If you are a Sci-Fi fan like me, you may have always wondered when technology will catch up to the Hyper-drive (Star Wars) and Communicator (Star Trek) and finally be available to the average person. Though we may never arrive at the day when we can transport ourselves from space ship to planet by ‘Energising’, it seems we are closer than ever before to having our own Star Trek style Computer to talk to, much like Captain Kirk, thanks to Google and Amazon.
Last week Google announced the much anticipated launch of ‘Home’, their first voice activated speaker for the home. However, every piece of coverage around the launch mentioned the main rival product ‘Echo’ by Amazon which has been available for nearly 2 years in the US (and was released to the UK a week before Google’s announcement about ‘Home’).
The UK is no doubt a big market for brands, and the home automation and voice activated sector is the next big thing for consumer tech goods. So what do the two offer and where are other tech brands in this mix?
‘Home’ is only available in the US for now and retails for $129. From reviewing the Google launch video, if you don’t want to be shouting instructions from upstairs or another room, each household will need more than one ‘Home’ for the home (yes it’s a frustrating name to write about), so let’s hope the cost remains low when it is launched in the UK. ‘Home’ uses Google Assistant to control smart home and internet controlled products in the home, answer queries, play music, create shopping lists, provide travel updates, etc. ‘Home’ comes with seven interchangeable bases so it can be tweaked to fit your interior.
According to The Guardian, ‘Echo’ was not expected to be such a success. Its release to the UK market has been carefully planned; Echo has been adapted for the UK with an English accent, has allegedly been programmed to understand the broad variety of British accents and Amazon has selected key journalists to trial Echo at their home – see Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC testing Echo here. Echo can do everything that Google Home can and it is connected to many more partners (as well as Amazon itself for shopping). The one added benefit with Echo is that you can control it from any room in the house using the voice remote control. However, at times Alexa can be a bit clunky according to The Verge – watch their video here.
Over the last three weeks a lot of the media have asked where Apple is with their plans for a home device. Apple has Siri but not as a separate personal assistant unit for the home… yet. Bloomberg reported at the end of September that Apple are planning a smart-home device with superior microphone and speaker technology (two things that owners of Echo units have complained about on social media). It’s a matter of ‘watch this space’ with Apple.
My personal take on this? I want a smart home device ASAP, but I fear that, like all other consumer technology, it will take a few iterations of the device (and several years) before it really starts to improve my life and becomes something I can’t live without. The technology in my home would need upgrading too (lights, security, TV, wifi, electrics, heating, etc.) so though the units themselves are not that expensive, making full use of everything a smart-home device can do is going to be costly. I won’t know until I actually own one, plus I think the lure of being able to ask a question to thin air à la Captain Kirk, means I will probably give in pretty soon.