back to article Google makes it to third base with Home digital assistant

There's really no way to write about Google Home, the search giant's digital assistant, without comparing it to the Amazon Echo. In fact, without the Echo's unexpected and extraordinary success, it's hard to imagine the Home would exist at all. So let's get it out of the way: the Echo just narrowly nudges the Google Home …

  1. Mage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    It's evil

    But so is the Amazon Echo.

    I'm baffled why anyone thinks these "spies" in the home are a good idea.

    They are not much better voice control than 20 years ago and horribly inflexible too.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's evil

      This is just the next step in the subversion of the general purpose computer.

      The touchscreen app constrained you to the buttons you can press, and this constrains you further to commands Google will expose. You cant program it, and the aesthetic puts you in your place as a consumer. All while passively sucking down anything the sensor package can pickup.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: It's evil

        "This is just the next step in the subversion of the general purpose computer."

        There seems to be an effort to get us back to the days of there only being a market for 6 computers (or whatever the number was) in the world. The modern twist on this is that rather than being single computers they're networks of data centres (AKA clouds). Everything else is just a programmable client (programmable by the parent company, not the "users") with which to access them. And yes, we need to put "users" in quotes because they're the entity being used.

  2. Andy 73

    Hmmm..

    OK Google, tell Alexa that I'm not talking to her.

  3. Len Goddard

    Useful?

    About as much use as an intelligent lightbulb, which is to say not at all

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. DougS Silver badge

    There's one clear reason you'd choose Echo over this

    Google already has too much personal information you on, why let them eavesdrop in your home to collect even more? At least Amazon has pretty limited information about you, they don't know what you search for, where you go (if you have an Android phone), who you email and the keywords in that email (if you use GMail) and so forth. They know some of what you buy, and some of what you watch (if you have Prime instant video) but far less than Google.

    The value of collecting personal information on someone goes up the more they have. So why in the world would anyone want to give Google even more by buying one of these? Though the best would be some third option with a privacy policy that actually limited what information they would keep and sell about me, which neither Google or Amazon have. If you have to have one of these, that is...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There's one clear reason you'd choose Echo over this

      Ah, but at least Google has now stuck a price on your personal information: your personal information subsidises the price difference between the Amazon device and Google's..

  6. Jeremy Allison

    These devices are game changers

    Disclosure - I'm a Google employee, but I have no experience with Google Home (haven't even seen a demo :-). I do have an Amazon Echo and bought one for my brother in the UK (which required some shenanigans to get the time zone right :-).

    Always-on voice interfaces are game changers. I absolutely *love* the Echo, and will be interested to compare it with Google Home. For a geek like myself, it's like having the Star Trek computer in your house. For the cynics, it's like living in an episode of "Black Mirror" :-). Now the voice interfaces are getting good enough to converse you find that it is a completely natural way of making requests - something that the voice assistants on the phone never managed to do for me.

    Personally I think the most successful device will be the one that makes an open platform for third-party developers to interface with easily. Watching how the other people in my house use the Echo is very illuminating. Make no mistake - these things are the PC / phone / tablet replacement for the non-geek person.

    Now, where's my jetpack, hoverboard and flying car ? :-).

    1. Geoffrey W Silver badge

      Re: These devices are game changers

      No, No, and No. Someone is going to die. Horribly. And pigs will be involved. And your relationships will fall apart in violence as your children decide [Alexa/Siri/Cortana/Sexy_Female] is a better parent and friend than you. "Alexa. Tell 'HIM' I'm not talking to him". And then [Alexa/Siri/Cortana/Sexy_Female] will stop talking to you too because no one loves you anymore and never did anyway because look at all the stupid stuff you search for and even [Alexa/Siri/Cortana/Sexy_Female] will laugh at you for searching for "That" and you may as well kill yourself now because that's where it will end. Oh yes it will, see if it doesnt. Its paranoia in a friendly pastel hued box and its coming for YOU!

      1. Jeremy Allison

        Re: These devices are game changers

        Blimey ! You are Charlie Brooker and I claim my five pounds..

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: These devices are game changers

      let's touch base, shall we? :(

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: These devices are botnet

      Thanks for the disclosure.

