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Smart Home

Google exec won't rule out a Google Home with a screen

In an interview with Variety, VP Rishi Chandra left the possibility open for a smart display made by the search giant itself.

JBL Link View 15

Google might not be solely relying on third-party smart displays like this JBL Link View to compete with the Amazon Echo Show.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Google could still release its own competitor to the Amazon Echo Show. Rishi Chandra, the search giant's VP of home products, hinted at a first-party smart display in an interview with Variety on Monday. At the very least, he didn't rule out a Google Home with a screen as a possibility. "It's an emerging category," he said. "I'm not saying we are not going to do it."

At CES in January, Google seemed content to leave its response to the Amazon Echo Show in the hands of third-party manufacturers. Google partnered with four companies -- Sony, JBL, LG and Lenovo -- to develop unique functionality for a handful of Google Assistant-powered smart displays announced at CES. What we didn't see was a smart display built by the search giant itself.

Chandra indicated that Google wanted to let its partners go first, but has long developed first- and third-party hardware side-by-side. That's true to an extent with smart speakers, the precursor to smart displays. Google's own smart speaker, the Google Home, was released as a competitor to the popular Amazon Echo in 2016. 

The Google Home stood alone as the only option for a Google-equipped smart speaker until last fall, when Google filled out its lineup with the pint-sized Home Mini and the king-sized Home Max. Third parties such as JBL and Sonos started debuting their own Google-equipped smart speakers shortly thereafter.

Smart speakers like the Google Home listen for specific wake words, then respond to your voice commands once you speak them. Using your voice, you can search the internet, control smart home devices, check your calendar and more. Smart displays use a screen to take this functionality one step further by showing you the answer to your question. You can see a map if you ask for directions, for instance, or watch a video if you need help cooking.

I saw some of this functionality in action during my hands-on time with the upcoming Lenovo Smart Display at CES. Like other third-party smart displays announced at CES, it's expected to roll out this summer. Google could potentially dampen the enthusiasm for these third-party devices if it indeed has a smart display of its own in the pipeline.

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Amazon stirred up similar controversy with its own Amazon Echo Show. The CEO of a tech startup called Nucleus said that Amazon "probably copied us" with the Show. The Nucleus Anywhere Intercom was a third-party device equipped with Amazon's assistant Alexa that had a screen you could use as an intercom. According to the Nucleus CEO, the small startup was "thrown under the bus" by Amazon making a similar device.

A Google-branded smart display wouldn't be a Goliath crushing a David in the same way, as Google's four announced smart display partners are all well-established electronics companies, not tiny startups. The intention is likely just to give customers plenty of options, if Google's smart display even comes to fruition at all.

Google looked to be throwing its weight behind the four third-party smart displays at CES, but if a Google-branded smart display is indeed in the works, I wonder if the search giant is keeping any tricks up its capacious sleeves for its own device. As it stands, Google's first-party smart speakers can make calls, whereas third-party speakers can't.

Google did not respond to CNET's request for comment.