How Google Plans to Take Down Amazon’s Echo (EXCLUSIVE)

Google Home
Courtesy of Google

At its press event in San Francisco next week, Google is expected to not only unveil new flagship phones, but also officially launch Google Home, a Wifi-connected smart speaker that can be best described as Google’s answer to Amazon’s Echo — but it’s just a first step in an ambitious plan to battle Amazon for dominance in the home.

Google has already started to talk to consumer electronics manufacturers about building other devices that will work just like Google Home, Variety has learned. Key to these efforts is another device that has been built by the same team as Google Home: Chromecast, and its music-loving sibling Chromecast Audio.

How Casting Became A Trojan Horse

Google revealed key details of this plan during a closed-door meeting with industry insiders about a month after publicly unveiling Google Home. The meeting was attended by around 50 participants, and held in Google’s Mountain View offices. It brought some of the biggest names of home audio together in one room.

Some of the companies in attendance have already been working with Google by selling Wifi-enabled speakers powered by Google Cast, the same technology that’s behind Google’s popular Chromecast streaming adapter. Chromecast and Google Home do share some key technology, and Google now wants to use these existing relationships to get consumer electronics manufacturers to build their own versions of Google Home — smart speakers that are powered by Google’s cloud-based assistant.

“Google Cast has become a Trojan horse,” said one of the attendees, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record with Variety. This insider estimated that some of the companies that attended the meeting may be ready to unveil speakers with integrated microphones and a connection to Google’s assistant as early as next summer.

Amazon’s Echo Is the Next Search Bar

Google’s overtures to consumer electronics makers come at a time of upheaval for many home audio brands. Premium stereo equipment makers in particular have seen their sales diminished in recent years by both changing listening habits and a rapid evolution of technology.

The move to streaming audio led music fans to massively embrace headphones and cheap Bluetooth speakers. Then Sonos came along and established itself as the market leader for premium Wifi-connected speakers. And finally, Amazon surprised everyone with the Echo, a device that redefined what a speaker does, thanks to smart voice control that can be used to request songs, news headlines, the weather, and even to order a pizza or an Uber.

Amazon hasn’t released any official sales numbers for the Echo yet, but analysts peg the number of Echos sold north of 3 million. Reportedly, Amazon plans to sell as many as 10 million Echo devices next year.

Home audio vendors are more than a bit concerned about this trend. So is Google, albeit for other reasons. To Google, the Echo isn’t just another speaker. It’s part of a bigger move away from text- and app-based interfaces that require users to seek out information to voice-based systems that offer more natural interaction. In other words: It’s what’s next after Google’s search bar — and it’s made by a competitor.

Google Home Is Built for the Entire House

That’s why Google developed Google Home, a small speaker with integrated microphones that responds to voice commands to play music and tap into Google-operated services for additional smarts. Google hasn’t actually given any live demonstrations of the product yet, but a product video shown at Google I/O in June showed users asking the speaker to query Google Calendar, send text messages to contacts, translate phrases, control connected light bulbs and more.

The device is powered by Google Assistant: A smart, personalized assistant in the cloud that can respond to questions and commands, making use of the data Google has about its users.

Related

GH_Livingroom

Here’s Why Google Home Is Much More Than Just an Amazon Echo Clone

Google Home also integrates with Google Cast, the same technology that powers Google’s popular Chromecast streaming adapter. Consumers will be able to launch audio from their favorite Cast-compatible streaming apps on Google Home, including Spotify, Tunein, Pandora, NPR One, SoundCloud and more.

At the same time, Google Home also works as a Cast sender, which means that it can launch media playback on other Cast-compatible devices. Consumers will, for example, be able to launch YouTube video playback on their TVs by telling Google Home what they want to watch. What’s more, Google Home can play music in sync with other Google Cast-capable speakers or Chromecast Audio-equipped stereo systems.

The Battle for Your Bedroom

Consumers who own an Echo often put that device in their kitchen, but Amazon has made some moves to take over their bedrooms, and the rest of the house, as well. The company recently introduced a slimmed-down version of the Echo called the Echo Dot, and is now trying to convince consumers that they need one of these devices for every room. At the same time, Amazon has started to collaborate with third-party consumer electronics brands to add Alexa technology to their devices.

Amazon struck a deal with Sonos to leverage the Echo for voice control for existing Sonos speaker systems in August, and followed up this week with a similar deal with DTS for Wifi speakers powered by the company’s Play-Fi technology. And if that wasn’t enough, Amazon has also enabled a number of smaller manufacturers to add its Alexa smart assistant directly to their speaker systems.

