Google’s ‘Helpful Home’ strategy is leaning on AI to make homes anticipate consumers’ wants and needs
- The article below was sent to Business Insider Intelligence Connectivity and Tech subscribers yesterday.
- To get this type of content each day, plus other Connectivity and Tech news and analysis, become a subscriber today.
- To check to see if you already have access to Business Insider Intelligence through your company, click here.
At its Made By Google event yesterday, the search giant announced a number of new products and services to build on its “Helpful Home” smart home concept.
AI-powered systems like Google Assistant are at the heart of this strategy, tying together a range of tools and services from first- and third-party brands to create new means of controlling the home and to allow Google to automate and anticipate the wants and needs of consumers at home.
Here’s what Google announced for the smart home:
- The new Nest Mini. The miniature smart speaker is an updated version of Google’s best-selling smart speaker, the Google Home Mini, with the same overall appearance, design, and price ($49). Google added built-in wall-mounting — as previously rumored — as well as improved audio output, an additional microphone, and an onboard machine learning chip to make the device understand voice commands better. This is, overall, a minor, iterative improvement to a device Google has rightly deemed doesn’t need too much tweaking — though given the company’s emphasis on keeping its speakers out in the open, an OLED display like Amazon added to the Echo Dot could be beneficial to consider for next time.
- The Nest Wifi system. An update to its Google Wifi products, the system also incorporates the essentials of a smart speaker into the “Points” that it uses to extend the mesh system’s range. The devices are intended to live out in the open on a side table, bookshelf, or dresser, and allow users to speak to them and issue commands or ask questions to Google Assistant. This is a smart addition for a company like Google — one that we speculated Amazon might make following its purchase of eero, though it hasn’t thus far — because it facilitates both improved connectivity and allows consumers to use all variety of Google services while simultaneously enabling easier access to its voice assistant.
Despite the event being nominally about its hardware, the overriding takeaway from these announcements is that Google’s underlying AI is far more central to its home strategy, especially relative to Amazon. Google’s portfolio of first-party hardware for smart speakers and the smart home pales in comparison to Amazon, its chief rival in the space in the US and Europe. That’s because Google seems intent to use its hardware to be smarter about getting inputs and information from users, rather than surrounding the user with a flood of devices.
Google’s approach emphasizes to the consumer that the AI is doing more of the heavy lifting and “inhabiting” the home in unseen ways. The Nest Hub Max smart display, for instance, can use its built-in camera to dynamically adjust volume and to allow users to make gestures to adjust settings or take actions, rather than using multiple devices situated around a room to maintain volume as one moves around. In contrast, Amazon uses more devices, so the user knows where Alexa is housed and listening from, and an AI that seems to only act when prompted.
Google’s emphasis on AI capabilities continues with the new Nest Mini, which uses machine learning to better understand commands and more quickly and accurately respond to them. Similarly, as part of its revamped Nest Aware subscription security service, Google is adding sound-monitoring from speaker-equipped devices to that package, so a smart speaker can listen for a smoke alarm and let a traveling homeowner know it’s going off so they can get in touch with emergency services. These announcements indicate Google is framing its whole smart home strategy around ambient computing, with its Assistant AI incorporating active inputs as well as passive observations to help the user go about their day.
But Google’s strategy risks putting too much emphasis and responsibility on its AI features and capabilities in a way that could leave consumers uncomfortable. It’s one thing for an AI like Google Assistant to listen for a user’s command to begin playing music on a smart speaker in a different room of their house. But it’s a totally different matter to make the full shift to AI-powered ambient computing, where Google Assistant can use the camera in a Nest Hub Max or a Nest Cam, or even the microphone in a Nest Mini, to tell when someone is walking from the kitchen to the living room and shift audio playback between rooms.
Anticipating and preempting what the user wants can make an AI invaluable to those who buy in and bind them to an ecosystem forever — but Google can’t push this form of interaction to be the default of its smart home too quickly. This approach has led to discontent within certain portions of the Android community with the most recent operating system release, for example. With such an unfamiliar interaction concept, Google will need to allow users to ease into this new paradigm at their own pace, lest it risk pushing the reluctant to a rival or away from the smart home concept altogether.
To get this type of content each day, plus other Connectivity and Tech news and analysis, become a Business Insider Intelligence subscriber today.