I remember growing up and being told that “talking to yourself, is the first sign of madness” and as I delve into the world of the Internet of Things (IoT) I wonder if this needs to be reworded to “Talking to inanimate, may cause madness”. Being a bit of a sucker when it comes to new tech, especially when it comes in at a reasonable price point, I recently purchased a Google Home speaker.
My first interaction with voice recognition was all the way back to the late 90’s/early 2000’s where my mobile phone came with the ability to call someone by me simply recording their name in my voice, pressing and holding the call button for several seconds and then saying their name. This method however was very hit and miss and on the times where it did work you often ended up speaking to someone you didn’t want to. Since then though, the technology has moved on somewhat.
Flash forward 10 or so years and you find that voice made a bit of a comeback in the form of voice searching via the Google search engine. This was pretty good but still suffered with some of the issues which had always, and most likely will always, plague voice recognition, the inability to recognise accents and as such the resulting incorrect searches and results.
Building on this Google launched Google Now on mobile phones, this was a great step forward and gave you the ability not just to search the web with your voice but to also interact with features and software on your phone, allowing you to set alarms, send texts and emails, set calendar entries or even using Google Maps get directions working like a sat nav.
This brings us to the latest incarnation of Googles voice recognition, Google Assistant. Assistant in my experience is extremely intelligent when it get things right but infuriating when it doesn’t, I’ll come back to this. Where previously you could use a list of pre-set command Assistant was able to work with much more natural language, so no more “Set an alarm for 9am” now you could say “Set me an alarm for 9 in the morning”, while these are only small changes the impact they have on your interaction with Assistant is great.
So back to Google Home, or as I l tend to think about it, the source of my madness.
Google Home takes all the wonder and amazing features you have come to love in assistant and wraps them up nicely in a small speaker which you can place in any room in your home, it also gives you the ability to interact with smart devices throughout your home such as your lights, blinds, smart/wifi plugs, thermostat, sprinklers or Chromecasts.
On the surface of things this is great, OK I didn’t own any smart devices when I got my Home but owning a Pixel phone I had experienced, first hand, the power of the Google Assistant and figured if Home ran Assistant with all the smart things built in too then it was a no brainer. Unfortunately however Home was not, in my opinion, ready for consumers at the point it launched. In fact I think the launch of Google Home may have been rushed by around 3 – 6 months due to strength of competitor products such as the Amazon Echo.
I am constantly met with responses such as “I am sorry, I can’t help with that right now” or “I can’t add events to your calendar yet, or “I can’t set alarms yet”. Personally I think that as a baseline the device should support all of Googles own services or at least the key ones, email, calendar etc. Also I am finding that as with previous voice recognition it seems to suffer worse than Assistant on my phone with commands for the smart devices such as Phillips Hue, at times I have to tell it to turn my lights on 3 or 4 times and it has a lot of trouble changing the colour/brightness of the bulbs.
Having said this I would probably still recommend Home to anyone looking to get into Home automation and gaining the ability to control devices in their home with voice commands. I would warm that it is an expensive habit, and highly addictive but if you have the cash to spare and the inclination to make the shift to smarter things then it is definitely worth a look.