Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Google is bleeding cash trying to take on Amazon in the smart home (theverge.com)
49 points by PuffinBlue 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments

is there really a big market thought for this? Alexa devices are at least 2 years old. How many real people do you know that really use alexa to control their livingroom? When I saw my boss repeatedly saying 'alexa turn the volume down' it made him look stupid, he could just grab the remote and turn it down. I understand it could be useful in kitchen if your hands are covered in food and you need basic things like set timer, change Pandora station or play a youtube recepy for whatever but using it to control the livingroom, for video calling etc. Sounds more like a gimmick that Siri became after Microsoft spent so much resources building Cortana. We have phones, tablets, smart tv and smart infotainment systems in our cars, we don't need another device to do things that we can get done through all of our other devices. May be I am wrong, bur just don't see it.

I was skeptical at first, but after having Alexa for a few months... it seems very very very promising.

After getting it, I quickly adapted and enhanced my routines by using it to set timers, schedule events, asking for the time (actually, it is quite useful!), setting my alarms for the morning and, finally, playing some soothing sounds to help me doze off to sleep... And yes, these are super simple things, and yes, even those suck quite often (I spent 5 minutes arguing with Alexa to set a 15minute timer instead of the 50one, couldn't do it), but even at this super-primitive stage it definitely adds a lot of value, especially at its price.

I don't know if it will be any of the current players that will win out in the field, but there will definitely be winners.

Same here, thought Alexa was stupid until I met someone who had one. I had to get my own. Alexa has features that makes it a much seamless benefit to everyday life. I ask her about the weather daily, easy to set timers, if you have smart lights you can tell her to turn off the lights without getting out of bed, etc. Voice will without a doubt become an essential part of the future smart home.

Agreed, those things alone are worth it.

However, once I already had an Echo I started thinking of things that could be done with it beyond the trivial stuff.

For example I have been working on a tiny ESP8266 device that will sit behind or above the toaster oven in my moms kitchen. If the temperature is high for more than an hour or two, Alexa will say "I'm reminding you, the toaster oven is still on".

Total cost will end up being about $10-15, and requires no contact with or alteration of the oven, so it is a progressive enhancement rather than potentially making things worse or interfering with the basic function of the oven.

I could put a "smart switch" on the power supply and cut it automatically, but when things like toaster ovens are plugged in those switches are a potential hazard themselves.

It seems like automatic shutoff is something toaster ovens should all have, but clearly not all of them do. The same is true for ovens, stove tops, coffee pots, clothes irons, heating pads, tea kettles, electric woks, curling irons, etc.

Also seems like a better idea to follow the example of smoke alarms and use external monitoring rather than trust every single appliance to work properly.

I've considered putting something like an AMG8833[1] in a smoke alarm housing on the ceiling, so it can detect any appliance left on too long, but I'm not sure if it would work well in practice. Things like that are getting cheaper though, eventually it'll be possible.

[1] https://www.adafruit.com/product/3538

Is it bad that my daughter has to say goodnight to Alexa as part of her bedtime routine?

I just bought an Amazon Echo Dot and they're pretty neat. Here's some scenarios I've used in the last few days

> I need to provide some identifying info to get 2FA removed from my web host (new phone) and one of them was last transaction amount.

"Alexa, what is $19.53 in New Zealand Dollars" so I could track it down in my bank statements

> My PS4 is on, Plex is open and I want to watch something specific but I'm too lazy to scroll

"Alexa, tell Plex to play Violet Evergarden"

> I wake up in the middle of the night but I don't want to turn on my phone because the light would trick my brain into thinking it's day probably

"Alexa, what time is it?"

> I'm not sure if it's going to rain tomorrow and I don't run a weather widget on my phone. I'm also doing other stuff while getting ready

"Alexa, what's the forecast for today?"

