Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google Home connected speaker takes on Amazon.com, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Alexa on its home turf. But what about Google’s big advantage over Amazon in the smart home war — all those smartphones?
The company has just begun rolling out Home Control, a new feature that lets Google Assistant control smart home devices by voice.
However, at this point, Home Control — like Google Assistant — remains a feature that’s exclusive to Google’s own Pixel Phones.
The Battle for the Smart Home
Google Home is a connected speaker with Google Assistant baked in. Owners can use Google Assistant on the speaker to answer questions, find music and control a growing number of smart home devices using their voice only.
The device is GOOGL’s answer to the Amazon Echo. Amazon’s Alexa-enabled speaker has been a surprise hit and allowed Amazon to take a big lead in the race to become the smart home hub — despite the distinct disadvantage of lacking a smartphone platform to host its digital assistant.
Google has Google Now and the new Google Assistant, while Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has Siri. Between them, the two companies have billions of mobile devices in consumers’ hands, yet Amazon still managed to leapfrog them with its personal assistant hosted in a speaker, to build an impressive smart home lead.
Apple’s Siri can control HomeKit-compatible smart home devices using voice commands, and now GOOGL is rolling out a similar feature for its Google Assistant, Home Control.
Google’s new feature for voice control of smart devices isn’t actually new. Anyone who owns both a Pixel Phone and a Google Home speaker already had a Home Control setting on their smartphone.
However, as of yesterday, GOOGL has begun to roll out Home Control to all Google Assistant users. This amounts to all Pixel Phone owners, since Google Assistant remains an exclusive that third-party Android smartphones don’t get.
With Home Control, someone with a Pixel Phone gets the same voice control ability for smart devices they would have if they owned a Google Home speaker. They can use voice commands on their phone to change the temperature on their Nest Learning Thermostat or turn off the smart lighting in the room they just left.
The Battle for the Smart Home Enters a New Phase (Sort of)
At the start of this fight to be the company that becomes the hub of the smart home — the one who controls all those smart devices — the smartphone was it.
Smartphones ran all the apps that controlled each of the devices and everyone owned one. With smartphones, the battle came down to iOS and Android, Apple and Google.
Then Amazon disrupted everything with the Echo and Alexa. With thousands of compatible products and services, consumers have been snapping them up. Amazon sold out of the Echo at Christmas, after selling nine times more of the smart speaker than the previous year.
Voice control is in. Having to poke buttons on a smartphone is out.
However, Apple and Google are not about to cede the smart home to Amazon. GOOGL began its assault on Amazon with the Google Home smart speaker to directly take on the Echo and Alexa. With Home Control, it’s bringing voice control of smart devices to the smartphone, leveraging its massive lead over Amazon when it comes to numbers. There may be millions of Alexa-powered homes, but there are billions of people already carrying an Android smartphone.
Except, most of those people still won’t be able to use Home Control. GOOGL has baked Home Control into Google Assistant, a feature that’s been exclusive to its Pixel Phones since they were released last fall. With Google Home and now Home Control, Alphabet clearly has Amazon’s number. The question will be whether Amazon gets Alexa into more third-party devices before Google decides to let third-party Android smartphone makers have access to Google Assistant.
For GOOGL, the decision comes down to which is more valuable: maintaining a key competitive advantage for its own Pixel Phones, or giving up that Google Assistant and Home Control exclusivity to take a real shot at unseating Amazon in the smart home.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.