This is part 3 of my discussion of what’s happening in personal assistants and in-home devices for them. the first two parts:
- Personal Assistants Enter a New Phase (1) – background on the space,
- Personal Assistants (2) – Amazon vs. Google – the reason Amazon and Google are likely to fight over this space.
Now, getting back to Google…
Google Home & The Google Assistant
Amazon is among Google’s most feared competitors. They are stealing lucrative queries – shopping searches – from Google. Google’s business feeds on user engagement and data, and the Echo opens up new fronts in this competition.
Eighteen months after the announcement of the Echo, Google launched (or pre-launched) their Google Home device. Google leveraged existing assets in it’s construction, but still must have recognized the threat early and moved rapidly to be ready at Google I/O. As an aside, I was impressed to see Google admit they were reacting to Amazon in the keynote speech!
A huge caveat: Google has shown “vision videos” and product promises, not an actual product. We should assume the Google offering will fall short, but given the assets we can try (Google Now, Google Speech recognition) Google can probably deliver on their vision. Google’s assets and strategy are sound, but they must still move quickly and skillfully. Nest is a great counterexample ; Google’s IoT entry was well planned, but they appear to have failed in execution.
The Google Home device is easy – the hardware is simple and low cost. Assuming they can nail the far field microphones and keyword monitoring, it’ll meet expectations.
The real asset – and the real battle – is the Google Assistant. Google should be able to leap ahead of Amazon using their deeper knowledge and service assets to deliver many scenarios that are beyond Amazon’s. Amazon must realize this and is on a hiring spree to keep ahead.
Google has promised a wide variety of scenarios: Music, Flight notifications, restaurant reservations, Text messaging, Home control, Translation, Package tracking, Long tail web search, control of Chromecast devices, Traffic alerts, Maps navigation w/ send-to-phone, and Calendar queries. It seems unlikely they can deliver them all in the first version, but it’s an ambitious and differentiated product that can be updated with new features in the cloud.
Strategic Positions and Assets
Google and Amazon (and Apple, added here as they are very likely to respond with their own product) approach the market with very different assets. Predicting a winner is tough since these are all rich, smart companies with lots to lose.
Here are some thoughts:
- Everyone will offer checkbox features: Music, simple productivity tasks, home control.
- Amazon has sustainable differentiation in their shopping experiences, but most of what has made Echo delightful can be quickly replicated by the competition. One asset Amazon can leverage here is their retail channel; presumably they will not assort the competition.
- Google will differentiate on Answering questions (search), whole home entertainment (Chromecast), ubiquity across devices (ChromeCast, ChromeOS, and especially mobile), and with tasks linked into the Google services many customers already use (texts, mail, calendar, maps). Google may choose to use their suite of Office apps as a lever on your desk.
- Apple will leverage their installed base. Expect “better together” scenarios with iPhone and Mac, as well as unique iTunes features. As for the assistant, Apple will need to considerably up their game in speech and assistant technologies. Apple announced Siri on Mac at WWDC last week, showing a continuing committment to the product.
Google will ship Assistant and Home later this year. Their vision video almost certainly overpromises but it should be a compelling alternative to Echo out of the door. Overall, I think they are in the strongest position.
I think this bypasses the most important question, however: When will Assistants be good enough to be useful for mainstream users? Are we finally on the verge of AI taking off as many pundits predict? I’ve lived long enough to see multiple waves of “AI revolutions” that faded away. The current products are promising, but still not there – and the remaining gap – true conversational understanding, more flexible speech recognition, etc… – may take a long time to fill.
It’s always safe to predict that truly useful assistants and bots are further away than the press is predicting. But I do find myself using Echo a lot, and am optimistic that it (and the competition) will improve rapidly now that the market has been proven.