Does Google Finally Have An Answer To The Echo?

Back when Google announced the OnHub router, some suggested it looks a lot like the Echo. As it turns out, it may do more than just look like Amazon's red-hot connected home device.

Last week, Recode wrote that Google is hard at work on a Echo competitor code named Chirp. According to the piece, the Chirp will look like the OnHub, but will also have Google's voice virtual assistant embedded in the product. In other words, the company is creating a voice-interface device for the home to take on Alexa and Echo, finally filling what is a glaring hole in their connected home lineup, especially for a company that has been working on voice and virtual assistants on the mobile side for over half a decade.

The Recode story goes on to suggest that the Chirp platform won't show up at Google IO, Google's big developer conference taking place in Mountain View this week. This isn't all that surprising since Google often focuses on developer-centric announcements and platforms (like the Weave and Brillo, which was the bulk of their focus on the smart home front last year).

But if not this week, when? My guess sooner rather than later. Amazon is cementing it's place as the voice interface integration partner of choice for the smart home, in part because they've not only captured the imagination of many with a cool device, but also because they're seeding the market with Alexa third party integrations fueled by the Alexa Fund. If Google wants to stop or even slow Amazon's momentum, it better hurry. 

While it might be tough to displace the Echo at this point as the voice interface with the most traction in the connected home, Google could possibly differentiate itself on a few fronts:

  • For one, a seamless integration with the home router could be intriguing. While Amazon has already won one notable integration for Echo with a home router with the Almond 3, Google actually is pushing the OnHub towards being a smart home hub itself. It announced IFTTT integration last month, and I expect strong voice integration will make it an even more intriguing option.
  • Google/Alphabet/Nest has a lot of irons in the fire for the smart home and consumer IoT, what with Thread, Weave and Brillo.  If, as they say, there are lots of devices in the pipeline for these platforms, they could leverage this developer interest further by making Google Now as a easy optional integration for those products that settle in on using their broader suite of connected home protocols.
  • Amazon's achilles heel continues to be its lack of a good mobile story, and here's where Google may have its best shot. While I'm not entirely sold that consumers want to access voice control of their homes through their phones, by integrating any new voice platform like Chirp with the large installed base of Android phones, Google could create interesting use-case and applications that Amazon would have to rely on partners for.

The bottom line is Google is playing catch up now in the home around voice, despite having a head start within the smart home and voice separately. The only question now is how, and when, they'll try to close the gap. 


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