Google Home

Google Home is a smart speaker developed by Google. It was announced in May 2016 and released in the United States in November 2016, with a release in the United Kingdom in April 2017, followed by Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and Japan in summer 2017.

Google Home enables users to speak voice commands to interact with services through the Home's intelligent personal assistant called Google Assistant. A large number of services, both in-house and third-party, are integrated, allowing users to listen to music, look at videos or photos, or receive news updates entirely by voice. Google Home also has integrated support for home automation features, letting users speak commands to the device to control smart home appliances. Multiple Google Home devices can be placed in different rooms in a home for synchronized playback of music, and an update in April 2017 brought multi-user support, allowing up to six people to engage with the device. The product itself has a cylindrical shape with 4 LEDs on the top for visual representation of its status, and the cover over the base is modular, with different color options offered through Google Store intended for the device to blend into the environment. In May 2017, Google announced multiple updates to Google Home's functionality, including free hands-free phone calling in the United States and Canada, proactive updates ahead of scheduled events, visual responses on mobile devices or Chromecast-enabled televisions, Bluetooth music streaming, and the ability to schedule calendar appointments, with upcoming support for reminders.

Google Home received mixed reviews. Its design and sound input/output received significant praise, while a lack of interoperability between other Google Assistant-enabled devices was criticized. Critics voiced concerns about Google's intentions with the device, particularly whether features would be more tightly integrated into other Google products and one critic noted that Google Home's functionality was more limited than those offered through the Google Assistant on other platforms. Reviewers had very different experiences with the setup process, with one critic praising it while another criticized it, and Google Home's search-based answers was the subject of debate, with one reviewer praising its capabilities while another highlighted multiple bad-quality answers comparable to fake news.

Google Home logo.png
Google Home logo.png
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Google-home-crop.jpg

History

In March 2016, reports were published about Google developing a wireless speaker to compete against the Amazon Echo. Google Home was officially announced at the company's developer conference in May 2016, where it was also announced that Home would run Google Assistant (a conversational evolution of Google Now intended to be integrated in other products announced at the conference as well).

Google Home was released in the United States on November 4, 2016. It was released in the United Kingdom on April 6, 2017. In May 2017, Google announced that Home would be heading to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and Japan in summer 2017.

Features

Various forms of both in-house and third-party services are integrated into Google Home, allowing users to speak voice commands to control interaction with them. Examples of supported services include Google Play Music, Spotify and iHeartRadio for audio, Netflix, YouTube and Google Photos for videos and photos, Google Calendar and Google Keep for tasks, and CNN, CNBC and The Wall Street Journal for news updates. New services are integrated on an ongoing basis.

Google Assistant, an intelligent personal assistant, is included as the main and only assistant in Google Home. Unlike its cousin, Google Now, Assistant is able to engage in two-way conversations with users. The Wall Street Journal reported in October 2016 that Google hired writers from Pixar movies and The Onion satirical newspaper to develop a personality for the Assistant, with a long-term goal being to invoke a sense of emotional rapport in users.

Users can connect and group together multiple Home speakers for synchronized playback of music in every room. A notable feature omission, multiple accounts, was criticized by JR Raphael of Computerworld in November 2016, but an update for users in the United States in April 2017 enabled the feature. Google Home can now recognize up to six different voices, pulling information from their different accounts depending on who's talking. However, Ryan Whitwam of Android Police criticized the inability to create reminders or appointments in users' calendars, writing that "adding something to your calendar has to be one of the most common tasks for a human assistant. It's certainly not impossible to do this stuff, either".

Google Home includes home automation features, enabling owners to use it as a central hub to control smart devices. Examples of supported devices include the Chromecast digital media player, and products from Nest, SmartThings, Philips Hue, and Logitech Harmony.

In May 2017, Google announced multiple updates to Google Home's functionality. It will support hands-free calling, letting users make calls to any landline or mobile phone in the United States and Canada for free. "Proactive Assistance" enables the device to dictate updates to users without being asked, including updates on traffic before a scheduled event. "Visual Responses" let users send answers from Google Home onto their mobile device or Chromecast-enabled television. The device will also support streaming songs from a phone through Bluetooth, and the ability to schedule calendar appointments, with upcoming support for reminders.

Design

Google Home is 5.62 inches (143 millimetres) high, and 3.79 inches (96 millimetres) in diameter. It weighs 16.8 ounces (480 grams). The design represents a modular cylindrical shape, and has 4 LEDs on the top that indicate that it is working. The top surface is a capacitive touch panel, which can be used to stop or start music, and adjust the volume.

Hardware

In May 2016, The Information reported that Google Home has the same ARM processor and Wi-Fi chip as the Chromecast, describing it as "Home will essentially be a microphone, speaker, plastic top with LED lights and a fabric or metal bottom – wrapped around a Chromecast." A product teardown by iFixit in November 2016 further confirmed the information on same processor chips as the second-generation Chromecast, and also found two microphones along with a "standby" button to silence all communications for added privacy. A mute button was also confirmed by several media publications.

Modular base

The cover over the base is modular, and is available in various colors with the purpose of blending it around home decor. As of November 2016, there are six different color options offered through the Google Store, including three made of plastic: mango, marine, and violet, and three made of metal: carbon, copper, and snow.

Reception

David Pierce of Wired compared Google Home to Amazon Echo, writing in a summary that "Sometimes Home feels like sci-fi magic. Sometimes it reaches beyond its grasp and falls flat. The Echo is less impressive, but more reliable". Pierce praised the look of Google Home, writing that it feels "minimalist, thoughtful, and warm" in the environment, and also praised its speaker, describing it as "richer, brighter and more dynamic than the Echo, and loud enough to fill a room". While noting that Home's use of the Google Assistant functioned in different ways than it does through the Google Allo app or Google Pixel smartphone, meaning quick instructions rather than longer tasks, he praised its search abilities, writing that "you’d expect Home to excel at search. It does", despite some wrong search hiccups. Pierce criticized its lack of interoperability with other Google Assistant-enabled devices, though he called its future potential for connecting information across Google's product lines "enormous".

Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica praised Google Home's setup process and its ability to pick up voice commands even from a distance, calling the latter "absolutely incredible". He noted the device's lack of Bluetooth, however, writing that "it's important to know that Google Home is not a Bluetooth speaker; it's purely a Google Cast device. If you want to play audio on a Google Home, the service needs to have a Google Cast button". He similarly criticized the Assistant's lack of cross-device functionality, writing that "Pretty much all the actions you send to a Google Home will stay on that Google Home, and there's never an interaction with your phone", and he noted concerns and questions regarding whether Google has an intention to incorporate the functionality deeper into its product lines. Additionally, in his summary, he wrote that "Why pay $129 for a device that is less capable than an Android phone?".

James Martin of CIO, however, criticized Google Home for what he experienced as "too many setup headaches", citing multiple attempts to reboot the router, Google Home and his smartphone, but experiencing a lack of proper connectivity and disconnections. In a post examining Google's "featured snippets" (highlighted answers based on search results that Google Home uses to answer voice questions), Adrianne Jeffries of The Outline severely criticized Google for providing bad-quality answers, writing that "As Google attempts to combat the proliferation of fake news by banning publishers from its ad platform, it continues to disseminate fake news itself through featured snippets".

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