      Technology is pozzed, and literally everything that crawls out of silicon valley is a frontal assault on privacy. We're going to need a new privacy law called IRON CURTAIN to protect uneducated users from shooting themselves in the foot, and becoming part of the botnet

      1. Jeremy Allison

        Re: These devices are botnet

        People are screwed, control- wise, as soon as they use closed proprietary products and protocols IMHO. Thats why I use Thunderbird with enigmail (gpg plugin) and set it to complain every time I have to send unencrypted mail.

        As you can imagine, it complains a lot.

        Free software products are the only way for people to regain control from corporations. Use and report bugs in them whenever you can !

        1. IsJustabloke Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: These devices are botnet

          "Free software products are the only way for people to regain control from corporations"

          what free as in Google?

          1. Jeremy Allison

            Re: These devices are botnet

            Nope - free as in FSF (GPL etc. etc.). I'm not keen on *any* products using closed, proprietary protocols.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: These devices are game changers

      Always-on voice interfaces are game changers. I absolutely *love* the Echo

      Thanks for confirming that working for Google involves a degree of brainwashing. I presume Google also mounted cameras in your home to remove that last bit of personal privacy you had?

      1. Jeremy Allison

        Re: These devices are game changers

        The echo has a 'stop listening' button you can press, after which it stops listening for the wake-word. I guess you either trust Amazon on that or not. Personally I do trust that ( but I also know how to run Wireshark to make sure it's not shipping anything off to the cloud when I've pressed it :-).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: These devices are game changers

          "... a 'stop listening' button..."

          It would definitely stop listening if you hit it with a lump hammer, getting it to start listening again might be a bit of an issue however.

    5. Steve Knox

      Re: These devices are game changers

      Make no mistake - these things are the PC / phone / tablet replacement for the non-geek person.

      That's what they said about the Mac -- then the PDA -- then the netbook -- then the smartphone -- then the tablet.

      The truth is that people are much more complex than "geek" and "non-geek". This is why all of these devices (yes, even the humble PDA) still exist and are still in use.

      In fact any time you find yourself thinking of people in two categories, just fuck right off.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: These devices are game changers

        In fact any time you find yourself thinking of people in two categories, just fuck right off.

        Umm, I hate to point out that you've just categorised people into people that categorise people in two categories and those that don't, somewhat of a conundrum.

        :)

        1. Mage Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: These devices are game changers

          There are 1 0 types of people.

        2. VinceH Silver badge

          Re: These devices are game changers

          "Umm, I hate to point out that you've just categorised people into people that categorise people in two categories and those that don't, somewhat of a conundrum."

          The exception that proves the rule?

    6. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: These devices are game changers

      "it's like having the Star Trek computer in your house"

      Indeed. Now just think about what the Star Trek computer actually did - basically nothing. All the actual work was done by a large crew going around pressing buttons and poking machinery, the computer was barely more than a voice-activated encyclopedia that could sometimes execute a few pre-programmed commands when given specific code-words. Hell, even getting food from a replicator required memorising specific commands rather than simply being able to ask for a cup of tea. The idea of the Star Trek computer sounds all cool and futuristic, but the reality of what was actually shown really isn't all that impressive. Note that despite poking fun at every other aspect of Trek, the computer was already so lame that Galaxy Quest didn't even bother to parody it (although if any of these silly voice command things came with Sigourney Weaver to repeat my commands I'd by it in a heartbeat).

      Of course, the same applies in exactly the same way to things like jetpacks and flying cars. We already have jetpacks, it just turns out they're shit. Hoverboards are even worse - they're literally shown as just a skateboard without wheels, and you can see how much use that would be by looking at the number of people who actually use skateboards to start with. We even already have mountainboards that can cross rough terrain and a variety of boards that can be used on water. Saying something is just as seen on Star Trek or in some other sci-fi is often great right up until you look at what was actually shown rather than a fantasy of what you wish had been shown.

      Trek aside, it's also worth commenting on the silly "game changer" comments that inevitably come from those trying to sell these things. Exactly what game is being changed here? I used to be able to listen to music on demand over the internet or look up questions on Wikipedia, now I can do exactly the same. Even if it all works perfectly it's not doing anything new, it's just a minor change to the interface. Streaming music itself certainly was a game changer, shouting at a box instead of clicking a mouse to activate it absolute it not. This is the problem all this home automation crap faces - people keep overselling it to a ridiculous level as amazing new things never seen before, when all it is is a way to connect to things all houses have had for decades.

    7. IsJustabloke Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: These devices are game changers

      Fair play to you for your disclosure however, these devices change nothing.