Google’s own negotiations with consumer electronics manufacturers could be hampered by what multiple sources have described as overly aggressive muscle-flexing. At the meeting in June, Google is said to have told home audio vendors that they won’t be allowed to add any other digital assistants than Google’s own to their hardware if they want to continue to use Google Cast. Another source told Variety of similarly far-reaching demands made in negotiations with another big consumer electronics manufacturer — demands that ultimately led to talks breaking down.

(A Google spokesperson declined to comment on plans to add Google Assistant to third-party hardware, or on the meeting in question. She did however point out that some consumer electronics manufacturers have in the past used Google Cast in addition to competing technologies like AirPlay and Bluetooth.)

In the end, Google’s plan to beat Amazon’s Echo may still hinge on the performance of Google Home. Multiple leaks suggest that Google will sell the device for $130, which is $50 less than the price of an Amazon Echo. If anything, Google has shown with the success of its $35 Chromecast that these price differences can matter.

And perhaps, Chromecast really will act as a Trojan Horse for Google Home — and lay the foundation for a full-blown home invasion in 2017.

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  1. Ariella Waltman says:

    They will become a monoply there needs to be a market place

  2. Rob L. says:

    Why on Earth would you put something in your home that is designed to listen to you and everyone else in your home 24/7? That’s asinine. People cry foul over privacy invasions (as they should), but yet they VOLUNTARILY give up so much personal information to the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon that it’s almost unbelievable. Google is an advertising company — let’s all stop pretending they’re not. And they’re betting heavy on machine learning and AI — and to do that you need data. Lots and lots and lots of data. The best way to get that, evidently, is to get people to GIVE it to you freely, under the guise of connecting your toaster to your smartphone. This IoT stuff is an unmitigated DISASTER of enormous proportions just waiting to happen. I’ll have none of it. If you want to do this home automation stuff then learn how to work with microcontrollers and electronics and build them yourself — at least that way YOU are in control of what it does and where the data goes.

    • Ross says:

      For some reason I can’t reply to your latest post so I’ll reply to this one.

      “Unless it’s an open hardware design and open source software you can’t actually know that it’s only listening for “OK Google” or whatever else.” The same argument could be made for any smart phone, or even any device cable of leaving a comment on here. If it’s got an internet connection, it could have a microphone spying on you. I’ve made a judgement on the likelihood of Google secretly gathering sensitive personal information beyond what I’ve consented to. I don’t think it’s very likely. That’s based on the difficulty of concealing such data gathering, the implications of them being discovered, and the value they would gain over the information I have consented to them gathering.

      Security of IoT devices is definitely a valid concern. As is single points of failure and continuation of service. In my opinion, privacy is less of a risk.

    • Ross says:

      99% of the time the only listening it will be doing is for the phrase “OK Google”. Only after detecting that will it begin to analyse what is being said in any more detail. My phone and watch already do the same.
      Yes, Google is an advertising company, and yes, they want big data. However, they do not and will not collect everything they are technically able to. If they started storing all of the raw audio from any of these microphones, they would soon be discovered and suffer a massive reputation cost.
      I trust Google. You might think that foolish, but it’s my considered choice and It’s impossible to function in modern society without trusting some corporations (Telecoms providers, banks, electronics manufacturers, etc.). If you choose not to trust Google, that is your choice, but don’t delude yourself that you aren’t trusting anyone.
      Personally I’m a big fan of home automation, although my toaster is a long way down the list of devices I’d like to connect. My home already has a fair bit of smarts and I did build a lot of it myself – down to soldering and coding in Python and C. I’m not your average consumer though. I’ve got a masters degree in electronics and software and develop embedded systems for a living. There are things that are not realistic for me to do myself though and advantages to off the shelf devices. It’s unrealistic and wasteful to expect everyone to build home automation systems from scratch.

      • Mike says:

        //Unless it’s an open hardware design and open source software you can’t actually know that it’s only listening for “OK Google” or whatever else//

        Actually it’s pretty easy to determine even if it’s encrypted, most network administrators have tools that allow them to see when data is transmitted to a device and how much data is transferred, for a smart speaker if large amounts of data are being uploaded when it isn’t being used then something is up. Bear in mind that the Amazon Echo has been out in the public for just a little under two years by now and bought by millions of people, if something was fishy, the planet would have noticed right now, instead we have same old conspiracy theories that have been propagated for years without any evidence to back it up. It’s doubtful that google would do anything untoward either, as they ought to know this whether or not the device is spying on users will be the very first thing tested. Also on the botnet thing, in order for someone to compromise an Echo, they’ll need to fully compromise Amazon Web Services first, which in and of itself would be a much bigger problem.

