By Norm Johnston, Mindshare — October, 2016
On October 4th, Alphabet boldly announced several new hardware devices and advancements in software, particularly in voice interaction and artificial intelligence. While not entirely groundbreaking, the depth and breadth of the products and features was a clear message of intent that Alphabet is not backing down from Apple and Amazon even in areas like drone delivery. In fact the hoopla around Google’s new Pixel phones and VR kit was slightly overshadowed by the universal joy that Google’s Project Wing division is secretly delivering burritos by drones to students at Virginia University.
Details and Implications
Google’s announcement reinforces some key trends and themes that we’ve been writing about for some time, in particular the rise of voice interaction, which is becoming stronger and more pervasive than ever before. Over 55% of US Millennial smartphone owners use voice search once a day. Even China’s Baidu has seen a tripling in voice search over the last 18 months. As a result Siri, Cortana, Duer, Alex and others are scurrying to become your default voice to the cloud. Google’s new Assistant takes things a step further by enabling you to carry on a connected conversation across statements and queries. So rather than getting isolated answers to each query, Assistant will build on what you’ve said before and through machine learning and over 70 billion stored facts provide better and continuous answers. Truly a step closer to 2001’s HAL.
So now is the time to get a voice strategy in place, not only for more natural audio search queries and answers but also whether like Dominos Pizza you want to give your brands and its applications its own distinct voice.
Another trend we have been discussing is search anywhere. Google’s new Home speaker is a sign of the times as competitors rush to catch-up to Amazon’s surprisingly popular Echo (over three million sold and growing fast). With Apple rumored to be launching a speaker soon (possibly via a Sonos acquisition – Apple is now selling them in its stores), Google is in a hurry to remain your prime search engine and source of information, entertainment and communication, whether in your kitchen or in your car. Home will also act as voice-activated remote control for the new Chromecast TV media dongle. Echo retains one key advantage – its ability to seamlessly let you add products to your shopping basket. Google’s drone-delivered flying burritos activated by Home may play some role in solving that gap in the future.
Google’s Pixel phones are a clear move to put Nexus in the past. The phone has a myriad of features, included headphone jacks (take that Apple) and the ubiquity of and instant access to Assistant and thus rapid access and answers…by voice conversation….across multiple apps, a game-changer and a sign of things to come as people get increasingly perplexed app overload – our generation’s version of Bruce Springsteen’s “57 Channels and Nothin’ On”.
And we finally saw Google’s long gestating Daydream View virtual reality headset, a sexier and still affordable (~$100) leap forward from Google Cardboard. It’s clear Google is betting heavily on the new Pixel phone being its prime VR vehicle as opposed to Oculus, which requires a powerful and expensive gaming PC above and beyond the headset, a limitation for many (only an estimated 13 million are estimated to exist today.)
Cynics could argue that much of what was on display was simply Google catching-up to existing competitive products. While most of the hardware was largely “me-too”, it’s in the software where Google is really putting pressure on its competition with big leaps in voice interaction, AI, machine learning, and seamless connection and control across multiple devices. In that regard it’s a welcome innovation iteration that Apple, Amazon, and others will surely use as the new industry benchmark.