So I purchased a Google Home about 2 months ago, and it has been an interesting little toy/tool in the house. For those that don’t know, it is a voice activated device that helps you perform google-like searches, play music/podcasts, add reminders, and many other things — similar to the Amazon Echo.
At first, my wife didn’t understand the point of it all despite my emphatic explanations of how it will transform our lives (“you can ask it to tell you the weather.. and ask where the nearest pharmacy is.. and.. er.. well that’s about it”). After the first few hours of asking it anything and everything (“Hey Google, what time does Ikea close?”, “Hey Google is it cold outside?”, “Hey Google, what’s 350 degrees Fahrenheit in Celsius?”), I managed to discover what it was useful for, and what it wasn’t.
Is it perfect? Certainly not. There are limitations that we work around. For example, the device was touted as a game changer since you can have context based conversations (i.e. if your first question was ‘are there any movies playing tonight’, you can ask a follow-up question of ‘any comedies playing?” ), but it is very unnatural to always call out the activation code ‘hey google’ in between sentences when there are gaps.
On another limitation, the fact that you cannot update your calendar is enormously frustrating — ironically, you can do this on Amazon Echo!! My other annoyance is the shopping list function. Something I was really looking forward to, namely the ability to call out to Google ‘Hey Google, add eggs to my shopping list’ while I’m in the middle of cooking’ (I always forget to write it down on the shopping list). However, the shopping list app (Google Keep) is atrocious — a clunky UI which makes it somewhat unusable on iOS
However, from the features that are useful, we got into the rhythm of using it for the following purposes:
Although these were small items and was a novelty , they soon became staple statements in our household. What we didn’t expect is how much our 4 year old, Harvey, would enjoy the presence of Google.
At first, Harvey was rather curious yet suspicious of Google Home just as he often is of strangers. When I first showed him things that I thought would impress him like asking google: “Hey Google, what sound does an ambulance make?” Harvey was in fact impressed but yet nervous. After a few demonstrations, I asked Harvey, what sound do you want Google to make? Harvey thought for a moment and responded “umm…. a duck”. To which I encouraged Harvey: “sure Harvey, you saw how I did it, go ahead and asked Google”. My son looked rather sheepishly, dived into in my arms and then whispered “No dad… you ask Google”.
It only took about a week before that all changed. Now, each morning when Harvey is having breakfast, he would insist to have a story podcast (Storynory or Yarn Story Factory are fantastic by the way), and insist to check Google Home for the weather. There was a time even when Google Home responded that it won’t rain on the day, but then I saw heavy rain clouds outside and still reached for an umbrella. Harvey protested profusely in defense of Google Home: “Dad, don’t taken an umbrella — Google already said no rain”. I relented and left the umbrella at home (‘Google’ was right, it didn't rain that day).
One of my friends mentioned to me that it is a rather interesting period how with the advancement Voice User Interfaces these days, this will be what defines the way how youngsters will interacts with computers. Back in the 90s it was the keyboard, in the late 2000s it was the touch screen, and now in the late 2010s it looks like it will be voice.
To me it is a remarkable machine, yet to my 4 year old, such a device seems normal and seems to just ‘fit’ into the home. It feels like a member of the family as a pet such as a kitten or puppy would be. This was exemplified the other day when we left the house and Harvey shouted out at the doorway “Bye bye Google, see you later”.
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