Today’s Google event was a non-stop two hour deluge of Assistant news. Yet one small, overlooked announcement may have been the biggest bit boost to the company’s burgeoning AI ecosystem so far. The simple decision to include a Home Mini in early Pixel 2 shipments could prove a more successful method for spreading the Assistant gospel than anything Google has done to this point.
The bundle highlights what’s so unique about Google’s play. The company is the only one of the the big three that has solid footing in both the mobile and home markets. Amazon has managed to get Alexa on a smattering of phones with limited success, and Apple’s first smart speaker is still several months away from release. Google, meanwhile, has slowly seeded Assistant on both sides of the fence.
The Pixel/Mini bundle represent a key bridge between the two sides. Users who play around with Assistant on the phone will be able to bring it into the home with no extra charge. Sure, the limited availability of the bundle won’t be nearly enough to tip smart home marketshare (Amazon currently commands between 75 and 80 percent, depending on who you ask), but it lowers the barrier of entry considerable for people looking for something other than an Echo.
Most users don’t want to deal with multiple voice assistants in their lives — it’s a bit like asking someone to constantly switch between desktop or mobile operating systems. The company that’s able to grab the biggest piece of the mobile and home marketshare will have a unique foothold in the market. Google has a leg up on everyone in that respect, and the introduction of a virtually free home device will tip it over even more in that direction.
Of course, in order to make sure the free Minis don’t end up sitting in the closets of early adopters collecting dust, Google needs to provide the most seamless experience possible. It’s a play that wouldn’t have worked in the earliest days of Google Home, but the company’s solid integration of applications like Calendar and Gmail will go a ways toward realizing the company’s dream of making Assistant a persistent presence.
Sure, Google still seems to be playing catch up from a hardware perspective, and it's hard to see the Mini as much more than a direct response to the Echo Dot, but this small gesture is bound to do a better job advocating for Assistant than any ad campaign.