New report points to Google's Echo clone being called the 'Google Home'

Michael Brown

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Whether it’s called Google Chirp or Google Home, Google seems very likely to debut a new Amazon Echo rival when Google I/O kicks off on Wednesday.

It's official: Google has announced Google Home.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Google’s voice-activated gizmo will be called Google Home, confirming an earlier report from Recode that Google would launch what it called “Google Chirp” at the I/O developer showcase in Mountain View.

Both reports basically state the same rumor: Google plans to launch a small home device, which Recode claims will be shaped roughly like Google’s OnHub Wi-Fi router, that will incorporate Google’s voice agent. In 2014, Google added hotword or “trigger word” support to Android phones, which allow them to listen for and respond to the “OK Google” command that would presumably be used to command Google Home. 

Amazon’s Echo device is a small cylinder that functions both as a loudspeaker as well as a microphone, reporting sports scores and crafting shopping lists, turning on an alarm clock and kitchen timer, and more, using Amazon’s cloud-based digital assistant, known as Alexa. But the secret sauce is how well it integrates with Amazon’s Amazon Prime services, playing back Prime music selections and audiobooks and ordering items from Amazon based upon your voice commands.

Google, of course, has all these capabilities and more. Google already has a robust list of requests for information as well as other commands that users can ask it to do, and it also has a number of services, including Google Play Music, that would almost certainly be integrated with a home device. Google even has slowly expanded its shopping service, Google Express, into more and more regions within the United States. That could help explain why Google has taken so long to roll out its Echo clone.

One question that developers may have for Google, though, is whether third-party apps will eventually be able to tap into the Google Home device via an API. All of the mainstream food-delivery apps run on the Android platform, for example, while the Echo allows you to order a pizza only from Dominos. On the other hand, Amazon does offers restaurant delivery service in San Francisco, Manhattan, San Diego, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Austin, and Portland, Ore., too. And the company has moved very quickly to enable third-party developers and service providers to make use of Alexa, although the results have been mixed. The Echo taps into services from Audible to Uber; allowing third-party service apps access to the API for Google Home could be a big boost for Google and app developers alike.

Neither Recode nor the Times reported a price for the Google device or a ship date. Amazon’s Echo is priced at $180.

Why this matters: Whether you call them bots, agents, or digital assistants, the digital butler is one of the hottest tickets in the tech world. Amazon and now Google are trying to cement themselves as indispensable digital assistants that can fulfill your every wish at a word. Will Google charge a fee for such services? We’d suspect not, which may give Google an edge. Will consumers welcome a Google device the way they have the Echo? Or will they worry that Google has already gathered enough of their personal data? Will Apple and Microsoft follow suit with Siri and Cortana-powered devices? Time will tell.

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