New Google Home features show it's keeping a very close eye on Amazon Echo

(Image credit: GE)

Google had a host of new features to announce for its smart home speaker, Google Home, at this year’s Google IO

From offering proactive notifications, to free phone calls (in the US and Canada), expanding its music support and offering visual responses to queries, Google is working hard to expand its smart speaker’s functionality. 

But what was surprising about many of the announcements is how closely they mirror similar ones made by Amazon with its Amazon Echo in the past couple of weeks. 

Google has been closely watching what Amazon’s up to, and it’s determined not to let the online retailer get ahead. 

Is there an Echo in here?

Proactive notifications? Announced by Amazon in a developer post earlier today. Phone calls? Announced by Amazon just over a week ago. Visual responses to queries? Sounds a lot like the Amazon Echo Show to me. 

I’m not trying to claim that Google is playing catch-up to Amazon in every respect. After all, Google has managed to integrate voice recognition into Google Home while Amazon is still fumbling with its multi-user support. 

But these developments show just how closely Google is keeping an eye on the competition and, frankly, it’s an amazing thing for the emerging smart speaker market. 

This level of competition between the two major players means that both products are developing at an astounding pace. Barely a week goes by without a new feature being announced for either smart speaker, and for the most part they’re coming as free software updates rather than entirely new pieces of hardware (Amazon Echo Show and Look notwithstanding). 

This is only partially about winning over potential customers, it’s also about winning over manufacturers, who are rushing to integrate voice control into their appliances and audio visual equipment. 

Both Amazon and Google know that they need to fight hard to make sure their virtual assistant platforms are the obvious choice for other hardware manufacturers. We’ve seen dozens of pieces of hardware already this year with either one assistant or the other, and this is only going to become more common in the future. 

What’s clear is that it’s impractical for hardware manufacturers to support both assistants in the future, and both of them want to be dominant. 

These assistants are nowhere near finished, but if development continues at this pace, then the future might be a lot closer than we think. It’s a good thing for the industry, and it’s a great thing for consumers. 

Jon Porter

Jon Porter is the ex-Home Technology Writer for TechRadar. He has also previously written for Practical Photoshop, Trusted Reviews, Inside Higher Ed, Al Bawaba, Gizmodo UK, Genetic Literacy Project, Via Satellite, Real Homes and Plant Services Magazine, and you can now find him writing for The Verge.