Smart home race speeds up as Google challenges Amazon

9 Dec 2016

Google logo. Image: 360b/Shutterstock

Google is opening up its home assistant to developers to help bridge the gap to Amazon’s Alexa service, already making waves in living rooms throughout the world.

While autonomous vehicles dominate the ‘what technology is coming down the line’ predictions, it seems home assistance might be the more interesting industry at the moment.

Amazon is years ahead with its attempt at making household existence a hands-free experience, thanks to the company’s Echo device (and Alexa software) already being a popular product.

Microsoft yesterday threw its hat into the ring with Windows 10 and Cortana, its own attempt to get into home assistance.

And now it seems Google – which already has some peripheral products such as Chromecasts setting the stage in households – is stepping up its game.

Google Assistant

Google Assistant

Google Assistant is a few months old now and the company feels it’s time to let more developers in on the software, a brazen attempt to catch up with Amazon’s Alexa.

Now developers can build chatbots that work with Google Assistant, creating a voice-commanded future for the company as the internet of things seemingly becomes mainstream.

The tools, called Conversation Actions, will let companies and other third parties interact with users to answer questions and sell goods and services.

Starting with, “OK Google”, companies will essentially look for approval from Google to fill in the blanks, with the opening two words existing to wake up Google Assistant.

On the fly

So something like, “OK Google, order me a Hailo”, for example, could well be coming down the line. A chatbot would answer the question of when and where, and a car would pull up outside your door.

“This is the ability to immediately, on the fly – instead of loading a site – engage a user in a conversation,” said Jason Douglas, who is overseeing the new developer platform.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Douglas, compared it to applying for a web address in the early days of the internet. “We’re trying to make it as seamless and natural for users to go direct to developers,” he said.

Claiming that this is just the start, Google is stepping onto a road Amazon has already laid, and is beginning to play catch-up.

Though catching up may not be easy, as other tech giants have already gotten their hands dirty.

Intel, Microsoft and Amazon

Last week, Amazon and Intel paired up for a “tremendous opportunity” in smart homes, putting Alexa-like capabilities into more companies’ hands. This was, essentially, broadening the future scope of the Echo.

Then yesterday, Intel hedged its bets, deepening its ties with Microsoft to help Windows 10 infiltrate the living room.

Project Evo will see the duo push Cortana on Windows 10 through to 2017 PCs, creating a more hands-free relationship between customers and tech.

Far-field communication and voice activation, new security capabilities, mixed reality, and new gaming capabilities are the four areas to be developed, though it’s the former which is most interesting.

It’s also essentially everything Amazon has done, and Google wants to do. But on Windows. Oh, and Apple does have Siri, of course.

Google logo. Image: 360b/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic