Google didn’t just unveil its two new Pixel smartphones and the Chromecast Ultra this week, it also intimated its focus on the home, and how different devices can factor into that vision. One of these was the Daydream View VR headset, designed to work with the Pixel (and other Android phones), and the other was the Google Home, a hub that uses the Google Assistant artificial intelligence platform to help with various tasks on command.
Daydream View VR headset
The new VR headset is designed for phones that are considered “Daydream Ready” to provide the best overall VR experience. Which devices fall under that designation have yet to be revealed, however, so it’s not clear how many current devices might work. What is clear is that this is a noticeable step up from the basics of Google Cardboard.
Cardboard is an inexpensive headset that comes in various forms (made of cardboard) that works with smartphones (Android and iOS) to present an entry-level VR experience. Daydream View seems to be closer to what Samsung has done with its Gear VR headset, only that it is more immersive because of the included motion-sensored remote. The remote only has two buttons to click, yet can double as a wand or game controller using the motion capabilities. Point it at menu option like a laser pointer or use it as a weapon in a game. When done with it, strap it into the headset for safe storage so you don’t lose it. Volume controls are on the side of the headset, so the headset can very much be used in a relaxed, sit-down situation.
Being made of fabrics also means the headset is considerably different from that standpoint, and large enough on the inside to accommodate eyeglasses. Google also tried to make it as light as possible, shedding weight wherever it could, including the strap. The improved head tracking certainly benefits from that, making it easier to view content from any angle.
Content will be an interesting one to watch. Netflix is reportedly already on board to make its content feel more cinematic, like watching in a movie theatre, while an exclusive deal with J.K. Rowlings’ Fantastic Beasts brings that to life.
Canadian availability has been confirmed for this fall, before the holidays, so look out for it to come before December.
This is a device that promises a lot as a digital assistant. It’s an Internet-connected hub with Google Assistant that, upon hearing the key phrase, “OK, Google,” responds to whatever questions or requests the user has through voice.
The examples are varied, and appear to be extensive so long as there is compatibility. For instance, searching a person, place or thing could Home recite part of a Wikipedia entry, or asking about a restaurant could glean information on location, hours of operation and whether or not to make a reservation. Again, the compatibility matters. If the restaurant is on the OpenTable app, that kind of integration (for making reservations) is much easier. If not, then it may require making a call through the smartphone.
Music looks to be a big part of this. To start, YouTube, Google Play Music, Spotify, TuneIn and iHeartRadio will be supported, and more could follow (don’t hold your breath on Apple Music, but it’s possible). Under this scenario, it would be possible to search for a song, artist or album and have it play on any of those services. There are likely to be some limitations, though. YouTube integration may only apply to YouTube Music subscriptions, and while curated playlists can be selected on Google Play Music, it’s not evident if that will apply to other music services in the same way.
Smart home is another area the device is supposed to tap into. So far, Nest, Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue and IFTTT have been included, and more are likely to follow in the months to come. By integrating these things, it would be possible to tell Home to turn off or dim the lights, change the thermostat’s temperature or turn on a home surveillance camera (with SmartThings or IFTTT acting as the conduit).
There is a Mic Mute button on the back to stop Home from always listening for the key phrase, so it doesn’t have to be on at all times. The top of the unit can be taken off the base and placed on top of another unit in the same Home, thereby moving the functionality from one room to another. Multiple Home units can be deployed in a home, with only the nearest one responding to a query.
Google envisions this unit integrating into a daily routine in certain ways. Weather and traffic updates are one example, along with a rundown of appointments or meetings that may be scheduled that day. Not surprisingly, much of this will be predicated on using Google’s apps to make the integration seamless. It’s supposed to learn as it goes along, becoming increasingly conversational in time.
How well it integrates with phones the other way remains to be seen, however. Eventually, the Home will be able to push navigation directions for a location to the phone directly, taking away the need to do so manually. How third-party apps might integrate with it is also not clear.
Google Home will be coming to Canada in 2017, though no date or timeframe has yet been confirmed.