Google Assistant is bar none the best when it comes to voice assistants, and it comes in some great hardware packages, too. The Google Home series has some great designs, and the recent Nest Hub smart displays are good-looking. However, Google just doesn’t seem as interested in experimenting with Assistant hardware as Amazon is with Alexa, and sometimes I really wish it was.
Nomad case for Pixel 3
Amazon is willing to try anything
Looking through the catalog of Alexa hardware designs, we just have to look to the Echo series to see how much more adventurous Amazon has been with its hardware.
Amazon’s official lineup of Echo devices has a lot of options. There’s the standard Echo, Echo Dot, and now the high-end Echo Studio as well. On top of these, there are also smart displays with various sizes of the Echo Show. This is where the two companies are on the same page, offering products that appeal to the masses.
Where Amazon differs in strategy from Google, though, is with niche products. The Echo Input, for example, is a product that brings Alexa to traditional speakers over a wired connection. There’s also Echo Auto, which brings the voice assistant to your car. Then there’s the Echo Link and Link Amp, which are designed to bring Alexa to hi-fi speakers that you already own for prices upwards of $200. There’s also the Echo Sub, which adds a subwoofer to the company’s standard Echo speakers.
Expanding even further in Amazon’s first-party line of Echo devices is an Amazon-made, Alexa-controlled microwave. It’s when you see this that you realize that Amazon is really willing to try anything (and expand on it with a Smart Oven). This lineup is chaotic, but the “throw everything and see what sticks” model can’t help but appeal to some users.
Personally, there are a couple of products over the past couple of years that have really piqued my interest. There’s the Echo Clock ‒ a product that ties into your Echo device to show ongoing timers wirelessly on an analog clock face. I can’t stress enough how quickly I would buy one of these if it worked with Google Assistant.
I was reminded of all of this again today during Amazon’s hardware event where the company unveiled a new Echo Dot, which has an LED display built in to show the time. We’ve seen some third-party Assistant devices do this, but they were discontinued, and nothing has replaced it. There’s also the Echo Flex, an $25 plug that extends Alexa to any room without needing a full speaker. There’s also the $30 Echo Glow, which is a battery-powered LED light you can control with your voice.
Amazon’s speakers and its companion devices often incorporate clever ideas
This is the kind of stuff I would love to see Google doing, but the company simply isn’t. However, that might be for the best.
In the long run, Google is probably right to play it safe
Despite how enticing a lot of Amazon’s hardware is, Google is probably right not to follow its example with Assistant products. A lot of what Amazon has put together for its Alexa ecosystem isn’t meant to see wide appeal, it’s just to show what the platform is capable of. More than likely, a lot of those products won’t see a second generation and will be ditched over the course of a couple of years.
Google’s lineup, on the other hand, focuses on what it knows will sell and last. The original Google Home is still on sale because it has a timeless design and continues to work with Assistant’s latest features as well as it did with older ones. The same applies to products like the Google Home Mini. We’re expecting a second generation of that product, which apparently looks very similar but fixes problems from the original and also improves on it with new features.
Plus, Google has shown that it’s capable of innovative ideas, too. At its hardware event, Amazon launched the Echo Buds, which essentially clone the Assistant integration found on Google’s Pixel Buds, but with some extra fitness features, a truly wireless design, and active noise cancellation. On top of that, Google Assistant is always going to be more widely available. It’s pre-installed on almost every Android smartphone, where Amazon only has a few, and it’s also on every Chromebook now, too, where Alexa is only on some Windows machines.
Google is probably right to stick with its current path going forward, but events like today’s big Amazon unveiling just keep making me wish that Google, or its hardware partners, were just a bit more adventurous with their products. I would never expect Google to go toe-to-toe with Amazon on everything. There’s absolutely no chance Google will make a microwave that connects with Assistant, or a set of buttons that play games with a voice assistant. The lineup is chaotic, and while researching for this article, I realized there were official Echo products I didn’t even know about, like the Echo Sub. Still, sometimes Alexa’s extra hardware options are enticing, and customers will likely notice the same thing.
Also, Amazon just got Samuel L. Jackson to be a voice for Alexa. That’s going to be a hard one to beat.
More on Google Assistant:
- Google Nest Hub Max Review: Trying to do it all and mostly succeeding [Video]
- Google Assistant no longer Pixel exclusive on Chrome OS, rolling out to more Chromebooks
- Assistant gaining ‘Hey Google’ hotword sensitivity setting, will store less audio data