A team at Google is building a competitor to Amazon’s Echo, according to a report by the Information. The device will use some of Google’s existing speech recognition technology to offer Echo-like functionality, according to the report, which also cautions that little is known about release plans. Google may even decide not to release the device at all.
The disclosure of the projects comes as part of a look at Google’s home automation efforts, led by Nest, an independent unit under Google’s Alphabet umbrella. Nest had been seen as a rising star when Google acquired it for $3.2 billion in early 2014, but the company has since struggled to release new and significantly update existing products. That’s why the new voice recognition efforts are reportedly handled by a separate team not part of Nest.
It’s worth noting that Google has been exploring voice recognition technology through dedicated devices for some time. Last year, company executives told Time magazine that Google once built a prototype for a “Star Trek” communicator — a wearable device that could take voice commands with the press of a button.
Google isn’t the only company with Echo envy: Last week, Sonos revealed that it was laying off a number of employees because of a changing landscape in digital music and home automation. Sonos CEO John Macfarlane specifically called out the Amazon’s smart speakers in a blog post: “The Echo found a sweet spot in the home and will impact how we navigate music, weather and many, many other things as developers bring new ideas and more content to the Alexa platform.” Macfarlane added that Sonos was investing in voice as well.