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Google Home

Always on call.

Google finally has its answer to Amazon’s voice-activated personal assistant device, Echo. It’s called Google Home, and it was announced today at the I/O developer conference.

Google Home Close-up

Home is a squat cylinder with Google’s iconic primaries-on-white branding, meant to sit on a shelf or countertop in your home’s common areas. On the inside, it likely consists of a microphone, processor, wireless chip and speaker. But like Echo, the hardware is mostly just a shell — an avatar for a cloud-based digital assistant.

Amazon’s cloud-based AI is called Alexa, and the company has a significant head start in building a suite of integrated services and cultivating a vibrant developer community to take advantage of its features. Google’s closest analogue has been Google Now, which provides some voice-activated intelligence on Android devices. But it’s now taking a leap into a truly conversational AI with Google Assistant, another product announced today, which is even more interactive and context-aware. It’s essentially a chat-bot for your digital life, and will be integrated with messaging apps as well as the Home device.

It probably won’t be long before Google Assistant is opened up to the wider developer community, but for now there’s a short but useful list of third-party services that it can sync up with. So with the “OK Google” catchphrase, you can ask it to call you an Uber, reserve concert tickets through Ticketmaster, play a Spotify playlist, and more. That’s on top of the existing Google Now features, which can answer questions from Google’s own search function and proactively offer relevant information gleaned from your emails, calendar, interests and search history.

Google Home also has its ear on the Internet of Things, and will be able to act as an intermediary between users and their smart-home gadgets. To begin with, that will likely be another short list that includes Nest thermostats and similar products from Google subsidiaries or select partners. But there’s little doubt that the platform will eventually be wide open, as the chance to stand at the intersection of users and the connected world is too good for any tech firm to pass up.

Pricing details for Google Home have yet to be announced, but we know it’s expected to be released later this year. You can sign up for updates to keep abreast of any developments.

Check out the demo video below to get a taste of the Google-enabled home.

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