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Can Google's virtual assistant find a home in enterprise?

Matt Kapko | May 27, 2016
Google CEO Sundar Pichai credits Amazon with paving an early path for consumer virtual assistants, but the company's first response to Amazon Echo, Google Home, could eventually play an important role in the business world.

Apple's answer is the Apple Watch, a device that's almost always attached to its owner. Amazon introduced a completely new category with its Echo assistant, because it doesn't have meaningful phone or tablet market share, Dawson says. "The key for this category is that these devices have to be seen as endpoints for services that exist in many other places too, rather than as self-contained devices."

Samsung wants in on the voice assistant party, as well, and last month it announced Otto, a "smarter home companion" that can answer search queries, control smart-home systems and remotely monitor a residence. Otto is only a prototype, but the company was just as determined as Google to stake a claim in the market at its developer conference last month. 

Google Home must evolve if it's to fit in enterprise

It's not hard to imagine Google Home, or some version of it, finding a place in the enterprise, according to Dawson, but it would have to be tailored for use in work settings. "Enterprise use for this kind of thing is a lot tougher, because you're mostly talking about people working in busy environments, close to other people, which really isn't well-suited to voice products," he says. "That's not to say that the Google assistant won't make its way into the enterprise environment in other ways, but it probably won't be through voice."

Natural speech tools have never caught on in the enterprise, according to Byron Galbraith, cofounder and chief data scientist at Talla, a company that makes an AI chat bot for business teams. "If I'm seated at a desk, I can almost certainly achieve the tasks I want faster within a graphical user interface or rich visual interface than through some limited set of voice commands," he says.

Speech interfaces could be useful in hands-free scenarios, such as in factories or warehouses, but ambient noise can seriously limit efficiency, according to Galbraith. Smart home tech seems to have coalesced around voice-enabled hubs, because "voice creates an intimate, if stilted, connection which could drive greater brand affinity," he says.

"It's not just an Internet-connected speaker," Galbraith says. "It's Alexa." Or Siri. Perhaps Otto. Or later this year … "OK, Google."


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