Google’s Home assistant speaker is getting more features for users and the latest will make it easier to get in touch with others. In a post, Google confirmed that voice calls would coming to Home users within the next few days.
The feature works similarly to other Google Home commands. By using the “Ok, Google” command, users will be able to make outgoing calls to businesses and others in their Google Contacts. Plus, domestic users will have another advantage if they use the home speaker for calls. Google will use Wi-Fi to carry calls, so they’ll be free for users in the U.S. and Canada.
But in the short-term, the feature comes with some notable hurdles. At the moment, people who receive calls from Google Home users will see either an unknown caller or No Caller ID. While Google Voice or Project Fi users will be able to register their name to Google Home calls, this feature won’t be rolled out to other Google Home users until the end of the year. The Home also won’t support 911 calls and international calls will only be available through the Home for Google Voice or Project Fi subscribers at Google’s listed call rates. In addition, it can only be used for outgoing calls and can’t receive calls from other Google Home users.
Thanks to Google’s head-start with programs like Google Voice, the Home’s new feature manages to put it slightly ahead of Amazon’s Alexa and its Echo series of home speakers. While Amazon has been aggressive about expanding communication features on the Echo — the retailer’s recently-launched Echo Show features a display and camera for video calling — voice calls can only be done between Echos or on phones that have Amazon’s Alexa app.
The feature has also been a source of speculation among Google Home users. Via the Google Home subreddit, one user posted a video reportedly showing him prematurely using the feature thanks to an early rollout.
While voice calls aren’t necessarily the biggest feature, it’s still a significant addition for Google as it attempts to make further inroads into a smart home market that’s become increasingly competitive. Amazon and Alexa remain a dominant player in the space thanks to the assistant’s versatility — its skills cover fields ranging from games to home appliance control now — and the low cost of its Echo speakers.
But Google being (mostly) first to figuring out home speaker calling also speaks to a larger goal among smart home speaker manufacturers. For these companies, they don’t simply want speakers to be devices that can tell you about the weather or control what songs to play. Instead, they want their speakers to integrate themselves into your daily life and home habits — during a scenario like a home dinner, a home speaker would easily be able to call family members, turn the TV onto the news or find recipes all via voice control.
For companies, adding phone calling abilities to a virtual home speaker is a significant way to move a platform closer to these goals. Although Google’s version still has some ways to go before it’s a seamless option for users, expect Amazon and other smart speaker companies to introduce similar features within the next few years.