By NZHJ June 15, 2016 Industry News

At its annual developer's conference, Apple just showed it really wants to compete with Google and Amazon in becoming the hub of the home.

With the phrase "Hey Siri", Apple has joined what some pundits have started calling the "smart home wars".

At WWDC 2016, Apple just revealed what's afoot for its next operating systems including iOS 10, the new tvOS, updates to watchOS, and OS X (henceforth called macOS).

Much of the fine detail around this is covered in detail elsewhere on the net (thanks Lifehacker!) but most interesting for us is what Apple has been saying about a new app called simply Home and what it might mean for the uptake of connected products and appliances.

Although Apple's HomeKit connected home platform has been around for some years now, Apple hopes the Home app (see image above) will take its connected outlook to the next level.

Home by the way will come with iOS 10 (i.e it'll be built into the next generation "i" products) and is integrated with Siri so you can use the voice control on your iPhone/iPad/Watch etc to turn the lights on or control any of the growing number of HomeKit-compatible products that continue to roll out.

Having said this, by all accounts you will still need an Apple TV or iPad that stays in the house to act as a hub.

Apple joins Google, Amazon in the "smart home wars"

"Smart home wars"? Truth is, Apple Home is not alone in its bid to become a device- or voice-based home controller.

It will play in the same space as Google's just announced Google Home (essentially a loudspeaker with built in microphones - see photo above) and forget not that Amazon is already into a second generation of Amazon Echo devices and services.

Google is in most smartphones. Google Cast (née Chromecast) is to be found in an increasing number of living rooms. And some TV brands now use the Android platform.

But, despite its purchase of Nest, Google has not really so far been able to get to the very centre of people’s lives – at home.

However in May, at the Google I/O annual developer conference, the world’s biggest company launched Google Assistant, which it's hoped (like Apple Home) will take the phrase “OK Google” to the next level.

According to the Google Blog:

“We believe we are at a seminal moment. People are increasingly interacting naturally with Google, and aren’t just looking for the world’s information but actually expecting Google to help them with their daily tasks.”

Google Assistant will “work seamlessly across devices and contexts”, so you can “summon Google’s help no matter where you are or what the context. It builds on all our years of investment in deeply understanding users' questions.”

Is Google doing an Amazon?

That’s all very abstract – you can imagine Google Assistant working on a mobile device but what about at home? Enter Google Home, a voice-activated wireless loudspeaker which not only plays cool tunes but also manage everyday tasks, and get answers from Google – all using conversational speech it receives through built-in microphones.

“With a simple voice command, you can ask Google Home to play a song, set a timer for the oven, check your flight, or turn on your lights.”

Google Home will have customisable bases in different colours and materials and will be released later this year.

If all this sounds familiar, it is. You can already buy Amazon’s Echo voice-enabled wireless speaker (outside of New Zealand - photo above).

Already into its second generation, Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more – like switching on a connected light, ordering a pizza, requesting a ride from Uber.

Echo works with devices such as lights, switches, thermostats, and more from WeMo, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Insteon, Nest, ecobee, and Wink. All of which Amazon sells of course.

What's in this for NZ Hardware Journal's readers? 

It will be fascinating to see how many new products, from heating to whiteware, will launch billed as "Compatible with Google Home" or "Works with HomeKit" in the next few months...

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