Technology

Opinion: Living with Google Home Mini sparked my interest in HomePod, but leaves me still skeptical of smart speakers

(Source: 9to5mac.com)

When Apple unveiled the HomePod this past June at WWDC 2017, I didn’t give it too much of my attention. As a design piece, it looked like something I’d be happy to put in my living room. As a product, I just wasn’t interested. Smart speakers in general have seemed like little more than a novelty to me, and I’ve resisted buying one… until now. Last week I welcomed a Google Home Mini into my life to see if it could change my mind. Here’s what I found…

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Since the release of the first Amazon Echo and Google Home products, I’ve been watching from the sidelines as online friends and colleagues have one by one embraced smart speakers. While I use Siri from time to time on my iPhone and Apple Watch, the idea of a separate device to accomplish the same tasks seemed redundant.

During this year’s Black Friday sales, Google slashed the price of the Home Mini to just $29. Even that wasn’t enough to tempt me, or so I thought.

After a lot of positive encouragement from colleagues and Twitter followers, I decided to give it a try – as an experiment. Could Google Home change my outlook?

Even for $30, I can’t bring myself to buy a smart speaker, even out of curiosity. I just can’t imagine one use for it personally. IDK

— Michael Steeber (@MichaelSteeber) November 26, 2017

It’s important to note up front that the Home Mini and HomePod are two fundamentally different products. The HomePod is first and foremost a speaker, not an assistant – a closer competitor to the Google Home Max. The Home Mini on the other hand is more of an extension of Google Assistant with a speaker added. I don’t consider myself an audiophile, so I’m willing to look past the Google Home Mini’s speaker and evaluate its utility as a smart appliance.

Setting up the Home Mini was quick and fun. The Google Home app has polished animations that guide you through the setup process. Google makes no effort to hide just how much data will be collected about you as you use the Home Mini – and rightly so. Bringing an always-on, always-listening device into your home is still a big commitment for some people, and it’s best that Google is upfront about what is being collected right away.

My first two days using Google Home were fun, reminiscent of my first days using Siri when the iPhone 4s was released. Google Assistant is full of fun “party tricks” and Easter eggs that you can find with a brief search online. My favorite were the speaker’s built-in trivia games.

By day three, the novelty had started to wear thin. I don’t use a lot of other Google products on a regular basis, so many of Google Home’s features aren’t of much value to me. I don’t have a Chromecast or Google Play Music, and haven’t yet switched any appliances over to HomeKit compatible options. Simple tasks like checking the weather are easy to accomplish on my phone, and more satisfying there, too. I’m a visual person, and given the choice between hearing information and seeing it, I’ll almost always choose looking at a screen. There’s an added level of trust when I can verify the information I’m receiving, and with a speaker I have to assume that what I’m hearing is accurate.

Living with Google Home, I can imagine the future utility of HomePod. My workflow is mostly Apple-centric, and the integration of services like Apple Music, Siri, and HomeKit would prove much more useful than Google’s offerings. I’m also curious to see how HomePod handles various use conditions like background noise, multiple voices, and complex commands. Google Home Mini held up surprisingly well, able to hear me across the house, and recently adding the ability to accept multiple commands.

Looking at the My Activity section in the Google Home app reveals that I’ve only asked my speaker three questions in the last two days, two of which were test commands. It’s fallen off my radar quickly, and I’m glad I picked it up at a discounted price. The problem isn’t the speaker itself, it’s my workflow. Using a voice assistant still doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s a conscious process, and I have to constantly remind myself to come up with a reason to use it over my phone.

 

I’m keeping my mind open for HomePod because I want to find a place for it in my home. I’m looking to Apple to make the first truly compelling smart speaker experience that can change the minds of skeptics like myself. Until then, my Google Home Mini will be sitting here, waiting for a command that never comes.

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