First Google competed with Amazon Alexa devices (specifically the Echo) by creating Google Home. Now Apple wants to jump into the ring with its HomePod. Even the name seems like a Google copy.
It’s very easy to compare Apple’s HomePod to an Amazon Echo. They are both speaker-based, always listening for the wake-word, virtual assistants. However, Apple’s HomePod is going to cost $350! For that kind of money you could buy a 6-pack of Echo Dots and still have some cash left over. Or you could buy a pair of Echos.
Apple is positioning the HomePod as a premium speaker. I’m not an audiophile, so I’ll have to take their word that it is great. Personally the Echo is good enough for me. If I wanted to, I could buy an Echo Dot and hook-up whatever speaker solution I wanted.
The big difference here is that Apple’s HomePod is going to with other Apple products. I’m not in the Apple ecosystem, but many, many people are maybe it’s worth paying a lot of money for the same kind of access to Siri and Apple Music? We’ll have to see how it sells.
It seems that that I’m not alone in thinking that these hands-free personal digital assistants can be an educational tool for kids. Toy company, Mattel, has a clone of Alexa/Echo aimed at kids named Aristotle.
Personally, I would have gone with Socrates as first version. Then you could naturally follow it up with Aristotle and Plato.
At first I thought the idea of dumbed-down version of Alexa/Echo was silly. However, Mattel has added a few very interesting twists. Most notably, it’s combined it with a baby monitor and turn on nightlights and/or play music. That’s useful if I happen to be awake watching television at 10PM. However, if it’s 2AM, the last thing I want to do is wake up my wife by talking to a device. (Fortunately, we’ve advanced beyond the need of a baby monitor.)
Another feature is that Aristotle is able to be trained to understand children’s voices. That’s important, because my kids have had some difficulty summoning Alexa (which may be a blessing!).
Aristotle appears to have two basic modes: kids and parents. The “kids” mode is invokes the Aristotle assistant for things like reading stories and playing games. The “parents” mode seems to be powered by Amazon Alexa. Sounds like it has a bit of a split personality, but it could be promising.
It looks like you’ll have to pay $300 for the niche focus. That seems very expensive in the world of $40 Echo Dots. It’s a little more reasonable compared to an $180 Echo, but it still tips the scale as being too expensive in my opinion. Maybe they are looking to start high and lower the price over time.
Asus surprised many people a couple of weeks ago with the release of an interesting new product… Zenbo.
Zenbo is a household robot that resembles the love child of BB-8 from Star Wars and an old iMac G4. I’d loosely describe it as a mobile version of Amazon Echo with a tablet/screen/camera face.
Zenbo reminds me of when I finally understood the value of the Amazon Echo itself. It was much more than a Bluetooth speaker.
Zenbo’s ability to move around the house gives it mobility that the Amazon Echo doesn’t have. That puts it in a whole new class of intelligent digital personal assistants. If you need a recipe, Amazon Echo isn’t very good at that. Zenbo can move into the kitchen and put the recipe right on it’s screen for you.
I was amazed by the demo video:
My initial reaction was, “This looks great, but it’s going to cost about $3000.” Nope. It’s estimated to launch at $599. While Amazon’s Alexa line of products are obviously much cheaper, the price seems very, very reasonable for what you get.
Of course the Zenbo isn’t perfect. A lot about it isn’t known.
I don’t see how it will climb stairs. Since our family splits its time on two levels separated by two stairs, it would be frustrating to be picking it up a couple steps every time we moved.
I didn’t see anything about battery life (admittedly I didn’t look very hard), but I presume that it will have to charge itself quite a bit. The Echo’s always-on functionality seems to require so much power that it is hard to recharge it… (except for this 3rd party battery/accessory. Throw mobile and powering a tablet/screen all the time and one can imagine that it will drain a battery pretty quick.
At the end of the day, Asus Zenbo and Amazon Echo are very different things, but there’s enough overlap to see families choosing one and deciding that they don’t need the other. It looks like Zenbo will be more versatile, but I wonder if it will work as the Echo at the things that the Echo is good at. I don’t think it will have the microphone array, nearly as good speaker, and the intelligence of Alexa. Amazon also has a big head-start on partnerships as far as being the hub of a smart home.
It will be something to keep on the radar. And Asus, if you want to send me a Zenbo, I’d love to give it a more detailed review.
You can find out more about Google Home from it’s official website. We don’t know when it will be released, but most people think it will be out by the fall. We also don’t know how much it will cost, but my guess is that Google will price it aggressively to grow market share as it plays catch up to Amazon.
“[The speaker is] important, because one of the main use cases Google is foreseeing here is listening to music. The Echo isn’t great at that.”
I don’t know where The Verge is getting their Amazon Echos, but mine is GREAT for listening to music. It’s one of the things that separates it from any other gadget I’ve owned. And lets not forget that the Echo Dot allows you to bring any speakers you want to the party.
There are a few other tricks up Google Home’s sleeve. The ability to play with it’s Cast platform allows for a lot of flexibility to have it talk to your television. On the minus side, Google Home hasn’t made a developer API available, so companies can’t simply integrate with it (without formally partnering with Google first). I’m betting that will change, but if it doesn’t, it may come back to hurt Google.
I’m going to reserve judgment until the Google Home is released and I read some real world reviews or get my hands on one.
When I worked in the tech industry the CEO would spin this new competition as validation that our company was working on all cylinders. To some degree that makes sense, but you always had to fear getting Google’d out of business. How many of you still use Lycos to search, have Palm products, or use MapQuest?
It was only a matter of time until Google, Apple, and Microsoft started to get in on Echo’s hands-free, always-on benefits. They already have the back-end personal assistant in Google Now, Siri, and Cortana. It simply makes too much sense for them not to do it. I’m almost surprised it isn’t already in your Xbox and Apple TV.
According to Record, Google is going to redesign it’s OnHub router with it’s new Chirp capabilities. It should come as no surprise that the OnHub, look’s very much like Amazon Echo.
At the end of the day, the competition will be a win for consumers. People will have more choice and the companies will push each other adding new features.
These always listening assistants may very well might be the next new platform now that smartphone innovation has leveled off.