Google Home was supposed to be the smart speaker & personal assistant to end all others. But did it fall flat? Find out why with our review.
I’m the worst early adopter in that I’ll dive straight into a beta version of anything, then complain about its shortcomings caused mostly by it being a beta. I’m also quite invested in Google as an ecosystem. I have an S7 Edge that I’ve made decidedly crappier because I threw caution to the wind and installed a Beta version of Nougat. I have a couple of Chromecasts – one for the telly and another for audio. Plus, I use Android Auto religiously.
I’ve been lulled into a false sense of well-being as the unholy trinity of phone controlling Chromecast and getting me from A to B works flawlessly-ish.
I expected a complimentary – albeit imperfect – experience with Home.
We are excited about building a personal Google for everyone, everywhere https://t.co/iqPsC0eYkX— sundarpichai (@sundarpichai) October 4, 2016
There’s only one wow moment with Home, and that’s that it manages to sign into your Wi-Fi for you. Yeah, it manages to hack your home network.
From there it descends quickly into farce.
Understanding the New Wave of Search
The other reason I bought this half-witted paperweight was to understand the next wave of search firsthand. When Google announced Home, the Pixel, Daydream, and Chromecast Ultra, it became clear Google wanted to observe us in our natural habitat.
If I could see how this talking air freshener handled natural queries, I’d get a more intuitive sense of Google search – something I feel to have lost since Hummingbird and more so since RankBrain.
Google just didn’t get me anymore (along with 94.2% of all Americans).
Also, I really, really hate doing voice searches. It’s a British thing.
When Voice Searches Blend into Direct Commands
A couple of other idiosyncrasies that exist with Google Home:
- On the side of the box it says: “Discover more things you can do with Google Home at g.co/home/explore/
OK Google - maybe not.
- Speaking of ‘OK Google’ – the command you use every single time prior to asking it a question:
- Saying it when you have another device that can be activated using the same voice command and that other device getting activated is awfully annoying. They’re freakily syncopated, though.
- ‘OK Google’ is one of those words (or phrases if you’re a pedant) that becomes existentially weirder the more you say it. Not as bad as February, but on a par with Wednesday.
Me: "OK Google - create a shopping list: Buy cheese."
Google Home: "Alright, buy trees."
Which appeared on Google Keep on my phone as:
I know people who are rather avid voice searchers, but I’ve yet to see numbers that don’t conflate voice search and voice commands.
‘Play music’ is a direct command, not a search. It only becomes a question if you’re Australian:
Anyway, enough of the pros.
Supporting Language & Understanding Intent
Google Home covers a couple of search areas that your average SEO should be concerned by virtue of voice activation: informational and local.
I’m frothing with excitement over the possibility of it being able to settle arguments over whether something is a word in Scrabble, for example.
It also provides invaluable context to support language and understanding intent. It may not seem like much, but anticipating a user’s search path is better than the kitchen sink approach.
The Future of AI & Google Home
For all of Google’s futuristic flannel about RankBrain, machine learning, and neural language processing, we shouldn’t think ourselves as more than beta testers.
Besides their digital omnipresence, Google also employs human-assisted AI otherwise known as ‘supervised learning’ to nail the real grunt work:
“Google trains these neural networks using data handcrafted by a massive team of PhD linguists it calls Pygmalion. In effect, Google’s machines learn how to extract relevant answers from long strings of text by watching humans do it—over and over again. These painstaking efforts show both the power and the limitations of deep learning. To train artificially intelligent systems like this, you need lots and lots of data that’s been sifted by human intelligence. That kind of data doesn’t come easy—or cheap. And the need for it isn’t going away anytime soon."
The thought of a crack squad of global linguists deciphering my exasperated requests should be enough to give it another go.