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Santa Cruz Sentinel



Google is expected to launch an epic battle against Amazon Tuesday — but the Mountain View tech giant has a lot of ground to make up.

At an event in San Francisco, Google is expected to unveil two new phones, and officially release “Google Home,” a virtual assistant intended to rival Amazon’s popular “Echo.” Amazon’s voice-controlled device plays music, answers questions, reads news, books and weather out loud and can control certain smart-home devices. Google first announced Home at this year’s developers conference in May and said the device would stream music, control home lighting and answer questions.

“It’s like having a voice-activated remote control to the real world whenever you need it,” Mario Queiroz, Google vice president of product management, said at the event.

The competition for the home-assistant market will pit Echo and Home, and their virtual assistants “Alexa” in Echo and “Assistant” in Home, against one another. Underlying the fight will be the artificial intelligence that powers the virtual assistants and enables them to learn about users to improve their responses, while a wealth of valuable personal data flows to Google and Amazon.

Google leads the world in AI, but has a troubled history with hardware, from the defunct streaming device Nexus Q to operational problems with the Nest thermostat, noted Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Patrick Moorhead.

“What is significant is the Google Home product that they’re bringing out, because it’s going to be a test of Google versus Amazon Alexa,” Moorhead said. “This ends up spectacular in one way or the other, spectacular fail or spectacular success.”

Google’s home device fits the firm’s core business model, which is based on digital advertising. The more Google knows about a person and what they’re doing at any given moment, the more money it can make selling ads targeted at that person, Moorhead said. The device will bring that data-gathering into people’s homes and living rooms, beyond what the company captures via mobile devices and home computers. Google wants to have an “information-collecting device” in action “anywhere you are, all the time,” Moorhead said.

Key to the success or failure of Google Home will be its ability to interact with other smart-home devices and services, said Ovum consumer-technology analyst Ronan de Renesse .

“Amazon has been really developing that side of Echo this year, and they’ve been doing really well,” de Renesse said.

Price will also be important for Google in competing against Amazon, which sells the Echo for $180, de Renesse said. “Are they going to undercut Amazon?” he said.

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