Dear Google: please bring us Home
Will Google's smart speaker make it here?
Last Wednesday, Google announced its answer to the Amazon Echo smart speaker: Google Home.
Like the Echo, the Home plugs into the wall, connects to WiFi, and has always-on microphones waiting for a command. Instead of pressing a button—like you would on your phone—you can just shout at it. Both the Echo and the Home can play Spotify playlists, order you an Uber, read you the news, integrate with services like IFTTT (Echo) or Google services (Home), and many other things. They both promise to replace the wall-mounted iPad as the centre of a smart home.
If you're not sold on the idea of a smart speaker, here's a (slightly awkward) video from The Verge comparing Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri.
It makes sense Google would want to get into this market (apparently Apple does too). On Amazon.com, the Echo has a 4.5/5 rating...out of nearly 37,000 reviews. Podcasters talk about it, news shows hype it, and tech sites rave about it. Smart speakers are fast becoming pillars of the connected house—prime territory for Google services.
Several different websites have written about Google Home—what it is, what it's going to do, why it can or can't beat the Echo, etcetera—that's all well and good, but nobody has answered my top question: what about Canada?
What about Canada?
What about it? The Echo is connected to a wide variety of online services, many of which are only available in the States. Quite a few of its functions go through the Echo app on your smartphone, which you can't download in Canadian app stores. It's only available from Amazon.com—not even listed on Amazon.ca.
That said, it's not impossible to get one—my boss has one, and she loves it—but it requires some tinkering. There's at least one guide for fooling it into working in Canada. CTV Toronto talked about how the Echo works, but neglected to mention it's not officially available here. Toronto even had a small-scale Echo hackathon.
By the looks of it, Canadians want smart speakers—question is, will we ever get one?
The conversation about Canada's technology lag is a whole other article, but the Echo situation is especially egregious. Why would Amazon—a company whose headquarters is literally 175 km away from the nearest Canadian city—choose to neglect this market? We want them too. We're buying Echoes through back channels and smuggling them over the border. We're hosting conferences to hack them. We're even talking about them on our news shows. Amazon, seriously: can we please, please buy one?
If Google can live up to its promises, their answer to the Echo should be a serious contender. But if it finds its way to Canada first? That will be a Home-run.