New audio odyssey as Google Home smart speakers arrive in Ireland

20 Jun 2018

Google Home smart speaker. Image: Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock

The voice-based internet of things is upon us. But is it sound?

The smart speaker space is heating up in Ireland as Google last night (19 June) launched its Google Home family to compete with the Amazon Echo and the imminent arrival of the Apple HomePod.

At an event in the plush surrounds of Lansdowne Place in Dublin 4, the new Google Home and Home Mini devices were launched by Tríona Butler, the Tipperary-born and Silicon Valley-based Google Home user experience (UX) lead who spearheaded the UX design of the devices.

‘The idea is to design technology that feels right and fits alongside the things that you love’

Proud of her Tipperary heritage, Butler showed with a single voice command how she could listen to a Gaelic football match on Tipp FM via TuneIn Radio and have the game follow her around her house by linking up her various Google Home and Home Mini devices.

She also showed how they could control various internet of things (IoT) devices around the home such as the Nest thermostat or Philips Hue lights to make it “warm and bright” just with the sound of her voice, or even launch a playlist with Spotify.

What is Google Home and how does it work?

Google Home is a smart speaker range developed by Google initially in 2016. It enables users to speak commands and interact with various services such as Netflix, Spotify, Nest, WeMo, YouTube, Chromecast and others through Google’s intelligent AI platform, Google Assistant.

This means users can manage their home automation with the sound of their own voice but the device also basically converts the internet into a sonic experience by getting information from weather to news, while also setting reminders, updating shopping lists and a lot more.

The Google Home is a cylindrical speaker about 5.6in tall that features coloured LEDs as well as capacitive touch controls and a high-excursion speaker with dual microphones that can support far-field voice. It has a button at the back to allow users to simply turn off the microphones.

The Home Mini, also known as the ‘small and mighty’ among Googlers, is a smaller, flatter, palm-sized machine that pretty much does everything the Google Home smart speaker can do. Users can easily link them together to control IoT devices or play music or radio around the house, ideal for parties.

One particular feature of the Mini is how it allows you to stream shows and movies to your TV through Chromecast. Just say ‘OK Google, play Stranger Things on Netflix’ or ‘OK Google, play soccer videos on my TV.’

Home sweet home

At the event last night, Butler said that Google developed the products by focusing on people’s home lives.

“The time we have at home is special. We all lead very busy lives, but we need to be able to make the most of our time at home.

“These are smart speakers powered by the Google smart assistant. You can control your devices with your voice, ask questions from the internet, get things done and just have a little extra help in the home without technology getting in the way but, rather, adding to the ambience so you can enjoy moments with your family.

“The idea of Home being for the home inspires what we do and filters into how we design our hardware and software.”

For example, the cloth covering the Home Mini speakers features a woollen yarn designed from scratch by the design team, and the coverings for both devices come in various colours. The high-excursion speakers are designed to fill a room with sound and good bass, and at the same time modulate so a newsreader can deliver the news clearly.

“The idea is to design technology that feels right and fits alongside the things that you love,” Butler said.

“Voice is a powerful way to interact with your home and we want to enable more people to interact with their content but also control things around the home.”

Google Home and Home Mini are available nationwide for €149 and €59, respectively, from DID Electrical, Harvey Norman, Expert Electrical and PowerCity as well as

Google Home smart speaker. Image: Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years