Google, Amazon and Apple are the biggest names in the still-developing smart home industry. The former two have launched speakers that can interpret human voice to turn on or off lights, thermostats, cameras, and various smart devices at home.
Amazon appears to lead the way with its Alexa smart platform, which currently dominates the market by dictating compatibility from the greatest number of home appliances in the market. The e-commerce giant has also introduced the most number of voice-recognition devices, namely the Echo series, to enable even more home control possibilities.
It does not necessarily mean Amazon will rule the market ever after. Google offers almost exactly the same services. The Google Assistant platform is also a popular integration choice for smart home product makers. The Google Home speakers have very similar functions as Amazon Echo. They are both great choices to control home devices with voice command.
Google Home and Amazon Echo offer very similar use experience when it comes to home control. Device makers essentially go through the same process when making Google Assistant or Alexa compatible products. The needed software and hardware components are very much alike.
Google, however, has an edge over Amazon. That is, the great number of Android system users. There are two billion active users of Android phones. Consumers might be more likely to purchase Google Assistant devices because they are already used to it compared with Alexa, according to Robert Thompson, Chief Enablement Architect for i.MX Applications Processors at NXP Semiconductors. For example, when consumers see a voice-enabled coffeemaker, they’ll choose the one that works with Google. “When it comes to voice assistant, people want things that they are familiar with, that are compatible with their smartphones,” Thompson said.
Advanced Language Capability
Google is also many steps ahead in its language ability. While Alexa currently supports only English and German, Google has a much larger language knowledge because Android is available in 80 languages. “As of today, Google Home is deployed in more languages than Amazon and it is possible to use the Google Assistant from a smart phone,” said Jérôme Leroy, VP Sales & Marketing at smart lighting manufacturer WiZ.
Some companies have also pointed out that Google provides a more intuitive, more natural language exchange experience. “Google Home allows user to naturally ask for switching on or off the light. To dim at the right level of intensity,” Leroy added.
AI in the Cloud
In addition to its natural language ability, Google may also excel at cloud intelligence. Providing services and collecting data in many countries across the world, Google has accumulated vast amounts of data that can help it carry out analytics. The AI could be proven very useful in smart home applications.
When a user talks to Google Home, the command will be sent to Google’s cloud, where the voice command is processed before the signal is passed to a home device.
“Really all the intelligence, such as asking a question or weather, goes on in the cloud, not the end devices,” NXP’s Thompson pointed out when asked to compare Alexa and Google Assistant from a home control perspective.
Smart lighting solution company Leviton Manufacturing concurred. “While Amazon may own a lot of the space today, Google has major potential with its wealth of data and processing power,” said Tom Leonard, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management for Leviton’s Energy Management Controls & Automation Division.
Google’s AI has drawn some attention in the industry. Startup company Lynky is making a Google Assistant-powered touchscreen speaker that looks similar to Amazon’s Echo Show. “We believe Google will lend its AI experience to help solve some vexing smart home challenges such as setup, automation creation, etc.,” said Lynky’s product manager Jerry Hou.
Google is rolling out voice assistant on every Android phone, and has the potential to catch up very quickly to Alexa. The market could be dominated by both players in 2019, Thompson predicted.
Using Different Protocols
In order to tap into the power of Google Home, connecting to Google’s cloud is required. A Wi-Fi device will usually connects via a router, while devices using Zigbee, Z-Wave or other protocols will need to be connected to a gateway. There are pros and cons to each method, said Chen Shaofeng, a software engineer at China-based Leedarson Lighting.
A router can connects to only so many (fewer than 20) Wi-Fi devices, but a future smart home environment may need up to more 100 devices. Wi-Fi’s advantage is direct connection and no additional equipment is required.
A gateway, on the other hand, can accommodate hundreds of Zigbee or Z-Wave devices. A gateway also enables better signal coverage. With Wi-Fi, a long distance to a router may compromise the connectivity.
Each of the two methods are suitable for different use cases, and the same lighting device may be made to enable Wi-Fi or gateway connectivity, to meet customers’ different demands, Chen said.
Two Ways to Enable Voice Control
Manufacturers also often employ one of two ways to make their device compatible with Google Home. A manufacturer may embed an IoT module either right into a device or into a switch, said CD Liu, PM Director of electronics manufacturing company Good Way Technology.
Philips Hue, for example, have Zigbee modules inside light bulbs. It’s convenient, but the drawback is that a module is thrown away when a bulb reaches the end of life. This adds up to costs. The other way is to place the module inside an in-wall light switch to enable voice control. This way the module can still be used when a light needs to be replaced.
Google Home Helps to Grow Smart Home Adoption
Google’s push to enable voice control has its impact in the industry. As it requests Google Home integration from third-party manufacturers, it is actually beefing up its smart home ecosystem. “Now without the integration you can’t seem to sell your products in Best Buy or Walmart. It wasn’t like this 3-4 years ago. And this helps the ecosystem to take shape,” said GK Lee, D-Link’s Vice President of mIoT Strategic Business Unit.
With the increased convenience, the next step is consumer education. It might be that in 2018 and 2019 a home without smart devices will be perceived as out of fashion. It’s just a matter of time, Lee added.