Android Police has a fascinating teardown of the latest Google app (v7.14.15). The new release includes a reference to “Quartz” and many of the features are specifically related to a visual interface. Many consumers are already familiar with a voice assistant with a visual interface from the Amazon Echo Show. Google Assistant when used on a smartphone already has a visual interface for text, image and video support. However, the company doesn’t have that tabletop device that seamlessly integrates voice interaction with visual display. The teardown suggests a new device from Google may be closer than originally thought.
Is Quartz the Manifestation of Google’s Manhattan Project?
TechCrunch reported in September that Google was “building a tabletop smart screen for video calling and more that will compete with Amazon Echo Show.” The internal codename was listed as “Manhattan” and the device is expected to have a screen size comparable to the 7-inch display on Echo Show. There are many rumors related to forthcoming voice assistant products that don’t always come to fruition. However, the presence of the Quartz code in the latest Google app suggests this might be coming sooner than most expected.
We have seen previous indicators in code from both Amazon and Google that foreshadowed new features were imminent in days. Sometimes these have come in a few weeks, like when Voicebot was first to report phone numbers being assigned to Amazon Echo devices. That came less than a month before Amazon rolled out Echo device to phone calling in September. In other instances, the news took longer to transpire as with the Amazon Japan roll-out. The code for a .jp endpoint appeared more than five months before Amazon Echo began shipping to Japan.
The timing of the TechCrunch reported rumor with the new code suggests this might be closer to reality than originally thought. Voicebot correctly predicted that a Google Home with display would not be announced at the company’s big product rollout earlier this month. The reasons were based on the complexity of building out not only the software, but putting the manufacturing supply chain in place to deliver this type of product in Q4. Those challenges remain, but why would this new code show up now? The TechCrunch article reported:
We’re told that the original target launch date was mid-2018. But due to the Echo Show there’s intense internal pressure to get this launched in 2017, though it may still end up released in 2018.
What AndroidPolice Found for the Kitchen
Cody Toombs does a great job in the AndroidPolice article of breaking down the code and showing how this device appears to be tailor-made for the kitchen. For example, he confirms that the new code is related to a voice interface with this code string.
<string name=”quartz_suggestions_prompt”>Try saying…</string>
He also finds code related to cooking such as “Cook Time,” “Ingredients,” “Ingredients include,” “Prep,” and “Serves.” And, there are new features around timers and clocks which are very useful in the kitchen. Amazon Echo Show has several skills ranging from Allrecipes to Food Network that are designed for users that want to use a voice interface with a screen to aid in food preparation. These strings all point to that type of support.
What AndroidPolice Found for Video and Display
However, the device commands clearly go beyond simple kitchen use. There are other strings related specifically to YouTube video playing in terms of requesting content, enabling comments and likes, and controls such as “play,” “next” and “pause.” There are also 31 different weather icons ranging from “Blizzard” and “Blowing_Snow” to “Tornado” and “Tropical_Storm_Hurricane.” In addition, there are other code strings related to establishing a photo gallery. These features may not be specific to kitchen tasks but are useful there and throughout the home.
Multi-Modal Strategies Are a Key Battleground
When the Amazon Echo arrived and then Google Home, there was a lot of discussion around voice-first interfaces. Many people are starting to realized that voice-first does now mean voice-only. Amazon quickly changed consumer perceptions when it launched Echo Show in June. Business Insider is forecasting that Echo Show will sell over nine million units in the first twelve months. There is currently a race to gain market share in the home and the presence or lack of a voice-enabled smart screen is a key battleground that can tip a purchase decision and establish longer-term customer loyalty.
Google does have multi-modal capabilities through the phone. And, the company has demonstrated Google Home operating a television display. The current appearance of the code could simply mean that Google is ready to enable this control on televisions. In fact, another AndroidPolice post from Corbin Davenport shows Google Home integration with Chromecast for news video display from YouTube.
However, this doesn’t explain the presence of features for cooking which wouldn’t necessarily make sense for television display. There are also other features that suggest touch input will also be expected which would rule out television support. Toombs suggested several potential reasons for the new code:
- It could be a Google Home-like device with built-in screen.
- It could be the software layer that generates a screen that can then be displayed on a television via Chromecast.
- It could be a hybrid solution that involves pairing a tablet or similar device to Google Home and allowing Home to generate a display to show on the tablet’s screen.
What to Expect from Google Home Quartz
We are betting that it is a combination of scenarios one and two. Supply chain and manufacturing challenges are not easily overcome in a period when many electronic component companies are working at full capacity to ship Q4 orders. However, we could see a television with Google Assistant enable some of these features in Q4 and a pre-announcement of Google Home Quartz with a visual display for shipment in early 2018. The knowledge that a Google Home display device is imminent may make some wavering consumers more comfortable making a commitment to the Google Assistant ecosystem. And, the earlier announcement and launch could also help Google get to market ahead of Facebook which is also said to be working on an Echo Show competitor.
The market is still about voice-first, but it is increasingly important for voice assistant platforms to have multi-modal capabilities and devices. Google Home Quartz or whatever the product is named, will be an important product line for Google Assistant in its battle to become the voice assistant of choice for consumers.