Google is expected to release Google Home, its much-hyped rival to the Amazon Echo, along with several other hardware products, at an event in San Francisco Oct. 4.
Google Home integrates Assistant, a virtual assistant technology released earlier this year that is similar to Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa in function. Assistant is designed to let users carry on what the company has described as a two-way dialogue with Google using conversational speech.
Google Home is a small voice-activated consumer device that uses Google Assistant. It will let home users use normal speech to control things like their smart home lighting and heating systems and to set timers for various synced-up devices. It will also deliver local news and movie information, and provide weather updates.
In introducing the technology at Google's I/O conference earlier this year, Mario Queiroz, the company's vice president of product management, said Home would give users continued access to Google inside their homes in a hands-free fashion and without needing their phones or tablets.
"Google Home lets you enjoy music and entertainment throughout your entire house, manage everyday tasks more easily, and ask Google what you want to know," Queiroz said. Anyone in the family will be able to interact with Assistant and with Home by speaking to it, he noted.
Google Home supports what is known as far-field voice recognition. In other words, the device is capable of recognizing and responding to spoken commands from across a room even with a lot of other background noise.
Like Amazon's Echo, Google Home is also a Bluetooth speaker. People can use it to stream music from the web or from their mobile devices and to cast it to other Google Cast-enabled devices. Users can access their song playlists and podcasts from any online music services that they are subscribed to using voice commands, according to Queiroz. Google Home's support for Cast enables multi-room playback so users can listen to a song or podcast on speakers in multiple rooms.
Google Home also lets home users stream and control video content from the web to a TV screen of their choice. "Just tell Google Home, and the content will appear on the biggest, brightest screen in your house," Queiroz said when introducing the product in May.
Analysts see Home as giving Google an opportunity to make up ground that it lost to Amazon over the last two years in the market for digital home assistants. The Echo by most accounts has been an unexpected hit for Amazon. Between its launch in November 2014 and June of this year, Amazon is believed to have sold some 4 million Echo units at just under $200 per device.
"The launch of Google Home with Google Assistant up-levels Google's play as a virtual assistant," said Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, in a statement. "[It] is a natural extension of Google's path toward becoming the agent that sits between brands and their customers."
The product could deliver unprecedented business value for Google. But the company will have its work cut out making an impression in the consumer virtual assistant market, she said.
One big problem is that Google does not have a strong record of selling anything direct to consumer.
"The Google Assistant is likely to be the driving force behind Google's hardware moves," said Thomas Husson, a vice president at Forrester. "The end game for Google is to embed its intelligent agent to power conversations into multiple vertically integrated services like Mail, Search or Maps and into multiple devices like the new Google Home."