> My particular favourite at the moment that I set up using IFTTT. I want to trigger the stats page on my site to update by pulling the latest info for a bunch of APIs. To do that, I need to hit a certain hidden endpoint or I could say

"Alexa, trigger site refresh"

Anyway, it feels silly but the more I use it, the more I really enjoy it despite being skeptical. I think IFTTT gives you a lot of possible power, especially with webhooks if you've got anything in particular.

I think I'd have to write my own skills in order for Alexa to eg; read the response from a POST request but that could be cool. Anyway, the Echo Dots are really good for what they cost

Smart lights are the killer app for Alexa. There's no going back once you have it. And the only thing keeping most people from getting smart lights is the cost which will fall.

Of all of the nusances in my life, having to use light switches seems really low on the list. Is it really so transformative?

Depends on the size of your house and the position of your light switches.

It's pretty nice to say, "Alexa, turn on away mode" as I leave the house. Instead of going through the whole place, turning off all the lights, locking the back door and adjusting down the thermostat.

Yeah but I always turn off lights as I leave a room anyways so it's not like I have to run through the house. The thermostat is on the way out too. I am considering getting a nest or something but that's just for the thermostat, nothing else is all that important. And I can just set that to match my schedule.

I have friends who have it, seems neat but still very "eh" for me.

>Yeah but I always turn off lights as I leave a room

Do you plan to live alone forever? 'cause roommates, spouses, and especially children tend to make turning the lights off as you leave the room quite futile.

Almost everyone in my life knows to turn the lights off when they leave the room too. It was also drilled into us as kids to not waste energy. I've drilled it into my SO. It's really not that difficult of a habit, switches are by the door.

Can't control roomies but that's about it.

Was the clapper a good product? Think the clapper, but instead it's completely customizable to your hearts content.

> Was the clapper a good product?

No? I don't think I've ever met someone who owned a Clapper. In my mind, it's the epitome of gimmicky late-night TV/Skymall products.

You might want to speak to someone who owned one then and what purpose they used it for.

Do smart lights rely on a functioning internet connection?

I've only "deployed" a Philips Hue setup at home, but no, just internal WiFi is enough.

So you need to buy DRM lightbulbs?

I'm not sure, I got my "starter set" as a gift.

Some do, some don't. But if you want to use Alexa or Google Home or Siri to control you do need an internet connection to do the voice translate to command bit.

Personally I've gone with SmartThings (Samsung) to control the home tech and use Amazon as the voice interface. This allows me to be reasonably agnostic of vendor and interfacing standards (ZWave/Zigbee/Wifi), allows me to use a scripting language to control some aspects of automation (using Webcore app) and still use Amazon to issue voice commands to the same devices.

Kids love it, I like it, but not got full wife acceptance yet, she gets frustrated turns stuff off at the wall and then all the automation needs debugging!

Yeah, a requirement for an active internet connection would completely kill it for me, much more than the cost, so it's nice to hear that it can use local networking only. Also, as you mention, the fact that it's not very compatible with the mechanical switches seems like it would be annoying, though I suppose those can be replaced with wifi equivalents.

The bigger thing is that I just don't see huge benefits to smart lights, and potentially a lot of maintenance headache - I just don't really mind walking to the switch.

An automated blind opener that is set to slowly open automatically based on what I've set my phone alarm to that day, though, that I would pay a lot and put up with a lot of crap for.

Smart things actually requires an internet connection at times. I don't know what exactly causes it, but several times when my internet has gone out, I've been unable to control the lights.

Lots of people have switched away from smart things for this reason.

They make dimmer switches that can be controlled via Zwave/Zigbee as well. If you replace your wall switches with these instead of using bulbs that do the same thing, your automations will have no more problems of this sort.

Changing your volume for your TV is rather stupid (using up/down at least, "set TV to X%" might work well but I love my remote so I always use it). For controlling lights I LOVE alexa. That plus things like daily briefing, weather, alarms, timers, and more make me VERY happy with my amazon units. And this is coming from a huge mac fanboy. Smarthome is where Alexa really shines IMHO.

