Remarks made by Google VP Rishi Chandra last week strongly suggest that the company hasn’t given up on plans to release its own smart display device. Chandra hinted at plans for such a device during a recent conversation with Variety, which he also used to lay out his vision for Google’s role in the smart home.
Rumors that Google may be building its own smart display device surfaced after Amazon released such a device, dubbed the Echo Show, a year ago. In January, Google instead announced a number of partnerships with device makers including Sony and Lenovo to build smart display devices (pictured above) powered by the company’s assistant.
Asked why the company decided to work with partners instead of releasing its own hardware, Chandra told Variety last week that Google had long done both for other hardware categories, and that it may just have been a question of timing to announce these partnerships first. “It’s an emerging category,” he said. “I’m not saying we are not going to do it.”
Chandra used to work on Google’s Chromecast streaming device, and was more recently elevated to oversee product management for the company’s entire line of home products. This includes not only Chromecast and Chromecast Audio, but also the company’s Home speakers and Wifi routers, among other things.
These devices closely integrate with Nest products ever since Google parent Alphabet decided to bring that subsidiary back into the Google fold, where it is now overseen by Google’s hardware chief Rick Osterloh. “I think we have all the pieces, we really do,” Chandra said.
Nest, Chandra said, had previously approached remote control of its devices with a focus on mobile apps. Now, it was much easier to tap into Google’s existing products, and for instance have feeds from the company’s security cameras show up on Chromecast-enabled TVs, or make Nest’s doorbell audible across the home, with chime sounds playing on Google Home speakers.
Google first introduced its Google Home smart speaker in 2016, and followed up with a budget-priced Google Home Mini and a bigger and better-sounding Google Home Max speaker last year. The latter, which sells for $399, closely competes with Apple’s Homepod, as well as higher-end Sonos speakers.
Chandra admitted that it wasn’t easy to enter the premium audio market, where consumers still have a lot of loyalty for traditional Hi-Fi brands. But he seemed confident that Google has a shot. “It’s a bet that the speaker market is evolving,” Chandra said. “Assistants will be a core part of this experience.”
As part of that bet, Google also continues to invest in what the company calls smart sound, which boils down to using artificial intelligence to improve the sound quality of a speaker. With the debut of the Google Home Max, these efforts were primarily focused on optimizing the speaker’s sound for the architecture of a room to prevent things like distortion from low frequencies. Going forward, the company would also focus on optimizing sound for conversations and background noise as well, said Chandra. “Those are all things that we are testing and iterating on.”
Ultimately, all of these efforts are driven by Google’s desire to become an essential part of the home. “The simple truth is we need to become a must-have product,” Chandra said. At this point, Google home products powered by the company’s assistant were still not quite meeting that bar, he admitted. They’d offer some useful functionality, but not something that people would rely on every day. Said Chandra: “I’m looking for daily-use cases.”