Google to counter Amazon’s Echo Show with smart screen device, sources say

Google is rumored to have a new smart device in the works, TechCrunch reports. The tabletop smart screen for the home will serve as the competitor for Amazon’s Echo Show, which has been on the market since June 2017. If true, such a device would keep Google in the smart home market race with Amazon and Facebook.

The rumors follow Amazon’s announcement Thursday of a cast of new Echos. The company now has a total of seven Amazon Echo devices to choose from. With Amazon covering all the bases in the home, and essentially ruling the current smart home market, it’s about time Google expanded from Google Home into other smart home products.

TechCrunch gathered their information from two confirmed sources, one of which received the intel from a current Google employee. TechCrunch learned that the new Google smart screen has been dubbed “Manhattan” internally. It is unclear if this will be the final launch name for the device.

As far as size goes, it appears to be measuring up with the Echo Show, with a screen around 7 inches. One source told TechCrunch that Google previously played around with much larger sizes for the smart home screen, some designs as large as television screens. For now, the plans seem to have honed in on the smaller, tabletop screen.

Manhattan will offer Youtube, Google Assistant, Google Photos and video calling. It will also be able to act as your home’s “smart hub,” connecting with other smart home devices like Nest.

The original launch date was planned for mid-year 2018. Sources report that there is “internal pressure” to get the launch date moved up after Amazon’s Echo Show. With October and the end of 2017 just around the corner, it’s probably safe to assume that the release date will remain some time in 2018. As TechCrunch points out, “establishing smart hub partnerships” and “exploring the possibility of service partnerships with Best Buy Geek Squad and Enjoy for home installation,” the many moving parts surrounding the launch for Manhattan seem to ensure a 2018 launch.

Sources told TechCrunch that Manhattan will run on a version of Android. This will ensure flexibility for third-parties to build apps for it.

What remains unclear is the final price for such a device or even the final look. As the Amazon Echo Show retails for $230, it’s possible Google’s competing device will come out at a similar price range.

Earlier this week Google removed Youtube from Amazon’s Echo Show without any warnings for current Echo Show owners. Critics claim the removal was strategic, as Youtube will be available on Manhattan. With Youtube capabilities on offer, Manhattan owners would be able to stream music videos from Youtube or watch live cable channels on Youtube TV.

It’s too soon to tell if this would give Manhattan enough of an edge to topple the Echo Show. Many disagree with such a prospect. Fast Company has said that once the mystery device finally arrives on the market, assuming it will, “Amazon will already be a step ahead with its second-generation Echo speaker and new devices like the Echo Spot.”

With a biting finish, Fast Company challenges Google’s ingenuity, claiming that Google should stop “lifting ideas” from Amazon and start bringing to market fresh perspectives of their own making.

Walmart to test in-home delivery program

Remember when you had to go down to the mailbox or onto your doorstep to pick up items you ordered online?

If a program Walmart is testing takes off, people may be asking that question within the next several years. The program will allow delivery drivers to leave packages inside a customer’s home, and groceries in the fridge or freezer, TechCrunch reports.

“…we want to do more in the future by delivering groceries and other orders in whatever location works best for our customers – inside the house for some and in the fridge/freezer in the garage for others,” said Sloan Eddleston, Vice President of Walmart’s eCommerce Strategy & Business Operations, in the official announcement.

When the delivery driver arrives at a participant’s home, he will enter a one-time passcode on an August Home smart lock to gain entry. Walmart says customers will be able to watch the driver enter and move around in their houses via a video feed on their smartphones. When the driver exits the home, the door will lock automatically.

Walmart has hired same-day delivery service Deliv to perform the deliveries themselves. Sam’s Club, a Walmart affiliate, partnered with Deliv in March 2016 to test a grocery delivery program.

This most recent pilot program will be available in Silicon Valley to a select group of August Home users who have chosen to participate. As TechCrunch points out, if the program is successful, Walmart may expand the list of supported smart-home providers beyond August Home.

TechCrunch further notes that Walmart has not indicated how long the program will run, nor whether the company intends to expand the trial to locales outside of Silicon Valley.

Walmart says it has designed the test to gauge how much customers are willing to pay for the service. The company has yet to disclose a pricing model.

Walmart has partnered with smart-home companies to enhance delivery operations in the past. In June, online retailer jet.com, which Walmart acquired in August 2016, teamed with Latch to install high-tech lockboxes on the front doors of 1,000 apartment buildings. Among other functions, the system allows customers to remotely grant access to their apartment complex so that drivers can deliver packages even when the customer is not home.

In its continued effort to keep pace with online retail giants like Amazon, Walmart has experimented with other augmentations to its delivery operations, TechCrunch notes. The company offered a discount to customers who had online orders shipped to Walmart stores, and tried allowing in-store employees to deliver packages from the store to customers’ homes.

In emulation of Amazon Prime, Walmart instituted a two-day shipping option that is free for rewards members.

In June 2016, the company tested a system whereby Uber and Lyft drivers delivered groceries to customers’ homes. Customers ordered groceries online, paying a $7 to $10 delivery fee. Then, a Walmart employee culled the requested items from the shelves, placed them in a bag, and called an Uber or Lyft driver to pick the order up from the store and deliver it to the customer’s home.

Meanwhile, Amazon—arguably Walmart’s chief competitor—is making its own efforts to cut delivery times. Through that company’s Prime Now program, customers can have tens of thousands of items delivered to their doors in less than an hour.

Amazon also offers grocery delivery and one-hour restaurant delivery through its Prime membership program

Moreover, the company is testing autonomous drones that can deliver items weighing under five pounds in 30 minutes or less. Last December, as part of a pilot program in the UK, Amazon completed its first drone delivery. The company says it is working with regulators to get Prime Air, as the service is called, off the ground around the world.

Featured image via Hurlburt Field

Samsung Interested in Purchasing SmartThings

The idea of smart homes, or home devices connecting all electronics wirelessly, has taken huge strides in the tech industry as of late. Apple and Google have already begun their quests to take over the home, but now it seems Samsung is interested in entering the game as well. The Korean-based tech giant has been playing around with the idea of purchasing SmartThings for a summly $200 million.

SmartThings is a Washington D.C.-based startup that sells hardware that allows users to create a cloud in which hundreds of different smart gadgets can use to talk to one another. The device’s price is currently set at $100. The company owes its success to its prosperous Kickstarter campaign, which raised an approximate $1.2 million. It raised an additional $12.5 million through private investors, including Greylock Partners.

Samsung already produces a number of home appliances that are capable of talking to one another. What they hope to do with this purchase is allow third-party gadgets to be able to communicate faster and more efficiently with Samsung products. It is a very similar approach to what Apple plans to do with HomeKit, and another similar service called Revolv. What makes SmartThings unique is its community of 5,000 developers who work on how to make these smart devices interact.

SmartThings cofounder and CTO Jeff Hagins told Forbes, “Salesforce built this platform for developers because they honestly didn’t have the expertise and domain knowledge for every possible application. We looked at the smart home space and said exactly the same thing. We don’t have all the answers.” Still, they are trying to come up with them. One developer that was cited had programmed Sonos speakers to bark like a dog if movement was detected outside.

The deal has not been made official, and SmartThings has yet to make a comment. It is just further proof of the future of the smart home industry. According to Juniper Research, the smart home market will be worth an estimated $71 billion by 2018. Any tech giant who does not jump on board now will be kicking themselves for missing out in the future.