All eyes in the tech world are turned toward San Francisco today as Google unveils its latest and greatest at its annual I/O conference. The first major announcement came after CEO Sundar Pichai kicked things off and handed the mic to Mario Queiroz, Google's Vice President of product management. Queiroz unveiled Google Home, one of the expected announcements at today's event, which basically brings Google's voice assistant feature to a standalone unit similar to Amazon's Echo.
Prior to the Google Home announcement, Pichai spent a good amount of time talking about how Google Assistant – which is essentially a rebranding of the new-and-improved Google Now – is constantly being developed to provide a more natural voice interaction with data. For example, he pointed out that you could not only ask who directed the film The Revenant, but after that, ask it to show you all of "his other films," without the need to reiterate who it was you were talking about. That kind of naturalistic search and interaction will be at the heart of Google Home.
The device itself is roughly teardrop shaped, has a white main body and no visible buttons. A swirl of the company's red, blue, green and yellow lights are visible on top when it's working. Queiroz said users will be able to customize the Home base in a variety of color and finishes, including metal and fabric.
Home also, naturally, is Wi-Fi enabled and has a built-in speaker. While that speaker can play music from the cloud or popular streaming services in addition to replying to your queries, one of the standout features of Home is that it will be able to link up to Chromecast devices around your home. So you can, for example, tell it to play "Purple Rain" in the kitchen and living room if you have Chromecast Audio devices connected to speakers there. It could also display graphic results on any TV connected to a Chromecast, so a request to "show all of Rembrandt's paintings on the TV in the bedroom" would start a slideshow of the master's works.
Home will also integrate with Internet of Things (IoT) devices including smart lightbulbs and the company's own Nest thermostat. As demonstrated by a video shown at I/O, that means you can wake the kids up by asking the device to turn the lights on in their room.
The video also pointed out that Home will deliver notifications via a soft beep. When you hear it, you can apparently say, "OK Google, I'm listening," and your notification – such as a delayed flight – will come through.
On top of all that, it has the ability to execute voice-to-text commands and make calls just as Google Now does currently.
Like Google Now, Home can be activated simply by saying "OK Google," or "Hey Google."
As for when Home will be available Queiroz would only say that it will be come "later this year." It's hard to say how it will compete with the Echo, as many of the features such as music streaming, IoT integration and question answering are all duplicates with that device. The real point of differentiation between the two is the Chromecast integration and perhaps the quality of the speaker for music streaming. Google's knowledge base could potentially help to separate it as well. As Queiroz said, "as Google keeps getting better, so will Google Home."