Thursday, November 03, 2016

Homebots

I have an Amazon Echo, and also its little brother, an Echo Dot. As you may have heard, these are virtual assistants that sit on your counter and respond to verbal questions and directions. You probably have something similar on your smartphone, but the Echo, besides answering questions, setting alarms, and playing music, is also intended to control smart devices in your home - lights, thermostats, sprinklers, etc. I don't have any of these, at least not yet. Google is now producing a similar device, the Google Home.

The brains of these devices consist of some smart software plus the vast data resources of the internet. They are new enough that the number and variety of smart "internet of things" devices they can control is still both limited and and expensive, but it seems likely that almost every electrical device in your home will be available in connected versions in the next 5 to 10 years. It also seems likely that their verbal intelligence will continue to increase, probably rather gradually.

Brian X. Chen, writing in the NYT, compares Echo and Google Home. Excerpts:

TO get an idea of how annoying it can be to say “O.K., Google” multiple times a day, try replacing the word Google with another brand.

O.K., Pepsi. O.K., Chipotle. O.K., Skittles. You get the picture. It’s difficult to utter “O.K., Google,” the phrase used to control Google’s new Home smart speaker, without sounding like a marketing tool.

That is too bad because Google’s Home is otherwise a preternaturally smarter speaker than its closest rival, Amazon’s Echo.

As the new boy, Home is still a lot less connected, so that's a current limitation.

If Apple wants to produce the version that really works, it had better get cracking.