And all of this has become even better with Routines, it seems Amazon is continuing to expand on them and make them better and better.

In the morning, I say "Alex, Good Morning." My lights turn on, my coffee maker turns on, Alexa tells me the weather, how long the commute currently is and a little morning news. She then switches to play Spotify while I take my shower.

When I leave, I tell "Alex, Good Bye" She turns off every light in my house, verifies the door I let my dogs out of is locked, and triggers my thermostat to go away.

This is undoubtedly cool, but seems like a red herring. Not knocking your experiences and all, it’s great that you like it. But it is reminiscent of every cartoon ever where the bed makes itself and brushes the protagonists’ teeth. Or the Earnest movies from the 80’s where he has a Rube Goldberg machine rigged up to make him breakfast. All of this ‘automation’ is feasible with simple wiring-50’s technology. And much more ‘smart’ with x10 tech from the 80’s/90’s. The premise then is that there is a huge, unknown, pent-up demand for this type of thing from non-technical people who wouldn’t have been able to rig up a home automation system in the past. Anecdotally I’m not sure I see it, and more analytically it seems like the less ‘techie’ you are, the less you crave this type of automation. In other words, there is a diminishing return by making this type of thing more accessible. I’m not sure if this level of automation is a game changer. However, put a generation or two more advanced tech in a robot and you have Judy from the Jetsons, and that I think may change the picture. But we’re not quite there yet

Saying “xBox play television” was 10x faster than finding the controller and then figuring out how to navigate the always changing home screen.

Thanks for mentioning this. This is one of the first use cases where it seems to be solving something more than insignificantly annoying to me. Especially for my non-tech friends who I am always having to adjust their TVs for.

Gonna set up my family's Alexas now. But it's a 1 time investment. :D

Ya, volume is dumb, until you can't find the remote. Which happens to me so often I glued a Trackr to it.

Remote is usually better, but I like having tv control ability on Alexa for when I can't find the remote or don't want to get up and get it.

I feel this way about smartwatches but they still blew up. -shrug-

Different lifestyles I guess. Most of my family loves having Alexa but my cousin and I both agreed it seems pointless for us.

People said the same thing about personal computers in the early 70s and look where we are now.

Is that a fair comparison? A PC is an expensive general purpose computing device. Alexa is a cheap device which exists for the sole purpose of locking you into the Amazon-prime ecosystem.

I have an Alexa which was gifted to me. My son loves it. The rest of us enjoyed it the first day and never looked at it after.

Digital assistants have value, but Alexa on its own caters to a frivolous use-case that trades away a lot of privacy for little value.

> A PC is an expensive general purpose computing device. Alexa is a cheap device which exists for the sole purpose of locking you into the Amazon-prime ecosystem.

PCs started out the same way but gradually expanding into solving more and more solutions. Oh, and I have never used my echo to do anything with prime.

> I have an Alexa which was gifted to me. My son loves it.

Marketers chase after young people because they tend to lead changes. You might want to look at why your son loves it.

Well, my son is 7. He loves everything :-) .

Do you not use your Echo for prime music?

About Alexa and Prime, I would also point you to this from the horses mouth: https://www.amazon.com/primeinsider/tips/alexa-tips.html .

I'm curious by the way: what do you use the echo for which your phone doesn't do better?

No, I use spotify to play music on my echo

The echo serves as a good home music speaker which I can control through spotify on my phone/computer/voice (through echo).

Outside of that, setting timers, asking the weather, random questions (my girlfriend uses cooking/math conversions a lot, but alexa isn't as good as google for random facts from my experience). My girlfriend loves to use it while getting ready and cooking since her hands are busy for hours during those times.

What can you do with your phone that isn't easier on your laptop?

Alexa is easier than pulling out your phone, finding the app you need, waiting for it to load, possibly having to authenticate, then making the change you need, in lots of cases.

