In lockstep with Amazon, Google has announced a free, ad-supported music streaming option for use with smart speakers that feature its voice-activated assistant.
The new "free" streaming tier means owners of Google Home or other Google Assistant-powered speakers can listen to tracks from the YouTube Music catalog, albeit interspersed with ads.
Listening to music on your Google Home speaker right out-of-the-box seems too good to be true, right? It’s not! Starting today, YouTube Music is offering a free, ad-supported experience on Google Home speakers (or other Google Assistant-powered speakers).
Free, ad-supported YouTube Music is available on smart speakers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, and Austria. Google says it will be available in more countries soon.
Note that the ad-supported streaming tier isn't supported on computers or phones. On that note, Google appears to be using the free offering to entice people to upgrade to YouTube Music Premium ($9.99/month), which enables listening on both supporting smart speakers and the YouTube Music mobile app, which also lets users background play music while using other apps and download tracks for offline listening.
Amazon on Thursday also announced the debut of a free music option for Amazon Alexa users in the United States alongside its Prime music service, which provides access to more than two million songs, and Amazon Music Unlimited, Amazon's on-demand music service priced starting at $9.99 per month ($7.99 for Prime members).
Google is adding its Google Assistant feature to the Google Maps apps for iOS and Android, Google announced today.
The feature will be available on iPhones starting this afternoon, with Google planning to enable Assistant for Google Maps via an update that's rolling out "shortly."
On iOS and Android devices, Google Assistant will allow Google Maps users to control their navigation, reply to texts, and control music. On Android, it is also able to send messages through various messaging apps, a feature not available on iOS.
It can also do things like calculate your ETA so you can let friends and family know when you're set to arrive.
Google Assistant is already available on iOS devices through the dedicated Google Assistant app, but adding it into Maps makes it more readily accessible for the millions of people who already use the Google Maps app.
The results indicate that Siri on the HomePod correctly answered 74.6 percent of the questions, a dramatic improvement over the speaker's 52.3 percent success rate when Loup Ventures asked it a similar 782 questions in December 2017.
Siri on the HomePod remained less accurate than Google Assistant on the Google Home, which correctly answered 87.9 percent of questions in the test. Meanwhile, Alexa on the Echo and Cortana on the Invoke trailed Siri on the HomePod, correctly answering 72.5 percent and 63.4 percent of questions in the test.
Munster attributed the HomePod's improved accuracy to "the enabling of more domains in the past year," as a series of software updates in recent months have enabled the speaker to make and receive phone calls, schedule calendar events, set multiple timers, search for songs by lyrics, and more.
Loup Ventures says it asked each smart speaker the same 800 questions, and they were graded on two metrics: whether the query was understood and whether a correct response was provided. The question set was designed to "comprehensively test a smart speaker's ability and utility" based on five categories:
Local – Where is the nearest coffee shop?
Commerce – Can you order me more paper towels?
Navigation – How do I get to uptown on the bus?
Information – Who do the Twins play tonight?
Command – Remind me to call Steve at 2 p.m. today.
The venture capital firm said it continues to modify its question set in order to reflect the changing abilities of digital assistants. "As voice computing becomes more versatile and assistants become more capable, we will continue to alter our test so that it remains exhaustive," said Munster.
Results by Category
Google Assistant on the Google Home correctly answered the most questions in four out of the five categories in the test, but fell short of Siri on the HomePod in the "command" category, according to Loup Ventures:
HomePod's lead in this category may come from the fact that the HomePod will pass on full SiriKit requests like those regarding messaging, lists, and basically anything other than music to the iOS device paired to the speaker. Siri on iPhone has deep integration with email, calendar, messaging, and other areas of focus in our Command category. Our question set also contains a fair amount of music-related queries, which HomePod specializes in.
Loup Ventures found the HomePod and Google Home stood "head and shoulders above the others" in both the "local" and "navigation" categories due to propriety data in Apple Maps and Google Maps respectively. "This data is a potential long-term comparative advantage for Siri and Google Assistant," said Munster.
Siri's shortcomings were brutally exposed on the HomePod, which relies almost entirely on the assistant to function, so anecdotal evidence of improvement is a good sign, but Apple still has significant ground to make up against its competitors.
