The fight for the next platform

Yesterday at Google's San Francisco event one thing was clear: the fight for the next platform isn't for VR, AR or any of the things you might be expecting. Instead, it's for who owns voice (and by proxy, machine learning) and where that leads us next.

Google is very loudly doubling down on its efforts to bring your voice assistant to, well, everything. As of now, Google has a tiny puck-shaped voice assistant speaker called Mini that's available for $49, the original Google Home at $129 and a extra-large Home Max at $399. On top of that there's assistant in the phone and the exact same experience is built into the Pixel Buds headphones.

Each of those speakers is designed to attack a specific competitor — Mini is up against Amazon's Dot, Home against every Bluetooth speaker out there and Max is an answer to Sonos' Play:5. But Google isn't the only one playing at this game either: Amazon is doing the same, but instead injecting its assistant, Alexa, into every device it can — from fridges to cars.

The next platform war isn't what any of us expected, and they're invading our homes thanks to tiny, powerful microphones and machine learning, which is finally able to be leveraged to help hear and understand you better. Google, Apple and Amazon are about to go to all-out war on this new territory.

For years, Siri was the only choice, but it's also been the butt of jokes since I can remember. At the time Siri was debuted it seemed revolutionary, but gaps in Siri's data (powered by Bing, by the way) and a slow ramp-up to use machine learning meant that it never really got out of first gear — and now Apple's cramming it into a speaker called Homepod.

The next platform is an extension of your phone. It's everything you do when you're not using that shiny rectangle in your hand, and the fight for locking you in is very different on this side of things. With software like iOS and Android, it was easy to lock-in users with services like iMessage, but voice is a different question: what's the killer app?

I suspect the answer to that is that there's no app, but data: Google has your inbox and knows all it needs to know to be useful. It's got when your packages are arriving, your next flight and every appointment you've booked. Google also has well-trained machine learning systems that have had time to figure out why all of those things are relevant to you.

What's curious is how to win this platform war. For me, at home, we tried Google Home first and it seems clearly superior because of that data, but in other countries where Amazon is part of everyday life, Alexa might be a better bet (and priced more aggressively).

Over the rest of the year and moving into 2018 expect these companies to price aggressively and give away these speakers in bundles to try sneak into your home, one by one, as the race for the new platform kicks off for real.