Google Home

Google I/O 2017 marked a massive improvement in Google Home's capabilities, the importance of which should not be underestimated. With less than a 30 minute slice of the two-hour long keynote address, Google rolled out fresh Google Home features that improve daily functionality of the connected speaker and completely change the possibilities for both requesting and receiving information from it.

Amazon should take note.

Adding push information

Google Home

It becomes harder and harder to ignore Google Home's presence.

In what may have initially come across as a small development, Google made an important change to the way Google Home works by introducing what it calls "proactive notifications." Up to now, Google Home was always listening and waiting for your input — now, it can pulse its lights to let you know it has something to tell you. When you notice the lights, simply say "hey google, what's up?" and it will give you the timely information that you'll hopefully find useful. Google says what it pushes will be limited to only the most important information, and if done correctly it can be extremely useful.

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This is a huge change to the way you're expected to interact with Google Home, and has the potential to dramatically increase use by the average Home owner. By proactively pushing useful information, it becomes harder and harder to ignore Google Home's presence, which creates a loop of using Home more often.

Calling without a catch

One large feature that caught everyone's eyes in the wake of Amazon's recent Echo announcements was free calling from Google Home. You can now simply ask Google Home to call any of your contacts, so long as they have a phone number associated with their contact entry in your Google account. This critically bests the Echo in that it actually dials a phone number — you can call any mobile or landline, rather than dialing someone else's Google Home or phone via the Home app. The outgoing calls from Home can even be masked to look like they're coming from your phone, which makes the experience 100% seamless for the person on the other end.

Call any number at any time — no strings attached.

An important function that really makes voice calling effective is Google's recent implementation of multi-user functionality based on voice recognition. If you say "call mom" it's going to dial your mom ... and if your spouse says the same query it's going to call their mother instead. A decidedly personal experience that just makes sense, but is a difficult technological problem to solve.

An entirely new interface paradigm

Google Home visual responses

Google Home can respond on your phone or TV, too.

The final part of the latest Google Home announcements has less to do with Home itself and more with how it fits into your entire life. Now Google Home is no longer operating in a silo — it's simply the contact point for your voice, and can then give you information on other devices. Google Home can now send content to your phone or TV when applicable, whether that means sending Google Maps directions to your phone when you ask or playing a YouTube video on your nearby TV.

You could easily see this as a direct shot across the bow of the new Amazon Echo Show, which made the important jump to using a screen in addition to voice so that it can always offer you information no matter your query. Google Home and Google Assistant's strength over Amazon here is that Google has potential for deeper integration with more of your screens. Chromecast and Android TV give more options for your big screens and multi-room audio, while Google Assistant being built into just about every Android phone offers a deep hook in billions of devices.

Of course this is only a big feature if you're a household that already has Chromecasts or Android TVs — which isn't necessarily a given — but the potential is there in ways that Amazon can't yet offer.

Your move, Amazon

With these fresh Google Home features, the ball is back in Amazon's court to try and step up and match what Google Home is now capable of. Amazon may have a larger, longer-standing install base of Echo devices, with new hardware coming, but Google's superiority in software and platforms is winning right now.

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