      There really is absolutely no need for them. I have an android phone and it has the google app on it, I use my phone *all* the time and at no point have I ever felt the need to say "Ok google", certainly not when I'm out and about and definitely not when I'm at home. They answer a question no one asked, fill a hole they dug out for themselves.

      These are firmly on my list of "unaccountably popular"

  7. Eponymous Cowherd

    Annoying wake words

    I have an echo. There are three "wake word" options, "Alexa" (the default), "Amazon" or "Echo".

    My preference if for "Echo". "Alexa" isn't too bad, but there is no way I'm calling a corporation name out to wake the device.

    Mind you even that is far less cringeworthy than "OK Google" or "Hey Cortana" ( the XBox is still set to use "XBox" as it's wake word.

    As to the device itself? Really rather pleased with it. Voice recognition is very good and can recognise the wake word spoken in a normal voice from anywhere in the room, even when it's playing at quite high volume, and recognises almost all requests first time.

    Just say "Echo, play some Joy Division" and it just does.

    Sound quality is very good considering the size of the unit, with clear treble and fairly punchy bass.

    What does let the whole thing down, however, is Amazon Music, which is used to manage your music and playlists for the Echo. The Windows application is shockingly bad. To upload your own music you have to drag files and folders to an "Upload" link, which then displays a "spinner" while it's uploading. That's the only indication you get, no progress information at all. It is slow, clunky, and crashes often.

    The Android app is even worse, only permitting a single file to be up/downloaded at a time. It, too, crashes frequently, is unintuitive and hideously clunky in use.

    This has always been a theme with Amazon kit. Excellent devices. Shockingly poor supporting software.

    1. chrisf1

      Re: Annoying wake words

      Agreed, wonderful device let down by the integration with personal media - worse the upload crashes on bulk uploads and then has a stuck queue and the support is basically worthless.

      That said my personal equation was an echo dot attached to a generally unused hifi system as an alternative to an audio chromecast - been fabulous with some unexpected benefits like a hands free kitchen timer!

      If you're already a prime (music) user the echo dot is very compelling although you need to know the name of albums or playlists to get the best (ie play 50 classic 80s works, play 80s music does not). It also works as a platform for geeks and transferring basic on off messages to a hub (a raspberry pi faking wemo via fauxmo) is pretty simple. Finer control looks okay via cloud services but haven't had the time yet.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Intangibles

    Will these units play your own media? What sort of DRM is imposed? From the description, I'd guess that it's meant for people who subscribe to music services for $x per month. If the requested track is not available on the service you subscribe to, will the unit fetch it from another service and ding your credit card? I'm thinking of people who rack up huge debts with roaming charges or online gambling or in-app purchases. Is this another one to watch out for? Hey google, I'd like to watch the Super Bowl on pay per view. Ka-ching! No, belay that, we'd like to watch the boxing. Ka-ching! ....

    My main worry about Smart Meters is that they could accidentally (or be hacked to) burn down the house. I don't see that here, but maybe my imagination is still in low gear, early in the day.

    1. Chz

      Re: Intangibles

      Along those lines, if the Echo could read and index the music on my NAS and play it I'd have pre-ordered one in a heartbeat. Uploading all my shit to Amazon is just... lame. And I haven't used that word in a while, but this is an appropriate place to resurrect it.

      1. Jeremy Allison

        Re: Intangibles

        SONOS reads and indexes the music on my NAS. They're announced Amazon Echo integration for next year, so I'm eagerly waiting for that.

        Being able to stagger, barely conscious, into the kitchen in the morning and croak "Alexa, play KQED" is *very* useful :-).

        The problem with most of these music playing devices (mentioning no names) is that they really, *really* want you to stream your music from the cloud. Bugger that - I have a 24TB NAS with everything I want on it. Don't need to waste bandwidth on cloud streaming thanks very much.

  9. Andy Roid McUser

    Kitchen interface for Spotify

    I have the echo dot plugged into my Jambox in the kitchen for one reason.. to talk to Spotify and TuneIn. If I say Alexa play foo fighters. It goes to Spotify and plays the foo fighters. If I say Alexa play BBC radio 4 .. it goes to tunein and plays radio 4..

    Awesome and worth £50 just for that.

    1. Unicornpiss Silver badge

      Re: Kitchen interface for Spotify

      I do not understand why someone downvoted you for that post...

