Google has beaten rival Amazon to the punch by announcing the availability of its Google Home personal assistant in Australia from mid year.
It means Australians for the first time can ask a dedicated home assistant device to turn on the lights, compile a shopping list and tell you about traffic delays. Australians who wanted to enjoy Amazon Echo and Google Home until now had to import these home assistants from the US. They were not available locally.
But by getting into the Australian market first, Google will have an edge in offering services through Google Home ahead of Amazon’s anticipated entry into Australian retailing later this year. It is unknown whether Amazon Echo’s Alexa will make it down under in what is the battle of the home personal assistants.
The announcement of Google Home’s availability in a handful of extra countries — Australia, France, Germany, Canada and Japan — was among a huge array of new technology that Google spruiked at its development conference today, under way near its headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Thanks to Google’s ongoing presence in Australia, much of the geolocation functionality of Home already works locally. While walking around your house you can use ask Google Home for the nearest coffee shops or Japanese restaurants and it offers local Australian suggestions already.
When testing it last year, I found it didn’t give you screening times at Australian cinemas.
But it will tell you the time for your commute to work, the time for the next train at our local station (at least in Sydney) as well as perform domestic chores such as turning on and off Philips Hue lights, playing music on demand, setting a timer or alarm, maintaining a verbally dictated to-do-list and shopping list, and giving you weather forecasts etc.
So far Home used tailored US news bulletins, but Australian news agencies may now jump aboard, given Home’s likely popularity.
Google also announced new features for Google Home generally. It is highly likely they will come to Home units in Australia.
They include proactive assistance. Without you asking, Google Home will tell you time sensitive reminders, announce traffic delays while you eat breakfast before heading to work, and flight schedule changes.
In the US, Google has announced hands-free-calling. Google Home users can call any US or Canada landline or mobile free of charge simply by asking Google Home to make the call. The recipient just needs to answer the phone. That isn’t announced for Australia, but would likely come to the platform at some time.
Using machine learning Google Home can recognise who in the family is making the call, so if you ask it to call your mother, it will know it’s your mother rather than your spouse’s.
Home is catching up with Echo in music services. Today Google announced the addition of the free Spotify service (paid Spotify is already available), SoundCloud, and Deezer.
The biggest advance here is the ability to connect your phone or audio device to Home by Bluetooth. You can ask it to play music by naming tracks stored on those devices.
Home will soon respond visually to verbal requests. You will be able to ask it to display a map of your journey on your phone or on the TV — if you connect the TV with a Chromecast dongle. You could ask Google Home to display your calendar on the TV.
You soon will be able to ask Google Home to broadcast a range of services on a connected TV without needing a phone or remote to control it.
Google is evolving its Google Assistant to bring more machine learning and artificial intelligence capability in the lounge room, so the capability of Home is increasing quickly.
Chris Griffith is covering the Google I/O conference in Mountain View courtesy of Google
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