      • Rob L. says:

        Unless it’s an open hardware design and open source software you can’t actually know that it’s only listening for “OK Google” or whatever else. (and even if you can’t code, a big advantage of open source is that there are many eyes from people who CAN code on it as well) Some may call that paranoid, but Google gave up on their “don’t be evil” stance a long time ago, even if they don’t admit it. Of course you have to trust someone/something in your day-to-day lives, that’s just modern society, but there’s no need to voluntarily invite a single-point of failure like these devices into your own home. The consequences of them being compromised (and they will be, it’s only a matter of time) is too great, and it outweighs the advantages of the convenience they provide, in my opinion. [The ‘toaster’ thing I was being a little facetious, but my point still remains]
        It’s already happening – look at the recent events: in the last 10 or so days a MASSIVE “botnet” of compromised ‘Internet of Things’ devices (those stupid “smart” cameras, net-connected DVR boxes, etc.) was used to attack a major French ISP & server host farm (OVH) and a popular security researcher’s website (KrebsOnSecurity) which was protected by a major backbone internet provider (Akamai/Prolexic). This DDoS attack was the largest that anyone has ever seen. EVER! It was enough bandwidth to bring down almost anything. And it’s only going to get worse. These off-the-shelf ever-connected IoT things are a disaster in the making, and the idiot masses are actually PAYING for it out of their own wallets without even knowing it. If you’re too lazy, unwilling, or dumb to do a little bit of research or learn how something works then you deserve what you get — however, this will impact us all.

  3. Thomas Middleton says:

    With options in devices and platforms like Asteria (getasteria.com) leapfrogging their efforts, I think they’re quite myopic in fighting one another in the battle for the home.

  4. Steve Gallo says:

    Google & Amazon see this new product line and the future of home/AI/IoT . both will lose money on selling price and will pour huge amount of $ to build an eco-system. likely both will gain decent market share in 5 years from now

  5. codecrackx15 says:

    Google Home will be discontinued within a year. It’s the “Google Way”. Google has ADHD and can’t keep up with product lines.
    Nexus Player – Discontinued at the year mark
    Nexus 7 tablet – Last one was in 2013… people have been waiting since then. People have moved on to other tablets because Google sucks at keeping hardware lines going.
    Pixel 2 Chromebook – Discontinued. No other high end options at this time.
    5 different messaging platforms… it’s insane.
    Possibly 3 different OS’s they will have.
    A list of hundreds of apps and utilities they have shut down after people started using them – Don’t get “Readered”.

    If you are interested in media and home automation… Go with Amazon and the Echo. They have a plan going forward. A plan they will stick with. Google is a mess right now. They are like Microsoft in 2006. Anything you use from them is buyer/user beware.

    • alexrmurf says:

      You have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. If you understand Google at all, Home is absolutely central to the future of their company. They’re betting everything on artificial intelligence and their big dream is to build the Star Trek computer, and they’re far better positioned to do that than any other company. And every other device you mentioned up there either has a newer version available directly from Google or from one of their hardware partners, which if you read the article, is the same approach they’re taking with Home and Cast.

      To think Amazon can compete with Google long term in machine learning and home automation is just silly.

      • codecrackx15 says:

        Like they did with Android TV? Google TV? Nexus? Android Gaming? To think you believe what Google tells you… now that’s just silly.

    • George says:

      keep your facts straight:

      Nexus Player – received Android N update
      Nexus 7 – there is Nexus 9 and the Pixel Tablet, focus on “tablet” and not size of the tablet.
      Messaging – Hangouts, refocused for work, Allo, for social IM with Google Assistant
      3 different OS – different OS for different devices, what’s the problem here? iOS, OSX? Amazon’s own OS was forked from Android, they should be grateful of Google.

      • codecrackx15 says:

        Nexus player has been discontinued. Getting Nougat doesn’t change that. Nexus 9 discontinued. Pixel is not a budget tablet nor even a good tablet. You people are such fanboys… blinded by adoration.

  6. Kent Smith says:

    It seems that Amazon is countering Google unit price competition by selling the Amazon Echo DOT for $49. The Echo Dot looks to be version 2 of the original Echo, with a design that encourages customers to purchase Amazon Dot 6 or 10 packs so they can have one in each room in the house,,,,,The Echo Dot does not require or need any previous Amazon Echo…..hmmmmmmm

    • wuzyoungoncetoo says:

      – “It seems that Amazon is countering Google unit price competition by selling the Amazon Echo DOT for $49.”

      And if you buy in the 6 or 12 packs the per-unit price drops to just under $41.66.

      – “The Echo Dot looks to be version 2 of the original Echo”

      Actually, the new $49.99 Dot is version 2 of the previous Dot (which sold for $89), which was itself an abbreviated version of the Echo aimed at a lower price-point.

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