At first glance, the Essential Home has a lot in common with the Amazon Echo, but it's promising a lot more beneath the surface.
Andy Rubin has turned his attention to the kitchen counter and the smart home. Alongside the Essential Phone, the founder of Android on Tuesday debuted the Essential Home -- a countertop smart speaker that has a lot in common with the Amazon Echo and the Google Home.
Like the Echo and the Home, you'll be able to issue commands with your voice to search the internet for info, play music, and control your smart home. Unlike the two existing smart speakers, the Essential Home has a screen and will offer full touch controls in addition to voice controls. Supposedly, you'll even be able to interact with the Essential Home just by looking at it.
The Home will aim to differentiate itself further by processing as many of your commands locally as possible -- the Echo and Google Home function entirely through the cloud, and gather data from your commands. It'll also offer proactive notifications from the get-go -- a feature still in the works for Amazon and Google's competitors.
Essential's example of a notification hints that it'll integrate with your calendar and have maps and traffic data as well -- it'll let you know you need to leave early for an appointment if traffic is getting backed up.
At the core of all of this functionality will be Essential's new operating system, called Ambient OS. From the pictures, it looks somewhat similar to Apple's Watch OS -- with a simple interface for controlling different devices. Essential is promising much more, saying in a blog post that Ambient OS is "the API to your home that enables the creation of applications that extend the reach of a single device."
With an open developer kit at launch, the Ambient OS wants to make controlling your smart home seamless, and will be aware of devices, people and context. Supposedly, you won't even have to do any setup to use the Essential Home to control you connected gadgets. The Ambient OS will automatically "introduce itself" to new and existing devices.
The Essential Home theoretically learns about your routines, and can let you know if you left the lights on. Wired reported that at launch, the Home will not only work with big smart home platforms such as Nest, SmartThings and HomeKit, but it will also tie together the major smart home assistants -- Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant.
Essential hasn't announced a price or a specific release date for the Home yet. Undoubtedly, the Essential Home won't launch with quite as many integrations as the Amazon Echo -- Alexa has more than 10,000 third-party skills. Essential's behind the scenes choreography will need to tangibly make the smart home easier to use if it's going to be the better controller for your connected home.
In addition to the Home, Rubin's new venture announced a phone as well. Both devices will have a lot to prove to stand out from tough competition.