Amazon is still reaping the benefits of its early lead in home voice technology, thanks to its Echo smart speaker and Alexa virtual assistant. But that doesn’t mean the race is over, asserted Google CEO Sundar Pichai during Alphabet’s fourth-quarter earnings call Thursday.
Mark Mahaney, an RBC Analyst, asked Pichai if he was concerned that sales of the Google Home were trailing behind the competition. Pichai pointed out that Google Home, the first real competitor for the Echo, has only been on the market since November.
“We just launched it in Q4,” said Pichai. “We had a very strong quarter there and we are going to invest a lot in it over 2017. It’s very early days. When I look at what it would take to do voice search well, our years of progress … in areas like natural language processing come into play and I think there’s a lot of work ahead to make all of this work well for users. This is a core area we have invested in for the very long term. So I feel very comfortable about how this will play out in the future.”
As connected devices, appliances, and security systems become increasingly mainstream, Google and Amazon have emerged as chief competitors for the voice operating system of the home. Mahaney asked whether Google’s slow start could be problematic down-the-line.
Pichai reiterated that it’s much too early to call this race and stressed that Google sees voice as just one component of a larger overall goal.
“It’s a really natural way for users to interact,” said Pichai. “We think it’ll be one mode. Users will have many different ways by which they interact with computing. And for voice, as you pointed out, we expect voice to work across many different contexts so we are thinking about it across phones, homes, TVs, cars, and trying to drive that ecosystem that way. We want Google to be there for users when they need it.”
When Google Home launched, reviewers noted that Google’s massive search capabilities give its assistant a wider knowledge base to tap for queries. But they found Alexa to be more useful for integration with third-party apps, since developers have had nearly two years to create new capabilities using the Alexa Skills Kit. Google opened up a developer platform, called Actions on Google, for its assistant in December.
“We think of this as an end-to-end thing,” said Pichai. “All of this means users engage more with us, more with computing, and look for more information and I think the trends we see are positive. We think about it from a long-term perspective. So I see more opportunity than challenge, when I think about voice search.”