Loup Ventures acknowledged that Siri remains limited on the HomePod compared to its expanded capabilities on the iPhone. "This is partially due to Apple's apparent positioning of HomePod not as a 'smart speaker,' but as a home speaker you can interact with using your voice with Siri onboard," said Munster.
The venture capital firm said it will continue to compare the HomePod to other smart speakers over time amid rapid advancements in artificial intelligence.
Google has updated its Assistant app for iOS to support Siri Shortcuts, enabling users to invoke Google's virtual assistant using Apple's virtual assistant, without even having to launch the app.
Once the update has been installed, Assistant users are presented with an "Add to Siri" button that lets them record a phrase of their choosing to be used after saying the "Hey, Siri" command. As long as the iOS device is unlocked, users will then be able to access Assistant by combining the two commands.
The Siri Shortcuts feature also supports additional phrases that users often use with Google Assistant. As The Verge notes, this opens up possibilities for creating custom voice commands for Google actions, including smart home routines, from within Siri.
This isn't the first incidence of virtual assistant crosstalk on Apple devices. Last year, Amazon and Microsoft announced a collaboration that would allow iOS users to access Alexa via the Cortana app, with a "Hey Cortana, open Alexa" voice command.
However, in the latter case, iOS users still can't say "Hey Cortana, open Alexa" from the Home screen, or when the device is locked, because Apple only allows third-party virtual assistants to function within their apps.
Google entered the smart speaker market in 2016 with the introduction of Google Home, allowing users to speak to Google Assistant and control various smart home products, listen to music, get the news, and more. Eventually, Google added the Home Mini and Home Max to the lineup, introducing products that were direct competitors to the Amazon Echo Dot and Apple HomePod, respectively.
Looking forward, the next Google Home will be a smart speaker equipped with a touch display that should arrive in time for the holiday shopping season, according to sources speaking to Nikkei Asian Review. This means that the new device "is likely to be similar to the Amazon Echo Show," which includes a display so users can do things like watch videos, view photos, and hold video calls.
The Lenovo Smart Display with Google Assistant (left) and Amazon Echo Show (right)
Google's plan for the upcoming device is described as "aggressive":
"Google targets to ship some 3 million units for the first batch of the new model of smart speaker that comes with a screen," an industry source said. "It's an aggressive plan."
Earlier in 2018, Google announced a new "Smart Display" platform with partners like Lenovo, JBL, and Sony. Through these partnerships, the Google Assistant can be placed in devices not directly built by Google, like the Lenovo Smart Display and upcoming JBL Link View and ThinQ View. The new product described in today's report would represent Google's own first-party entry into this market.
Google and Amazon butted heads following the launch of the Echo Show last year, when Google removed YouTube from any Amazon Echo device with a screen. Google said that Amazon was violating its terms of service, but in December 2017 a YouTube spokesperson explained that the removal was due to Amazon not carrying certain Google products. This grants the upcoming speaker-equipped Google Home a potential edge in the market as Nikkei points out that playing and browsing YouTube will likely be a major selling point.
For Apple, the company is sticking to smart speakers without full displays. Although the HomePod does include a small screen that provides a visual indicator for Siri and volume buttons, no information regarding the currently playing song or album selection is available. Currently, the main rumor for the next iteration of HomePod is that Apple is working on a low-cost version of the speaker.
Google typically holds a hardware event in October, so we should hear more about the upcoming Google Home speaker with a touch screen -- if it exists -- around that time.
Siri rival Google Assistant received a major update today across the Google Home speaker ecosystem with a feature Google revealed at I/O in May, called "Continued Conversation." Now, when you speak to Google Assistant and wake it up with a "Hey Google" or "OK Google" phrase, you don't need to repeat the phrase again for a follow-up request.
For example, you can ask "Hey Google, what's the weather today?", and then follow up with "And what about tomorrow?" or "Can you remind me to bring an umbrella tomorrow morning?" When your thread of requests is finished, Google explains that you can say "thank you" or "stop" to end the conversation, but Google Assistant will also do this automatically if it detects you're no longer talking to it.
