Last year when Google launched the Pixel smartphone, the world of technology acknowledged a lot of things. The first was the fact that the Pixel was the first “Made by Google” device. It was not just a rebranding exercise – it marked the search giant’s big arrival on the premium smartphone arena. On the same podium, the who’s who of Google spoke about Google Home, the little device that brought Google into our living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms.
Google Home is essentially a Wi-Fi enabled speaker unit that listens to your voice commands and interacts with your Pixel device and other Google services. It can set alarms, reminders, and talk back to you about traffic on the way to work, your mother-in-law’s birthday, or simply take voice commands to control music. The good folks at Google also spoke at length about Google Assistant. At first it looked again like a rebranding exercise for Google Now, which it was. But then it led to the biggest realization of that evening. It’s a software game now.
What now, again?
Google has been working on machine learning for a very long time. It is because of its learnings from this subject that it has managed to produce an app like Allo. However, much has been said about Google and its work with machine learning, and by now most of us know how it has translated into a product like Google Assistant. It looked like a great product and in our review of the Google Pixel, we figured out that it actually is quite good.
We were quite excited the other day when Google announced the integration of Google Assistant into Android Wear 2.0, which makes a smartwatch much more than just another accessory. Now, Google has started rolling out updates to Google Assistant on Pixel devices to add more control for smart home devices. When it was first launched, Google Assistant could be used to control only Google’s own Home units.
What this means is that the control is extended to Chromecast, Nest devices, and Philips Hue smart lights.
This essentially means that if you have a Pixel smartphone, and any of the aforementioned smart home products, you can use voice commands to do a lot of things. You can talk to your Chromecast through your Pixel to watch videos on the connected television screen, or tell Google Assistant when you want the lights to be turned off, and back on again, or change intensity or colour.
Therein lies the problem – only 1.2 percent of Android devices are running the latest version of Google’s software, and very few devices have actually gotten access to Google Assistant. When we say very few, we mean only the Google Pixel phones as of now. Google has a lot of partners that have started pushing out the Android 7.0 Nougat update, but none of them have Google Assistant at the time of writing this article. Some other devices are rumoured to feature Google Assistant in the future, but until any official announcements are made, we can’t be sure.
And even in that list of devices that get help from Google Assistant, only Chromecast and Philips Hue are commercially and officially available in India. There’s no word on when Google Home would be available in India, officially. The device is available on Amazon, for Rs 23,999, but since it isn’t listed on Google’s India website, you probably won’t get much software support to do all those things that the Google Home was designed for.
Lest we forget, Google took its own sweet time to bring Chromecast to India too, and the only other device that can be controlled with Google Assistant is Philips Hue. Just the starter kit costs Rs 13,500, and that’s lot for a single LED bulb unit.
Why is it important now?
The demonetization experiment did bring people closer to technology, what with people quickly adopting mobile wallets and opting for online transactions. People in India are closer to technology than ever before, and are excited about it too. This is the time when Google should quickly bring in their latest products, and extend the range of its software expertise to a broader base of Android users.
If Google decides to bring in Google Home and Google Assistant on other devices too late, the excitement might have died down by then. As we’ve seen before, users get very excited about new technologies, but feel let down if the company does not bring it to them fast enough. The Google Chromecast is a great device, and when it was launched in the US, it got a lot of Indian users very excited about it too, especially about the pricing. However, the device came into India officially much later and many users had by then procured it either from the US or had given up on the idea. Only now has the traction seemed to pick up again.
Before demonetization, very few users were using PayTM and Freecharge, and that too mostly for doing online bill payments or recharges. The most that a user would do would be to connect their PayTM account to Uber for getting cashless payments. Now that people have understood how to work and live with mobile wallets, they’re quite the rage.
Timeliness and pricing are the two key factors here. There are reports that even Amazon Echo, a similar product with an assistant called Alexa AI is slated for a late 2017 launch. Indian users mostly tend to look at the Dollar price of a new device first, and ask if the Rupee price is justified. The price of a Google Home unit on Best Buy in the US is $129, which is around Rs 8,700. If the price of a Google Home is anywhere near one listed on Amazon right now, well, then we all know how it’s going to end.