-processing chips. If Google wants Google Assistant and ARCore to work seamlessly, it needs to make sure the underlying hardware can support them. And even if its traditional Android hardware partners churn out workhorse devices, Google risks that Samsung and others (but mostly Samsung) will eventually want push everyone to Bixby and the Gear VR instead.

As always, a shift like this takes time to fully shake out. It’ll likely be a couple of years before we see what happens when Google lets a bunch of HTC employees hang out in the Googleplex with Android engineers. There are lots of unanswered questions, too: What does this talent drain do to HTC’s existing products, from its phones to its Re cameras to the scale and fitness band it built with Under Armour? What does this mean for a company like LG, Google’s supposed partner for the Pixel 2 XL? One thing we do know, more surely than ever: Google’s a hardware company now. And it’s coming for everybody.

UPDATE: This story has been changed to reflect the number of HTC employees joining Google.

Amazon has 76% smart home speaker U.S. market share as Echo unit sales reach 15M, new study finds – GeekWire

Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo and Echo Dot speakers. (Amazon Photo)

Amazon still has a tight grip on the U.S., home smart speaker market.

Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) published a new report today from its latest “home automation devices” study that shows Amazon and its Echo products with a 76 percent U.S. market share, compared to 24 percent for Google and its Google Home device. That’s in line with a study earlier this year from eMarketer.

Google Home.

CIRP also estimates 15 million Amazon Echo units sold across the U.S., which is up from 10.7 million in March and 5.1 million this past November, according to data from CIRP.

Amazon first entered the smart home speaker scene two years ago with its original Echo device; it now also sells different models like the $49.99 Echo Dot, which accounts for more than 50 percent of Echo products in the wild, CIRP noted.

Google released its Google Home device in November. It retails for $129.99; the flagship Echo sells for $179.99. Apple also has its own smart home speaker, the HomePod, which sells for $349 starting in December.

“Google captured meaningful share, yet Amazon’s two-year head start allowed Echo to establish the dominant market position,” noted Josh Lowitz, co-founder of CIRP.

CIRP surveyed 300 U.S. owners of an Amazon Echo or Google Home device (as of June 30) for its report. Its methodology also includes a proprietary model of Amazon consumer behavior based on quarterly survey data.

The firm found that across all smart home speaker owners, listening to music is the most frequently used feature, followed by asking questions, setting timers/alarms, and controlling home automation technology.

Amazon nor Google reports unit sales for the Echo or Home. Amazon said this past December that Echo sales were up 9X compared to previous holiday season.

Google Home is powered by Google’s search engine, while Amazon Echo is powered by the company’s Alexa platform. Alexa is finding its way onto devices built by other companies — for example, check out GE’s new Sol lamp that GeekWire reviewed today.

Wirecutter just published a detailed review comparing Echo vs. Home.

“Both products are pretty good at playing music when you ask them to, but the Echo’s two-year head start means it can do more things, especially for controlling smart-home gear,” it noted. “But the best smart speaker for your home can vary depending on your priorities, the stuff you already have, and the services you already subscribe to.”

$50 Google Home Mini leaks online ahead of October 4 Pixel event

Why it matters to you

If you’re looking for a Google Assistant speaker to place in all your rooms, the Google Home Mini might be the affordable option for you.

The Amazon Echo has been well received for a number of reasons, including the fact that you don’t necessarily always have to buy a full Amazon Echo for each room. Google has already launched its full-sized Google Home speaker, but now it’s launching a more affordable speaker that you can put in each room — rumored to be called the Google Home Mini.

The Google Home Mini has been rumored for some time now, but the latest leak gives us a pretty good look at what the speaker is supposed to look like. The leak, which comes from Droid-Life, shows off a puck-shaped speaker in three colors — which happen to match the leaked colors for the Google Daydream headset.

According to the leak, the speaker will be available in Chalk, Charcoal, and Coral colors, and it seems as though the speaker will be powered — not wireless — based on the leaked images. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — the idea here is that you’ll be able to get a speaker for each room.

Of course, if you’re buying one for each room, you’ll probably want something pretty affordable, and thankfully the Home Mini reportedly will be. You’ll be able to get one for $50.

The Home Mini should be able to do pretty much everything the standard Google Home can. It’ll come with Google Assistant, and will allow you to schedule things, set reminders, and so on — like Google Assistant on the Home speaker and on an Android phone. The speaker in the device may not be as loud as the standard Google Home, but it will be great for those who don’t necessarily need a loud speaker or those who simply want things like smart home control.

The Google Home Mini isn’t the first non-Home speaker to be launched with Google Assistant. In the past few months, we’ve seen a few devices launch from the likes of JBL, Mobvoi, and even Panasonic, coming in at different price points and with different focuses. The thing that really brings them all together, however, is Google Assistant, which powers all of the speakers. Check out our full list of the Assistant-powered speakers to be launched so far.




How to link and unlink smart device services from the Google Home app

Some things seem more complicated than they should be.

The Google Home app does more than setting up the Google Home itself. You use it to set up Chromecast devices and smart “things” in your homes, like Hue lights or a Nest. Because you can use the app for so many different things, there is a good chance that eventually you’ll need to unlink one of them from your Google account. At the beginning of September, Google sent out an update for voice control on some of those smart devices which also requires you unlink them to update everything.

More: These products and services work with Google Home

Linking and unlinking a device service from Google Home isn’t difficult, but it’s certainly not the most intuitive process you’ll come across. We can make it a little easier.