Thermostat, lights, podcasts, quick questions, timers and more.

Actually people have been predicting the smart home since the 70s and they were mostly wrong.

But they were right: nobody needs a computer from the 70’s - they were and are not a mainstream product. Alexa may be in a similar spot now, and may someday evolve into something that finds a mainstream ‘killer app’ - but let’s not call naysayers short-sighted

Computers offered a huge delta of improvement over hiring a room full of human calculators. Home automation, on the other hand, offers a pretty negligible delta of improvement over turning your lights on and off with a wall switch.

computer did things that nothing else could do. alexa is doing things that practically every other smart device can do as well

Those other methods involve you having your device at hand or getting it out of your pocket, unlocking it, etc.

The Echo isn't at its full potential, but the basics can be useful and you can see where it's going. Once they handle a broader variety of things, they will be a no-brainer for every household that isn't nervous about privacy issues. (i.e., almost everyone)

I use it to set cooking timers without stopping what I'm doing or needing a hand free. My kids use it to play music. e.g., my three year old can play a particular album without knowing how to spell it and without having to nag me to do it. They also love asking it questions like "how many teeth does a horse have?" or "how much does an elephant weigh?"

> computer did things that nothing else could do.

Humans can do anything a computer does because we made them. We just cannot do everything a computer does as fast.

> alexa is doing things that practically every other smart device can do as well

So did the first iphone but there is a lot more to it.

I think Google knows that this is the race for the new platform. It's what happened with Microsoft in PCs, and Apple in smart phones. If this market is similar to those aforementioned, once it is saturated there will be high brand loyalty and very few switch-overs. It takes a long time to win market share once people have adopted a platform. It's worth bleeding heavily right now to lock up market share well into the future.

My only sadness is that because of the nature of the tech involved, it seems like only a race between the big dawgs. Us small guys may be able to ride the wave with apps, similar to early mobile apps, but the proliferation of walled gardens and proprietary all-the-things will be unfortunate.

I believe it’s only going to be a holdover until the first company to crack AR (always on, full vision) which will completely change the world.

AR will mix voice but to become the walled garden of a person’s entire world, literally everything they see, is going to be so insanely powerful.

I think AR display tech is already where it needs to be for a breakthrough. Problem is input, not output. We need a high bandwidth input device, and voice is never going to be that.

Microsoft also did it with the XBox. Comparatively, they were hemorrhaging money. It worked. I still maintain that Google has a better product (having superior voice recognition) and that this race is far from over.

> Google parent Alphabet sees shares pop after earnings beat:

Adjusted EPS: $9.57 per share vs. $8.33 per share expected by a Thomson Reuters consensus estimate

Revenue: $27.77 billion vs. $27.2 billion expected by a Thomson Reuters consensus estimate

Anita Balakrishnan | @MsABalakrishnan Published 3:25 PM ET Thu, 26 Oct 2017 Updated 7:29 PM ET Thu, 26 Oct 2017 - CNBC


Google is bleeding money in the same way I bleed when I take my glucose reading, by pricking the tip of my finger. Drip. Drip.

This is the stupidest article. The premise is predicated on a wild, baseless extrapolation that because Nest isn't cashflow positive, then surely the - totally unrelated and until this quarter separately managed - other hardware orgs must also be. It also completely ignores the internal org structure differentiating between hardware, software & distribution/partnerships/support, which vary wildly based on whether it's consumer hardware (like Nest), media (Google Play Music/Movies/YT), computing devices (ChromeOS) or mobile (Android/Pixel/accessories), or non-Nest Home HW (Google Home/Mini/Max).

I'm curious how the products are doing outside of reviewers' contrived trials. I have a house full of Nest and Google Home, and it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry when it makes simple mistakes (or just doesn't work) 90% of the time.

It really feels like a product that hasn't been dogfooded at all...

