When Amazon introduced the Echo Show, they changed the game when it came to voice assistants.
The introduction of a display meant that people could do so much more than just listen to the day’s news or weather briefing. They could watch videos, check on the baby through a baby monitor and even make video calls to friends. All this without having to touch your phone or computer.
Google has been making its own efforts to play catch up to the market-leading Echo speakers.
They unveiled new smart speakers last year including the Home Mini to compete against the highly popular Echo Dot. They also have the main Google Home speaker to compete against the Amazon Echo 2.
LG, Lenovo, JBL (Samsung-owned) and Sony will make the displays while Google provides the brain inside them. This is the same thing they are doing with their voice-only speakers. While they have their own branded speakers, other companies including Altec Lansing, Braven and Klipsch are also planning to launch voice-only speakers with Google Assistant built in.
The same way Echo Show made possible new Alexa features and Skills, I also expect new features and functions from Google Assistant once the new displays go on sale.
You can watch YouTube videos, watch the morning news briefing, take a look at your calendar, see your photos, check your work route for traffic and make video calls to friends.
You can also control your entire home from these new speakers as long as you’ve connected Google Assistant-compatible devices. These includes lights, cameras, fans and others smart systems.
Each display is being made by a different company so they’ll vary in terms of style, size and overall design.
The Lenovo Smart Display has a 10 inch display ($250) with a speaker on one side. An 8-inch variation ($200) will also be available.
JBL’s display is called Link View and focuses on providing crisp sound quality. It has a unique oval design with an 8-inch display and a couple of 10-watt stereo speakers embedded inside.
To be clear, these are not just tablets with big speakers. They are much more powerful and zero percent portable. You won’t find a browser or even a cellular connection on these displays. There are also no apps and you need to keep them plugged in at all times.
They are basically tabletop devices that you set up in your kitchen, living room or bedside table.
As with any kind of smart speaker, each display will have embedded far-field microphones to capture your voice commands.
The Lenovo-made display will also include a mute button to disconnect the always-listening microphones and a switch that blocks the camera’s view. I expect other displays will also have some sort of privacy features.
There were no details regarding Sony and LG’s smart display speakers.
None of these speakers are currently available. But you should be able to buy them later in the year. Other than Lenovo’s speaker, there are no pricing details for the other models.
Google vs. Amazon
Google’s plan is to spread their assistant as far wide as possible and hopefully steal some market share from Amazon’s Alexa.
By having a wide variety of smart displays all bearing Google Assistant, Google may be able to target a broader market than the Echo Show. If you want an ordinary no-frills display, you can choose the Lenovo model. If you want the best sound quality, you can choose the JBL display.
Whether these smart display speakers will be able to topple or at least threaten the dominance of Echo Show remains to be seen.
Generally smart speakers with displays are just starting to catch up. 2018 will be the make or break year for them. Voice-only speakers have been a huge hit among consumers. The big question is whether smart displays be just as welcome in smart homes? Google and Amazon are betting that they will.