Google's releases: latest round of smartest gadgets yet

Google Home will have access to the company's search engine, but will the speaker deliver on its promise of being a 'personal Google for each and every user'? 

Beck Diefenbach/Reuters
Google Wifi, Google Chromecast Ultra, Google Home, Google Pixel XL, Google Pixel and Google Dreamview VR (l. to r.) are displayed during the presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco.

Google has taken a page out of the Apple playbook.

The search engine giant announced a series of products on Tuesday, including a speaker and smartphone, that integrate Google’s software and hardware, similar to what Apple has done over the past 15 years with its iPods, iPhones, and Macs. And because Google can easily access nearly all the information on the internet, its hardware will be able to deliver a “personal Google to each and every user,” according to Chief Executive Sundar Pichai.  

The announcements, then, mark a shift in how Google seeks to get information to users, which it hopes will pay off in the long run.

“Search has been Google’s golden ticket for the past 20 years on the internet,” Gartner analyst Brian Blau told the Associated Press, “and now they are hoping artificial intelligence will become the next golden ticket.”

Google’s digital voice assistant drives most of these products in this new series. Much like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa, the Google concierge will be able to answer basic questions. It will be able to tell you what your commute will be like, read you the news, and “pretty much do anything else a smartphone could do,” writes Quartz’s Mike Murphy.

One of the embodiments of the voice-activated assistant will be Google Home, a speaker that rivals Amazon’s Echo. At $129 ($50 cheaper than the Echo), Google Home will be available in November, much later than comparable speakers. But it has one distinct advantage, writes PC Magazine’s Tom Brant.

“Google already knows everything about you and pretty much everything that’s on the Internet,” writes Mr. Brant.

If you ask it to tell you about your day, it will list the weather, your commute, what’s on your calendar, and a news briefing. All that information is pulled from Google products you already use, including Gmail, Calendar, and Maps.

Google has also stockpiled 70 billion facts in a database it calls a “knowledge graph.” Google Home will have access to this stockpile, as well as the ability to quickly scan the internet to retrieve a specific piece of information. The artificial intelligence programming is also designed to learn more about the person using it with each interaction, according to Google.

If your Google Home is connected to other smart devices in your house, it will also be able to turn down the thermostat, turn up the lights, and power on the TV.

The digital assistant will work best if you buy a Google Home on top of the company’s new smartphone, Google Pixel, as well as the other devices it announced Tuesday.  

“The combination of all these devices, taken together, is really compelling. Home works with the $35 Chromecast and Chromecast Audio for multi-room streaming, backed by a high-quality mesh router system,” wrote Daniel Conrad, a former project manager on Android, in a post on Medium about the new devices. “That’s killer.”

“The big question with Google Home, other than how it stacks up against Echo, is whether or not you're comfortable with giving it so much access to your digital life,” writes Mr. Brant at PC Magazine. “Google says you'll be able to prevent Home from accessing certain information sources, but then you'd be robbing the speaker of much of its functionality. Google knows so much about your life anyway that allowing Home to offer that information to you in spoken form probably won't increase your risk of snooping or identity theft.”

Then there’s the price point. In a perfect world, Google recommends installing several Google Homes, several of its new Wifi routers, its smartphone, a Chromecast Ultra, and a regular Chromecast. All that adds up to $1,439 (before taxes). 

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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