From Rosie the maid in The Jetsons and Andrew in Bicentennial Man to C3P0 in Star Wars, we love the idea of programmable personal assistants to help us around the home. With many people working more than 8 hours a day to make ends meet while also being expected to find time for cooking healthy food, exercising and maintaining an active social life, there’s little time left for all those niggling household chores that have to be done.
Sadly, technology hasn’t advanced to the point of humanoid robots who can stack our dishwashers and fold our laundry yet, but we’ve taken one small step towards this future with smart home assistants. They might not have the mobility required to take out the trash or rock the baby to sleep, but they can make things easier around the home.
In the world of smart homes, the smart home assistant is the central hub, controlling all of the other connected devices and helping them work together. They also work as voice-controlled search engines, able to answer general questions the same way a Google search yields a result. As a connected device, they are usually able to stream music or download and read audiobooks as well.
At the moment there are two major players in the smart home assistant foray: Amazon Echo and Google Home. Let’s take a look at each of their strengths in the battle to be the top smart home assistant.
Let’s start with the major advantage Amazon Echo has over Google Home: it was here first. Google Home is still in the demo phase, and has yet to be commercially released, while Amazon Echo is already available to take home. This means Amazon Echo will have a lot of time for market research and will be able to respond to users with updates based on feedback before Google Home can even enter the market. This could mean before Google Home even gets a chance to strut its stuff, Amazon Home will already be ahead of the game.
Echo also has a huge range of functions, with the developers creating almost 1000 “skills”, such as the ability to book an Uber, check your account balance, check the amount of petrol in your car, order pizzas etc. Echo can even liven up a dinner party with fun games like Bingo, Abra (similar to 21 questions), Blackjack and even the game made famous by The Big Bang Theory: Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock! Without knowing the full range of Google Home’s skills, it’s difficult to say if this will be unique to Amazon Echo, but what is certain is that Google Home will have a lot of catching up to do if it’s to compete with Echo’s vast array of talents.
Amazon Echo has a likeability factor that will be tricky for Google Home to compete with. Its slick design may not be as cute as the pudgy, white Google Home, but the way it lights up when you call on Alexa, the voice of Echo, is quite endearing. By addressing a human name such as “Alexa” rather than Google Home’s start words “Okay, Google”, there is a more personal and human quality to Amazon Echo. However, if you find the personification more creepy than charming, you have the option of addressing the device as “Amazon” or “Echo”.
Let’s face it; the major reason any Google product will always have an advantage is because they are made by Google! Google Home will be able to sync with other Google products we use every day: Gmail, Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Calendar, YouTube and more. Best of all, it has all the knowledge of a Google search engine, meaning it’s well equipped to answer all of your questions – moreso than Amazon Echo, which will sometimes admit it doesn’t know the answers.
Google Home is the more interior design-friendly assistant, with a removable, changeable bottom so you can customise your device to suit the colour scheme of the room it’s in. You’ll be able to buy a bunch of different coloured bottoms to suit your mood each and every day. It might not be a “make or break” feature, but if the success of Apple’s rose gold iPhones has shown us anything, it’s that people pay a lot of attention to the aesthetics of their devices.
Google Home’s demos have also shown some nifty tricks that Echo isn’t currently able to do. Amazon Echo’s functions are limited to whatever room it is currently in – like listening to music. Google Home is able to connect to other Google Chromecast-based speakers in the home to play music wherever the speakers are in the house. You could have music playing in every room if you wanted to. Google Home is also better set up to control the smart home. Not only is Google the owner of Nest, it’s also made friends with a lot of big players in smart home tech, so the Google Home will be able to control your thermostat, lighting, locks and more! Amazon Echo still has some networking to do to get more smart devices to connect.
If you want to start enjoying the benefits of a smart home assistant today, Amazon Echo is your best choice. However, if you decide to hold out for Google Home, it could be well worth the wait. Hopefully we will see this trend take off and the technology advance, so I finally can have my robot maid sometime in the future.
Do either of these devices take your fancy? Let us know in the comments below.