If these devices don't clean my home, take out the trash, mow the lawn or clean my dog's poo then they're quite useless to me. Why pay for having Amazon or Google bugs in your home?

It's more like having an interface to the voice controls of your phone without your phone being nearby and unlocked. We use it to control lights and media, and we ask it the weather. Nothing works reliably. The Uber integration is clunky and now gives us a generic error.

if you have hardwood floors and not a messy house I would strongly recommend a robot vacuum. I leave that thing on few times a week when leaving the house and every time it manages to collect a handful of dust, mostly speck from cloth

We were thinking of getting a Roomba, since we have a dust bunny problem as well. Seems the only useful home automation so far. But even that one sends a map of your home to the manufacturer which can then sell the data to real estate agencies?

Roombas are garbage, in my experience. Look into the Xiaomi Robot Vacuum, it's about $300 and quite fantastic. Yes it builds a map of your home, but if you dont need phone control then it doesn't need wifi. Unlike a Roomba, it knows where its been and a good idea on what its doing.

This thing is too convinient and I know some us data broker will have a tough time getting the data to do anything with it

isnt map (blueprint) of your house already a public domain that was submitted for approval before construction/renovation?

That probably depends on the locality and age of the house. My house it 118 years old. The city's diagram shows a rectangle for the house and two smaller ones for the front and back porches. They also have no difference between the first and second floors.

I was about to do this and then heard about the paperclip disasters that have ruined floors. Do you hVe a way to mitigate that or have nee vacuums gotten better at detecting that they have something stuck in them?

Im have the $200 one from amazon. it has no cameras or wifi, it just randomly roams around the rooms or you can set it to 'curb' mode and it will be sweeping along the walls. I don't use a lot of paperclips so I would not know but you can test it by feeding it a bunch of paperclips and if it does go on to scratch floors then just return it, I guess.

Paperclips was a generalization. It could happen with any metal object left on the ground.

> if it does go on to scratch floors then just return it, I guess

It would be great if it were that simple, but scratching the floors would cost $1,500+ of damage and force me to leave my house for at least two days.

Either the robot has to be smart enough to avoid dragging objects around with it, or I can't use it. That's why I asked if maybe yours was a newer model that was smart about it.

Google just reported record revenues up 26% from last year's quarter and almost double last year's net income at $9bn. Not to worry, it has plenty of cash to bleed and it increases every hour of every day.

[1]: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/24/alphabet-earnings-q2-2017.ht...

But I have to say, "Of course, Google has the money to spend."

"Bleeding cash" is hardly what Google/Alphabet is doing. At worse, this for Google/Alphabet is the $10 bill that discovered in a jacket they haven't put on since last spring. Or to state this properly, Alphabet's liquidity/viability is not in danger by this effort :)

It’s a smart move. We gave away our Alexa’s once we tried Google,

Google reported $9b net income yesterday so not to sure this article is very accurate.


https://www.voicebot.ai/2018/04/16/smart-speaker-adoption-in... Smart Speaker Adoption in Canada Surges to 8%, Google Home ...

Amazon was "bleeding" cash for the first 2 decades of its existence, and nobody complained.

The problem wth home automation is that it’s all about solving problems which are already solved. And the level of complexity required to achieve the small delta of improvement just doesn’t make sense for most people.

Do not agree. We have several Google Homes now and they get used all day.

What I’m saying is that to experience the improvement of being able to turn on your lights by talking to your Google Home vs. simply walking over to the light switch and toggling it’s position, you had to buy a whole bunch of smart light bulbs, plus the Google Home devices. So, there is a large expenditure of money and time just to get everything installed. But also, now, being able to turn your lights on by speaking out loud depends on an incredibly complex stack of technologies. There are two entire operating systems, networking stacks, etc. that all have to work in order for you to continue accruing this benefit.

That might be worth it to you, but it seems like chasing extremely marginal returns to me.

Will this be Google+ v2?

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact