Silicon Valley is acting like it's last orders on smart home visions. Everyone's trying to get there's in before the bell rings and tech fans go with Amazon, Google, Apple or Microsoft.
What that means is this: anyone who is anyone has to have at least a voice controlled smart home hub. An Echo. They also need to match every single feature on all the other new echoes of this already iconic gadget plus a sprinkling of their own magic.
Finally, their smart home system needs to have lots of friends, big and small, to make sure there's nothing standing in the way of someone handing over the keys of their home to that particular AI assistant - Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant or Cortana.
It does feel like the window is closing a little. After years of the smart home being terribly boring, people are actually buying these hubs and that is increasing the sales of other connected home tech. They're locking their families into a system and they love it. The time is now for everyone to show their cards. Even if no-one was expecting you to...
Holy smokes, it's a whole new thing from that Android guy
It really is. We were expecting Andy Rubin's new venture Essential to come out with a cracking smartphone but the Essential Home hub and its Ambient OS looks genuinely fascinating.
To be honest, he's putting the rest to shame a little bit. Compare Essential's sleek looking hardware and UI to the Amazon Echo Show. And the middling to poor effort from Amazon and Google on privacy, transparency and the user's control over audio recordings looks terrible compared to Essential, which will process and store everything locally, not in the cloud. Bravo.
Plus it looks like it will work with Alexa, Google and Siri meaning you don't actually have to make a huge decision. That's throwing a spanner in the works of the companies who are relying on you making a choice that will last a good while. Like... Microsoft confirming its Cortana onslaught isn't fiction.
You mean the HP puck?
Precisely. We already knew about the Harman Kardon Invoke but Microsoft just showed us the first renders of HP's Cortana speaker too. The as yet untitled device is proof that we won't be waiting too long for all these voice powered gadgets and appliances to show up.
Good news for anyone whose interest is piqued by the Skype and Microsoft Office smart home we could get from Cortana. Sounds pretty practical to be fair.
One part of "winning" is working with everything, right?
You got it. So we also recently saw Google announcing that its Assistant software (including via Google Home) will work with all sorts of home tech from iRobot Roomba vacs to Hive, GE Geneva smart appliances, those pretty Nanoleaf lights, D-Link cameras, basically a whole load of new shit. The full, up to date list of supported devices is here.
That's a lot.
With these big and small partnerships, Google is saying it means business and so what if Microsoft is getting into the game? Cortana has work to do to catch up. Nest, which is owned by Google, also dropped a new Cam IQ security camera, which adds face recognition into the mix - sure, Netatmo did it first with the Welcome but it's filling gaps in what the Google-powered smart home can offer.
Well, we wrote this week about the trend of the wellness smart home. We're starting to see home hubs and sleep tracking devices meet in the middle but there's still a lot of potential for tech which puts more of an emphasis on what we need from our environment (light, temperature, humidity) and how we move around it/react to it as individual special snowflakes.
What about old slowpoke Apple?
Even Apple recognises it can't wait much longer. The latest word on the internet is that Apple's Siri smart speaker is about to drop, i.e. expect it at WWDC next week on 5 June. Anon sources are hyping up the sound quality and deep integration with existing Apple products. We'll be there to...
...do a hands on with a voice activated speaker?
You bet. And also find out from Apple what its smart vision is after HomeKit, let's face it, hasn't exactly set the world on fire so far.
That will be the highlight of next week's smart home news for sure but as Andy Rubin showed us this week, we've far from exhausted bold, future gazing announcements in smart home right now.