Hey Google, make me a believer
Google does not typically have a public presence at CES. In years past, the company would certainly have staff here, taking meetings, making deals, working with partners, and exploring exhibits, but Google itself lacked a public presence. This year, things are wildly different, as Google has basically taken over the entirety of Las Vegas with ads and billboards highlighting the Google Assistant. It’s basically impossible to go anywhere in the city this week without seeing a giant Google advertisement.
The centerpiece of all of this effort is a three-story installation in the parking lot in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Instead of building a booth on the show floor inside of the convention center, Google has instead erected a structure the size of a small house, complete with giant screens, multiple levels, and a rooftop coffee bar. There’s even a blue corkscrew slide to get back down to ground level after visiting the top floor. It’s all extremely Google-y.
All of this effort is in service to promoting the Google Assistant, and to make sure that this year, the conversation at CES is around Google’s virtual assistant and not Amazon’s, as it has been for the past couple of CES events. The structure showcases all of the products that use Google Assistant, from smart speakers to wearables to kitchen appliances to Android Auto in a new Alfa Romeo parked inside.
The booth isn’t just to showcase Assistant-enabled products, it’s also meant to show you how all of these products can work together. To that end, Google provided a tour of Assistant demos that showed how an Assistant-enabled device could control smart home gadgets such as lights or appliances, turn on a specific show on a TV through a Chromecast, or tell you your next calendar appointments on demand. None of the things showed off here are new to the assistant, but the demos showed many ways that you could use Assistant throughout the day, provided you have all of the relevant pieces and put them together in the right order.
While Google did demo a lot of smart home control via the Assistant, what it didn’t show me was anything remarkably different from what could be done with Amazon’s Alexa or other platforms. There were plenty of demos of things that linked multiple commands together to perform various actions, but Google’s idea of an Assistant-enabled home is less of a smart home and more of a remote control home. The demos are impressive, but none of them are proactive in the way a true smart home would be.
Maybe next year, Google.