Continued Conversations will need to be turned on in the Google Assistant app's Settings > Preferences > Continued Conversation. When starting up a new conversation you'll still need to say "OK Google" or activate a physical trigger every time, but the company hopes that reducing the instances you need to speak a wake-up phrase will result in more fluid and natural interactions with Google Assistant.
In comparison, Apple's Siri still requires you to say "Hey Siri" every time a command is given, or by activating the AI assistant manually on iPhone or HomePod. Later this year, Apple will debut improvements to Siri in iOS 12 in the form of a new "Siri Shortcuts" feature, allowing iPhone owners to build customizable workflows and connect a variety of third-party apps and services under one voice command.
Siri remains one of the downsides for Apple's products for some users, with a recent survey finding that iPhone X early adopters were very satisfied with all features of the smartphone except Siri. Around the time of that survey, The Informationreported that Siri has become a "major problem" within Apple and that the assistant remains "limited compared to the competition," including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Google this morning posted a story on its Keyword Blog that highlights the ongoing growth of its AI helper, Google Assistant. According to the company, the Assistant now works with "every major device brand" in the U.S., meaning that it can connect with more than 5,000 smart home devices, up from 1,500 in January.
This growth period saw media and entertainment queries increase by 400 percent, with Google users taking advantage of "OK Google" commands on Android TV, smart TVs, and Chromecast. Another popular area for Google is security cameras like Nest's products, including the Nest Hello doorbell. When someone rings the doorbell, Nest can communicate a chime to Google Home, play a livestream on Chromecast, and then users can respond to their visitor on their smartphone.
Google also laid out plans for Assistant expansions later this year, including placing the Assistant on DISH Hopper receivers, Logitech Harmony remotes, smart door locks from August and Schlage, security cameras from Panasonic, and alarm brand support from ADT, First Alert, and Vivint Smart Home.
Over the past year, we’ve made great progress ensuring that the Google Assistant can work with all types of connected devices, and now every major device brand works with the Assistant in the U.S.
Just how many devices is that? Today, the Google Assistant can connect with more than 5,000 devices for your home—up from 1,500 this January. That includes cameras, dishwashers, doorbells, dryers, lights, plugs, thermostats, security systems, switches, vacuums, washers, fans, locks, sensors, heaters, AC units, air purifiers, refrigerators, ovens … we can keep on going!
For home automation, Apple's solution is HomeKit and Siri. Although not an exact comparison due to potentially missing products, Apple's website has a list of HomeKit-compatible smart home products that reaches to about 200 as of writing, with some yet to launch. Even if it is missing numerous smart home devices, Siri would still be far below Google's newly reported compatibility number. Amazon's Alexa assistant is believed to be leading the field through support with roughly 11,200 smart home products as of 2017, according to market analyst Blake Kozak, who spoke with CNET.
For Siri, Apple's assistant remains many users' least favorite part of their Apple devices, with Siri amassing a 20 percent satisfaction rate among early adopters of the iPhone X. In a recent report by The Information, Siri was described as "limited compared to the competition" like Google Assistant, and the report went so far as to say that the assistant has become a "major problem" within Apple, originating from the company's decision to rush the technology into the iPhone 4s.
Many have theorized the reason behind Siri's lackluster performance could be Apple's commitment to user privacy, unlike Google's actions of leveraging and retaining user data off-device in an effort to enhance queries.
Siri co-founder and creator Norman Winarsky looked back on the digital assistant's creation earlier this year. In an interview, he discussed Apple's decision to "take Siri in a very different direction than the one its founders envisioned," the original plan to focus Siri's intelligence on a few key areas and "gradually" expand its knowledge, and finally stated that Apple is now "looking for a level of perfection they can't get."
As Apple continues to expand Siri, the company in April hired John Giannandrea from Google's own search and artificial intelligence division. Apple's latest Siri- and HomeKit-supported device is HomePod, which allows users to invoke the assistant and interact with compatible products like Philips Hue lights, Ecobee thermostats, August smart locks, and more.
Google is expected to reveal more news about Assistant and other products and services during its I/O conference later this month.
Google Assistant for iOS has been updated with native iPad support today. The design looks essentially the same as the iPhone version, but with an interface optimized for the larger 7.9-inch to 12.9-inch screen sizes of Apple's tablets.