      1. SuccessCase

        Re: Kitchen interface for Spotify

        It's the Register. People here defend and project their right to moan like ramblers defend and project their right to roam.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Kitchen interface for Spotify

        "I do not understand why someone downvoted you for that post."

        Probably on account of the fact that someone who thinks £50 isn't too much to spend on something like that has more money than sense. It's the sort of voting that brought us Brexit.

        And surely, a Jambox in a kitchen should be a place to keep your pots of jam.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Kitchen interface for Spotify

          And surely, a Jambox in a kitchen should be a place to keep your pots of jam

          Why oh why do I only have one upvote ..

          :)

          1. Unicornpiss Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Kitchen interface for Spotify

            Have another. I guess if he had a boombox in his kitchen instead, it would hold his boomstick? Or just his boom..

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Kitchen interface for Spotify

              I'm only ever going to be interested in a kaboom box, and I'm sure they're busy making that illegal on account of it being too much fun.

              1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
                Alien

                Re: Kitchen interface for Spotify

                But it has to be an earth-shattering kaboom box...

                1. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

                  Re: Kitchen interface for Spotify

                  "But it has to be an earth-shattering kaboom box..." but to all of them, it's a ka-ching box.

        2. nijam

          Re: Kitchen interface for Spotify

          > ...a place to keep your pots of jam

          What kind of dreadful person has more than one pot of jam?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    what you really want to know is: should I buy more Amazon Echos

    I no longer know whether you take a click-bait piss, or whether you honestly, abso(..ling)lutely mean it...

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: I am joined to both ecosystems

      Online look up of reviews before deciding which new beer to buy?

      Maybe buy one of each beer and test them all yourself. Taste preferences vary massively & only your own taste preference matters on something you drink (it's not like a bit of hardware that can be relatively objectively reviewed, taste is very subjective, even identical twins typically have some different food / drink preferences)

    2. nijam

      Re: I am joined to both ecosystems

      Just the post title will get you plenty of downvotes (from ecosystem-exiters, one assumes)

      1. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

        Re: I am joined to both ecosystems

        "from ecosystem-exiters, one assumes)"

        Rest assured that our colleagues at Ecosystem-bristol and Ecosystem-plymouth will also downvote you.

  12. myxiplx2

    Same wake word for all devices, really?

    So Google are using the phrase "ok Google" for this too. So now when I try to use Home it's going to wake up my phone and tablet too?

    Somehow I don't think they've properly thought this through.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Same wake word for all devices, really?

      Agreed; it's bad enough having a tablet and a phone competing to deal with a query, without some "home assistant" joining in to add a third copy of a reminder for Aunt Gemima's birthday to your calendar. I can see why a trigger phrase has to have some characteristics like a variable intonation and distinctive rhythm so low-powered devices can pick it out of the background, but surely it's not beyond the wit of man to devise a user-defined phrase quality checker and let us choose our own?

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Same wake word for all devices, really?

      Clearly it should be possible to set individual "words". "Oi, you" would seem to be a suitable alternative.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Same wake word for all devices, really?

        Prikazyvat Kendy.

        1. Steve Knox
          Thumb Up

          Re: Same wake word for all devices, really?

          Prikazyvat Kendy.

          Recognized but couldn't place it*. Had to resort to searching. First result started with the following excerpt:

          "The crew were not supposed to be aware that the ship's computer and its recorded personality could eavesdrop on them."

          Your comment was result #4.

          Have you been manipulating Google search results again?

          * ( to be fair, I haven't read The Integral Trees in over 20 years...)

          1. Mage Silver badge

            Re: manipulating Google search results again?

            I think Randell Monroe is the expert on that?

            Or maybe Mrs Robinson.

            Or Black Hat.

        2. G R Goslin

          Re: Same wake word for all devices, really?

          It's a long time since I heard that wake word. Woke me up instantly.

    3. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Same wake word for all devices, really?

      Ironical that I was listening to 'Ok Computer' as I read these posts. Next up on my playlist was

      "Welcome to the Machine". Very prophetic lyrics.

      Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.

      Where have you been? It's alright we know where you've been.

      You've been in the pipeline, filling in time,

      provided with toys and Scouting for Boys.

      don't need to say anything else.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Same wake word for all devices, really?

      So Google are using the phrase "ok Google" for this too. So now when I try to use Home it's going to wake up my phone and tablet too?

      Would "F*ck you, Google" work? Now *that* would be a fun virus to hit IoT devices.

