If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then Google, not Amazon has the upper hand when it comes to building the smart kitchen assistant of choice. The secret weapon of the Google Home Hub isn’t a smarter AI, or better sound quality (it’s definitely not that), it’s pictures.
To understand why pictures are so important to winning in the smart assistant space, think of the iconic Kodak pitch scene in Mad Men. In it, Don Draper explains that the 1960s slide projector didn’t have a “wheel” as the executives described it, but rather a nostalgic carousel.
While it was far less dramatic (and fewer cigarettes were smoked), my wife recently explained that she had formed an “emotional connection” with the Google Home Hub, Google’s smart display. This immediately caught my attention because she was more frustrated than anything by Amazon’s Echo Show, but she genuinely loves Google Home Hub. That’s because it is a kind of time machine. Google Home Hub can access the thousands of pictures stored in my Google Photos account. Any time she’s in the kitchen, she sees a picture of our son’s fifth birthday party, or the moment he lost a tooth, or a vacation picture, and it makes her happy.
Google Home Hub is her (and my) carousel, and this type of emotional connection will only get stronger as we get older and the photos from today resurface years from now. We actually demoted our Echo Show to the living room even though we listen to a ton of music and the sound quality of the Home Hub is way worse. Being able to see our photos was more important than the fidelity of Steely Dan’s Aja.
Alexa cannot access my photos and I have no plans to store them on Amazon. I’m pretty deep in the Google Photo ecosystem and I’m not alone. As of May 2017, Google Photos had 500 million users. They make it so easy to upload from your phone that it’s hard to envision a scenario where I switch to Amazon Photos just so I could see them on an Echo Show.
But this isn’t just about warm and fuzzy feelings. There is big money at stake.
As my colleague Mike Wolf has written, kitchen screens are going to be a big deal. The combination of voice control and visuals allow you to quickly find out information, plan your day, access video entertainment, and even help guide you while you cook.
On a very base level, there are billions of dollars at stake from the device sales alone. Strategy Analytics reports that more than 12 million homes will own a smart display by the end of this year, and that number will jump to 100 million homes by 2023. Whoever can grab more marketshare, obviously, makes more direct sales money.
Then of course there is the additional revenue generating opportunity from photo storage. I’ve paid Google two bucks a month for four years for that privledge, and don’t see a time when I’ll stop (hopefully they won’t kill it).
And because we live in the times we do, dominant smart assistants also get access to all that data we generate by asking it questions, controlling our smart devices and playing us songs and videos. That data, in turn, helps perpetuate whomever’s dominance. Right now, Alexa is king in the smart speaker space, but its lead is slipping as Google gains marketshare.
Whoever dominates in the smart assistant space also helps shape the future of the connected kitchen as appliance makers look to incorporate new technologies that have a proven user base. Google was everywhere at CES last week, and more appliance makers are highlighting Google Home integration. GE Appliances showed off its mega Kitchen Hub 27 inch video touchscreen that mounts above your oven. It runs on Android and the company highlighted its Google Assistant integration. Elsewhere, KitchenAid joined other manufacturers like JBL and Lenovo in launching its own Google-powered smart display.
The smart assistant is the tip of the spear to accessing and controlling more of your future smart home. Though the battle has just begun, in the smart assistant arms race between Google and Amazon, it’s not necessarily the brains of the device that will prove to be the winner, but the one that wins over our hearts.