IDG Contributor Network: Google positioning to bring smart homes to the mainstream

0 Posted by - 20th January 2017 - Technology

Tech analysts and investors are expecting big things from the smart home and the internet of things, and four companies are currently expected to dominate the market. CNET reports that market research firm Juniper projects that smart home sales will reach $83 billion in 2017 and $195 billion by 2021, with Amazon, Google, Samsung and Apple being the “Big Four.”

Google is working on expanding its international reach in the smart home market as it announced yesterday that its smart home brand Nest will be expanding into Spain, Italy, Germany, and Austria. Nest creates smart devices like thermostats and analysts had been wondering about its prospects as Google heads into the smart home market directly.  

But Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has made it very clear with this expansion that it still values Nest since it bought it in 2014. Furthermore, there is one feature about Nest which shows that Alphabet understands that while it has made tremendous strides in the smart home market over the past year, it has to work towards catching up with Amazon. While Google possesses certain advantages which may let it surpass Amazon in the long term, it has a lot of work to do to become the future of the smart home.

Amazon’s dominating position

While Google has made strides towards developing Google Home, the reality is that Amazon has already sold 6 million Amazon Echo devices by the end of 2016. Google’s Nest products are designed to operate with any home artificial intelligence, and Nest co-founder Matt Rogers admitted that Amazon Echo is currently the most popular integration with Nest.

Amazon has already seen other appliance manufactures decide to create they will create gadgets which will connect to Alexa, Amazon Echo’s personal assistant software, and Amazon released a prototype kit to make development easier. Google is working on doing the same thing with the Google Assistant, its equivalent to Alexa, and released its own Assistant development kit last month.

The inclusion of artificial intelligence is critical to the development of the smart home. While “smart” devices like Nest’s thermostats and smoke detectors have existed for some time, linking them together with Google Assistant could mean that you can give Google Home commands from anywhere in the house.

In fact, you may not even need to be in the house. A few weeks ago, Hyundai announced that it would be partnering Google Assistant with its own Blue Link, which allows you to give orders to your car remotely. For example, you could tell your car to start up from inside the house – a highly useful feature in these winter months. While we are currently not at the stage where we can dictate orders to your house from inside the car, the ideal is that someday, we can tell Google Home to cool the house or start brewing coffee as we pull into the driveway.

The importance of Android

Google remains behind the Amazon Echo, which has stolen the first march in developing the smart home. But Google carries some key advantages which could enable it to catch up.

The first thing is that Google’s AI is better at searching and machine learning since Google is a search engine company. The blog Insider Monkey gives a terrific example of the difference in their capabilities. If you ask both Google Home and Amazon Echo “What is the capital of Thailand?” both of them will answer that question with “Bangkok.” But if you then ask “How many people live there?” only Google Home will be able to understand that “there” is referring to Bangkok. Given that much of a virtual assistant’s use is to answer questions or requests, Google can catch up if they can continue to offer what many describe as a superior product.

The second advantage is Google’s consistent presence with Android, which is now a platform of choice for Canada web hosting companies and a plethora of other software companies. This means that millions of users are exposed to Google software every day. If Google can integrate Google Assistant with Android and get users accustomed to the advantages of its software, customers could discover that Google Home is a superior searching device and look for devices which use it instead of Echo.

AI and smart home

Whether we are enamored about the potential of the smart home or worried about how it could intrude on our privacy, smart home technology will continue to be adopted by more individuals. The only question is which software and artificial intelligence will emerge as the dominant hub through which smart home devices will be connected.

Amazon is winning on this front for now, as it has successfully convinced far more manufacturers to integrate their products with Amazon Echo compared to Google. But that does not mean Google Home is doomed to fail. Google Home has made major strides in its ability to recognize human commands and answer questions, and we are now at a point where it can be integrated alongside other smart objects. There is no doubt that at the very least, 2017 will be a critical year as Google, Amazon, and other technology companies work towards making the smart home a reality on their terms and bring major progress for the benefit of all.

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