    5. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Re: Same wake word for all devices, really?

      So now when I try to use Home it's going to wake up my phone and tablet too?

      I have this issue already. I have an Android head unit in my car, but I cannot use "OK, Google" because it wakes my phone up too. Similarly, if I'm using my phone and tablet, both wake up.

      I have just disabled the lot of them, because it ends up being more frustrating than helpful.

      Saying that, I'm still interested in Google Home. I feel I've already sold my soul to Google (with Android, GSuite, Play Music etc) so one more intrusion for the potential benefits seems OK to me. I'd much prefer better (or customisable) wake words. For myself, "Computer" would be the best wake word, as I could feel like I'm on the Enterprise.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Echo does what it says on the tin

    Alexa, turn on the bedroom lights. OK

    Alexa, turn on the bedroom TV, OK

    Alexa turn off everything, ok

    Alexa play natural sounds. Playing......

    Alexa volume 4

    Alexa Stop

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    from your pit, with a bit of RPI and a few clever bridging utlitlities, you can do the same...sweet. Lets see how Google Home does the same. Amazon is already pretty open and easy to interface with, Logitech Harmony (already in the US), Phillips Hue (out of the box) and much more is just a quick config away.

    1. G R Goslin

      Re: Echo does what it says on the tin

      Play natural sounds. I hadn't thought of that. Thanks. Just right for a bit of background

  14. Palpy
    Joke

    Thank GOD for new ways --

    -- to enlarge the attack surface available to anyone wanting to invade my privacy! Thank the Unresolvable and Unknowable Deities that, with Echo and Home, there will be always-on wireless signals spewing all sorts of information and who knows what opportunities for man-in-the-middle attacks, not to mention a slew of not-yet-public authentication and privilege-escalation vulnerabilities -- after all, I hate the idea that my home is my castle, and my privacy is, if not inviolable, at least SOMEWHAT private.

    I am so excited! I could, if I hadn't just eaten breakfast and don't want to waste it, puke with joy.

  15. Mephistro Silver badge
    Devil

    I'm buying three dozens of these

    "PERFORMING ELECTRONIC LOBOTOMY ON NEW GOOGLE HOME DEVICE...

    [BZZZZZTT....]

    DONE"

    I can earn some bucks afterwards adding a Dr.Dre sticker and selling them in eBay as iPhone sound bases for twice what I paid!

  16. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Music?

    How bad is your music if it sounds good on a pint-sized monaural coaxial speaker? To say it's also a music device rather than something for streaming talk radio makes me think it's a marketing gimmick disguised as a marketing gimmick.

    They could all save a lot of space by leaving the speaker off. That should shrink it down to something the size of a... cellphone. Yeah, I'll just use my cellphone (with a headphone jack).

    1. Anonymous Coward
    2. Steve Knox
      Megaphone

      Re: Music?

      How bad is your music if it sounds good on a pint-sized monaural coaxial speaker?

      How bad is your music if it requires a large complex multichannel sound system in order to sound good?

      Good music sounds good on all but the very shittiest of sound systems. Yes, it can sound better on better systems But only truly horrible music requires anything more than an OK speaker.

      Great music can even sound good on one of these:

  17. tiggity Silver badge

    Random comments

    My partner has something "in their home listening out for voice commands and reacting accordingly"

    Me :-(

    Plus I have the bonus of being operate everything that is mechanical and needs switches etc. operating (i.e. light, heating as I missed out oh drinking IoT )

    More seriously, not covered in the review

    Do they respond to questions such as "what was asked to you / what did you search for today"?

    So you can pull down the equivalent of "browsing history" or is everything "private" mode

    Obviously if there was history it could be problematic as rather kills the idea of using it to search for surprise gifts for other people if search history is public.

    I'm hoping it has defences against random visitors getting Home, Echo, whatever to download dubious images without the householders knowing for future tipping off of law enforcement

    1. G R Goslin

      Re: Random comments

      Alexa does have a histoery function, but it's on the Android Alexa app, It gives what Alexa thought you said, and the reply 'she' gives you.

  18. Champ

    Is that you, Betrand?

  19. Bucky 2
    Coat

    Yeah, but can you attach it to a talking fish? I want one that attaches to a talking fish.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More like $11USD difference (for a limited time)

    I was curious and browsed the Amazon site, I see the Echo is now $140.39 USD

  21. Bladeforce

    Can you..

    have two of these just sat talking to each other?

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