Linking a device

  • Open the Google Home app, and tap the Menu in the top left corner of your screen.
  • If you have more than one Google account on your phone, check to make sure you’re using the right one.
  • Scroll halfway down the page and tap the entry marked More settings.
  • Make sure you’re on the Devices tab and not the Rooms tab. They are labeled at the top of your screen.
  • Tap the blue button with the + to add and link a device.
  • Choose your device from the list.
  • Follow the instructions that open from your device manufacturer.
  • When the pairing is complete, click Done in the upper right.
  • Set a name for the device.
  • Assign it to a room.

A word or two on naming and room assignment. You’ll be prompted to give your device a nickname, and the name you choose is what you’ll be calling it if it uses voice commands. Try to make it an easy one or two syllable name that you’ll remember. It doesn’t have to have the same name your manufacturer assigned it or the name you chose during the manufacturer’s setup.

Room assignment is important when you’re using voice to control the things in your house. You might have a Chromecast, some Hue lights, and a smart thermostat in your living room, and have another Chromecast and smart lamp setup in the bedroom. Assigning a room means you can say “Dim the lights in the bedroom” or “Play the Beatles in the living room” and Google Home will do the rest. If you don’t tell it where your stuff is, you’ll have to remember the device names each and every time.

Unlinking a device

  • Open the Google Home app, and tap the Menu in the top-left corner of your screen.
  • If you have more than one Google account on your phone, check to make sure you’re using the right one.
  • Scroll halfway down the page and tap the entry marked More settings.
  • Make sure you’re on the Devices tab and not the Rooms tab. They are labeled at the top of your screen.
  • Tap the blue button with the + in it.
  • You’ll see the same list of devices as you did when you linked one. Your linked devices are at the top of the list labeled Linked services
  • Find the device you want to unlink and tap it.
  • Tap the label marked Unlink account in the window that opens.
  • Confirm your choice

This process removes the permissions the manufacturer had to access your Google account. That means the service itself is removed, but if any data is stored on the device will remain. Follow the instructions from your manufacturer if you need to wipe a device clean so somebody else can use it.

Your account with the manufacturer will also remain in place. You can keep the account in case you need it again or delete it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

All finished!

You’ll notice this is very different from the process used to add a Google Home or Chromecast device. You won’t need to do this very often, but when you do you’ll have all the directions in one place to get you started!

Amazon Rules The Smart Speaker Market

When it comes to voice-activated smart speakers, Amazon is the undisputed leader, with 76 percent of the market share.

That’s according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), which said in a news report Monday (Sept. 18) that Amazon has shipped 15 million units since it first launched the Amazon Echo in November of 2014. In second place is Google Home, which has 24 percent market share, shipping five million units.

“Amazon introduced the first Echo device in November 2014, while Google introduced its competing Home device in November 2016,” said Josh Lowitz, partner and co-founder of CIRP in a press release highlighting the results of the new research. “In that time period, Amazon Echo has built a substantial installed base. It promoted it aggressively, at Amazon.com and with traditional media advertising. It also added new models, at different price points and with different functionality, including Dot, Tap, Look and Show. The lowest-price Dot now accounts for over half of the installed base. In turn, Google benefited from entering a category that Amazon had already pioneered. Google captured meaningful share, yet Amazon’s two-year head start allowed Echo to establish the dominant market position.”

According to CIRP, listening to music tops the list of smart speaker activities, with three quarters of Amazon Echo and Google Home users choosing to do so with their devices. “Owners listen to music most on both Echo and Home, at least once a day or more often,” said Mike Levin, partner and co-founder of CIRP. “They also use them frequently for information, like asking about the weather or sports scores, as well as setting timers and alarms. Owners also use them to control home automation accessories, like lights and outlets, thermostats, security systems and even appliances, less frequently. Also, Google Home owners report using their devices daily or more often slightly more than Amazon Echo owners, across all these varied applications and uses.”



Your Google Home will now help you find dates

Dating apps have always been very hands on — full of swipes and texting — but now some of them are making the move to be hands-free.

Plenty of Fish announced on Tuesday that it’s launched an integration with Google Home, which will read your messages aloud to you and allow you to compose and send replies. The point of this, according to a statement from the company is to make “the process of sending a message easier by allowing a user to speak freely, rather than type – more in line with a natural conversation.”

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If anything involving a robot and romantically-charged messages can ever be considered natural, then sure. This moves comes on the heels of eHarmony announcing a similar partnership with the Amazon Echo last week. So why the sudden rush to add home assistant integration among these dating apps?

Well, Plenty of Fish told Mashable that it’s about starting a dialogue. They’ve positioned themselves as “the leader in conversations,” and they recently launched Spark, a feature which lets you start a chat based on a specific element of someone’s profile. They’ve seen an almost 25 percent rise in replies to messages for Android users and nearly 40 percent on iOS. This Google Home initiative is intended to build on that. 

The company’s CEO, Hesam Hosseini, explained in a statement, “We’ve found that a good conversation is the number one indicator of a great date, so both Spark and the Google Assistant integration were created to help people easily connect and get the conversation started.”

Managing your dating life while also making dinner or cleaning your house sounds like a win for the busy single person. The reality, though, is a little more complex. For one thing, you’re letting an already invasive device even deeper into a very private aspect of your life. 

Speech-to-text dictation is also still a clumsy enough affair that you may not actually save yourself any time in the end. Though it, of course, depends on your particular lifestyle. There’s also the issue that technically you’re conversing with a machine, not an actual love interest. 

Only you can decide if this integration will help you convert those matches to IRL meetups even faster, but just be careful you don’t fall in love with your Google Home or Alexa along the way.

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