It seems everywhere you look, paid media outlets are raving about Google Home. It’s sleek, it’s stylish, it’s packed with features you’ve never known you needed, it’s going to kill the Amazon Echo…it also doesn’t exist yet.
So with all the hype being crammed down our cram-holes, and all the questions I’m getting about my thoughts on the subject, I figured it’s time to formally weigh in.
First things first, I love Google. I jumped on the Android bandwagon when the Droid 1 was released. The first thing I did when my company gave me an iPhone was download every Google app. I live and die by Google Maps (and Waze to a lesser extent). I love my Nest products. I even owned a Logitech Revue, also known as Google TV…and there’s the problem.
Google makes fantastic products for online consumption. They make great apps and an amazing OS. Google Now(/Instant/Assistant/Whatever the hell they’re calling it today) is far better than Siri, Cortana and even Alexa. But Google’s track record with home products is spotty at best.
Take, for instance, Google TV. It was a set top box that came with a wireless keyboard with an integrated trackpad that basically turned your TV into a lightweight computer. Its best feature, in my opinion, was that it installed in line with the cable box and overlaid regular TV, rather than needing a separate input. This gave it the ability to put your show in a window while you browsed the internet. It had access to the Google App store, but there were virtually no compatible apps. Virtually every network website blocked its ability to stream content. Web pages were shown in their native form, making them impossible to read, even on large screen TVs, from more than a few feet away. Google almost immediately abandoned the idea of updating the OS, and when they did it was seriously delayed and a half-hearted effort. It had a short, painful and expensive lifespan and I was lucky to sell mine when people were still willing to pay for it.
Speaking of short and painful lifespans, remember the Google Nexus Q? I don’t know who would because it existed for zero minutes in the consumer market. It was valued at $300 in pre-order, but none were ever shipped. The only people to receive them were attendees of Google I/O 2012. It is believed to be the precursor to Chromecast, which we will get to in a minute. This was a huge embarrassment for Google.
At first glance, Google hit it out of the park with their acquisition of Nest in 2014. The Nest thermostat is arguably the best on the market. Since 2014 they have released the Nest Protect and acquired Dropcam to add a Nest Cam to the mix. The Protect is the only real innovation to come out of Nest Labs since 2014. Although the thermostat is now in its third revision, it is largely unchanged from the original. Nest Cam is literally just Dropcam rebranded. And the rumors about Nest being in trouble just keep coming. The release of Google Home itself backs up the rumors, as it is being released by Google proper and not Nest, who is supposed to be the smart home division of Google.
Another home device not falling under the Nest umbrella is OnHub, which is a router? No it’s two routers. Wait, it’s one product name for two different products made by two different manufacturers and they don’t have the same features. What the shit? Ok, lets just say that Google OnHub is a router, standard or software product, and it is a little confusing. But for $199 this (these) confusing product(s) promise to simplify your wifi experience.
Finally we come to a Google success story, Chromecast. At $35 the Chromecast and Chromecast Audio are priced right. It is fast, it works with virtually everything you would expect it to work with and it turns any TV into a smart TV. The downside is that you have to install the apps for each service you plan to use and “cast” them from your phone to your TV. The advent and success of the Chromecast forced Roku and Amazon to develop sticks of their own to compete.
I took the long way around here, but the long and short is that Google does not have a stellar track record when it comes to home devices. They can make all the claims in the world, but until there is a physical product it’s all just hype.
All of that said, being second to market has its advantages. Google has had over a year to see where Amazon has succeeded and failed with the Echo lineup. Their claim of multi room synched music and the possibility of synching with Chromecast’s should have Sonos shaking in their boots. I think the competition will be good for Amazon, but I think Google Home has a lot of catching up to do just to be an Amazon Echo competitor, let alone an Echo killer.