Watch this: Google Home packed with new features, including hands-free calling
Google's rival device to the
has had a lot of growing up to do in the past few months. The Google Home was released nearly two years after
's voice-activated speaker.
Now it's becoming available in more countries than the Echo (which is only in the US, UK and Germany). Available in the UK since April, soon you'll be able to pick up the Google Home in Australia, as well as Canada, Germany, France and Japan -- cutting down the market lead Amazon had on Google.
Plus, Google has announced a slew of new features that bring it ever closer to the digital assistant throne.
The first big feature Google is bringing to the Home is proactive assistance. That means the Home will be able to push notifications to users -- warning of bad traffic before a commute, for instance. It's currently unclear how exactly these push notifications will work with various users -- whether, for instance, different users asking the Google Assistant "what's up?" will result in different alerts or not. For now, though, this sort of actionable advice based on real assistance skills seems like a notable step forward.
Again, like Amazon, Google is introducing hands-free calling. Unlike the Echo, though, the Home will be able to call
. For now, Google is not allowing users to call other Home devices, which it says is a privacy breach -- a shot at Amazon's feature, which does allow Echo-to-Echo calling, and doesn't allow users to block calls. One extra benefit: If you live in the US or Canada, phone calls made from the Google Home will be free.
Google is bringing new entertainment options to the
, including nonpremium Spotify usage, HBO Now streaming (with a
dongle), Soundcloud streaming and more. The full list of partnerships is to come.
Finally, the Home will start using screens more effectively. That means you'll be able to ask for directions to a given address or an image of your schedule, and Home will be able to send it directly to your phone or
. This sort of usage will depend on a partnership between the Home and the Chromecast.
One of the biggest weaknesses with voice assistants so far is their lack of complex control over many devices and features. Siri allows for some personalization with
devices, but that's about it. But now the Google Home is introducing Shortcuts.
Shortcuts will allow users to set up verbal shortcuts, like "workout time," to trigger multiple app commands and devices at once.