Google isn’t used to being in second place. Yet that’s where it finds itself in the world of smart speakers. The Home Mini was an attempt to catch up with the Echo Dot (a missed attempt, in my view thanks to no 3.5mm headphone jack or Bluetooth), and now it looks like Google is planning its own rival to the Echo Show – Amazon’s Echo with a screen. In this fight, Google has one massive advantage.
But before I get onto that, here’s the evidence that Google is working on an Echo Show rival. AndroidPolice has been working on one of its regular app teardowns, where it examines the code of an app looking for hidden insights. In the recently updated Google app, the site found a number of references to on-display features such as notifications, interactive timers, weather forecasts, YouTube playback, Google Maps with business listings and more. The code refers to something called “Quartz” which operates using voice commands, and the app points to a screen displaying recipes and timers. Kind of like you were using a Google Home with a screen in the kitchen.
This lines up with an earlier report that claims Google is working on a smart screen device – and honestly, it feels like a no-brainer. If the Echo Show is doing well, then why let Amazon keep all the marbles?
Google’s big advantage
As sceptical as I remain about the widespread appeal of a smart speaker with a screen (haven’t you just created a less-useful tablet?), it makes sense for Google to get into this fight – and it has one significant advantage over Amazon: it owns YouTube.
In the United States, the Echo Show used to support YouTube, but then support was pulled, with both sides blaming the other. What initially appeared like a temporary stand-off has turned into permanence.
This is all the part and parcel of Amazon and Google’s history of passive-aggressive acts against each other. Let’s not forget that Amazon stopped selling Chromecasts (along with Apple TV) notionally to ensure 100% compatibility with Prime Video, but conveniently pushing customers towards its own Fire TV products instead. Likewise, type in “Google Home” on Amazon, and you’ll be shown an Echo Dot as the top result. Keep scrolling, and the closest you come to it is a book of tips and tricks.
But make no mistake: the Echo Show losing YouTube support is a big deal. If Google is indeed working on a smart screen then it’s hard to see how it could miss this open goal – although Amazon not selling it would be a good start, I suppose.