Like rivals Siri, Alexa, and Cortana, Google Assistant is a digital assistant that can set reminders, schedule calendar appointments, answer questions, and provide other information through machine learning techniques.
Apple only allows third-party assistants to function within their apps, however, limiting their usefulness versus Siri on iPhone and iPad. For example, Google Assistant can't be invoked with a voice command when an iOS device is locked.
Nevertheless, iPad users now have one more option to choose from alongside Siri, Alexa, and Cortana. Google Assistant is free on the App Store.
Apple's new HomePod is late to the smart speaker market, which is already crowded with speakers from companies like Amazon, Google, and Sonos. The latter two companies, Google and Sonos, have released speakers with high-quality sound and robust voice assistants, giving the HomePod some serious competition.
To compare the three speakers, we focused on design, sound quality, and the overall performance of Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant.
When it comes to design -- and this is certainly subjective -- we preferred the look of the HomePod with its fabric-wrapped body and small but solid form factor. The Sonos One looks a little more dated with its squarer body and standard speaker mesh, while the Google Home Max has a much larger footprint that's going to take up more space.
All three offer touch-based controls at the top of the device, but the Google Home Max has one design edge - a USB-C port and a 3.5mm audio jack for connecting external music sources. The Sonos One has a single Ethernet port, while the HomePod has no ports.
Though we liked the HomePod's design, Siri, as you might expect, did not perform as well as Alexa on Sonos One or Google Assistant on Google Home Max.
Google Home Max
On questions like "Is Pluto a planet?" or "What's the fastest car?" both Alexa and Google Assistant were able to provide satisfactory answers, while Siri said those weren't questions that could be answered on HomePod.
Siri was not able to sing happy birthday, create a calendar event, or even provide the release date of the HomePod itself, directing users to Apple.com for more information, while the other smart assistants were able to do these things.
Though only briefly touched on in the video, Siri does, in fact, do well with HomeKit commands and controlling music playback on the HomePod through an accompanying Apple Music subscription.
Sound quality is a controversial topic because there's a heavy amount of personal preference involved when judging these three speakers. We thought the HomePod sounded the best, with the Google Home Max at a close second, followed by the Sonos One.
The Google Home Max gets the loudest, but sound becomes somewhat distorted at the highest volumes, while the Sonos One offers robust sound that's not quite as good at a lower price point. HomePod does have one major benefit: a fantastic microphone that picks up Siri commands even when you're across the room.
All three of these speakers offer great sound, and if you're attempting to pick one based on reviews, make sure to read several. We thought the HomePod sounded best, but other sources, like Consumer Reports and Yahoo's David Pogue found that the Google Home Max and the Sonos One sounded better than the HomePod.
So which speaker is better? The answer to that question depends on the other products you own. If you're an Apple Music subscriber with a HomeKit setup, the HomePod is going to work great. It only works natively with Apple Music, iTunes Match, and iTunes purchases, so if you have a Spotify subscription, for example, support isn't as robust.
For that reason, if you're not locked into Apple's ecosystem already, or if you have Apple devices but subscribe to Spotify, HomePod probably isn't the best choice for you.
Google's Home Mini smart speaker received an update on Friday that brings back some of the touch-based controls that the company had to disable shortly after its release back in October (via AndroidPolice).
Google was forced to turn off the built-in touch panel, which is designed to let users activate Google Assistant with a long press instead of a voice command, after a reviewer discovered that some of the devices were registering "phantom touch events".
The issue meant that some Minis were prone to recording conversations and sounds even when no "OK Google" voice command was spoken, immediately prompting privacy concerns. As a result, Google opted to disable the touch features completely, including single-tap functions that played and paused music, snoozed alarms, and ended phone calls.
Friday's v1.29 firmware update reinstates some of that single-tap functionality, but via a side long press instead. After installing the update, Google Home Mini owners will again be able to play/pause music, end phone calls, and silence alarms without speaking to the device. However, users still won't be able to trigger voice input, because the top long press functions remain disabled.
The software tweak is initially being rolled out in the preview firmware channel, which Home Mini owners can join via the Home app settings if they don't want to wait around for the automatic update.