“Ok Google, play some jazz music.” Instructing a robot to carry out my (almost) every whim isn’t how I usually start my Friday nights but this one was a little different.
That’s because I was staying in a smart home apartment, fully kitted out with smart home products.
Dotted around the apartment was a Google Home, a Google Home Mini, a Google Pixelbook – all featuring the tech giant’s artificial intelligent (AI) assistant known as the Google Assistant –Philips Smart Home lightbulbs, and a smart TV.
The California-based company has teamed up with London start-up The Plum Guide for its latest connected home project. The Plum Guide is a homestay rental platform that picks the top 1 per cent of homes in London and Paris.
The two are coming together with the aim of facilitating the ultimate cityscape experience, powered by technology.
We stayed in a beautiful townhouse in Clerkenwell next to Exmouth Market. It was impeccably decorated; with two roof terraces, including a hot tub, an incredibly comfy bed and so many plants, it looked like it was made for Instagram. It probably was.
I was there to try out the Google Assistant and to see how the home of the future, filled with smart products to help you get things done, will be.
Fun and games with Google's AI
It’s fun to put the Assistant to the test. One of its main plus-points is being able to ask the speaker for a Spotify playlist without having to play around on an app. This comes in particularly handy when you’re entertaining guests, something this home in Clerkenwell was made for with its outdoor BBQ space.
If it’s a night in you want, you can ask Google to turn Stranger Things on via Netflix, thanks to its smart TV integration.
For other entertainment, Google will play games with you. Ask Google to play a game and you can try your hand at trivia, with Google acting as your host. This was amusing, and could keep you, or younger guests, occupied for a while.
When you go to bed, you can set your alarm via the Google Home Mini and ask it to dim the lights, or turn them off, without raising a finger.
One of the most useful features is when the Google Assistant can act as your own smart concierge. If you want to venture outside, Google can tell you the nearest restaurants and pubs, as well as their opening hours. When you’re staying in a city or an area you don’t know, it’s really handy to get these tips from the AI.
If the speaker is linked to your phone, you can use it to make hands-free call to book a table. This is getting smarter too; at Google’s recent I/O developer conference, it demonstrated how the Google Assistant will even call places for you to make reservations, though this feature doesn’t have a release date yet.
Admittedly, this is something you can do on your smartphone, but it seems more entertaining to be able to ask a smart speaker instead.
When you’re using the speaker as part of your daily routine, you can integrate it with your calendar to tell you what your appointments are, listen to the major news headlines and check the weather. It’s easy to see how this could speed up mornings and become an integral device in your day.
Is the Assistant as smart as it can be?
Admittedly, the Google Assistant is quite gimicky. But, there are still some aspects of smart speakers which I’ve not fully bought into. The idea of having a smart device listening in to your every move is rather disconcerting.
In 2017, an Amazon Alexa smart speaker featured in a murder case in the US, when the prosecutor wanted to use recordings from the defendant’s Echo as evidence. And recently, an Echo was found to be recording and sending private conversations to a random contact.
Admittedly, this wasn't a Google device but as smart speakers are still a relatively new technology, there will be hiccups along the way. If you’re worried in any capacity about the rise of technology in surveillance, then smart speakers may be a step too far.
And Google isn’t perfect yet. It took quite a few attempts, more than I’d like to admit, to get the assistant to turn the music down. In fact, I’m still not sure what the magic words were. And, sometimes asking for a specific artist like Nina Simone just left silence filling the air. I did, surprisingly, enjoy some German jazz music, however.
Maybe it was because we were trying out the speaker’s different capabilities, but saying ‘Ok Google’, or ‘Hey Google’, all the time did become rather tedious. Though, if you’re using the speaker more generally in your home activities, that might not be a problem.
The smart home revolution has some way to go
Moving forward, The Plum Guide homes will eventually feature smart home products, like the Google Home, as this is what people are becoming to expect.
Aside from dimming your lights and playing music, the Google Assistant is only starting to get to grips with adding skills that will really benefit your life, which is what we all really want from an AI assistant.
Other companies are working on this. For instance, Samsung is pushing ahead with its smart home devices, with its SmartThings IoT ecosystem.
One major part of Samsung's work is its smart fridges. The Family Hub fridge features a screen on the door, complete with a SmartThings app that connects up the different devices.
There's the View Inside app which works with your smartphone to enables you to see inside your fridge from anywhere in the world. This can be connected to the Meal Planner, which provides recipes based on things like dietary restrictions and food expiration dates.
A fridge may not be as exciting as a smart speaker, however in terms of smart home products, its devices like this that are really using technology in a way that benefits your home life.
It's an ongoing process. As companies improve their connected device offerings, we will start to make way for these products into our homes. And, with the Google Assistant now available in more than 400 million devices, Google’s reach into our homes is only just getting started.
I'm not fully convinced yet that a smart speaker like the Google Home will change my life. But, I have high hopes for the smart home of the future.
We stayed in The Plum Guide's The Easton Diamond apartment in Clerkenwell