Google’s Response to Alexa Live
In response to Amazon’s Alexa Live 4-hour virtual event on May 2, 2019, Google has started to ramp up their 3rd party developer partnerships. To level-set, to develop an ‘app’ for Alexa is called a “Skill.” To develop an app for Google Home is called a “Google Action.” I previously covered Google Actions 101 in this post last year. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are my own. I do not have any sources disclosing Google or Amazon’s voice strategy to me.
In this article, I will compare and contrast the differences in developing for Google Home vs. Alexa, and provide links to Google Resources. If you are looking for links to Alexa dev resources, check out my Alexa Live article here.
While Alexa is the leading smart speaker today, Google Home adoption is growing tremendously thanks to their advertising efforts and smart home strategy. i.e. Nest offering a free Google Mini with thermostat purchase. FYI: Google acquired Nest in 2014.
Discoverability is the #1 challenge for developers and marketers out there when creating and deploying a mobile app. How do you get new users use your app? I’ve been fortunate enough to have been featured on the front page of Amazon twice, Hypepotamous, and Mashable. Finding a list of Alexa Skills is easy to find from www.amazon.com.
In contrast, Google features their list of “Google Actions” as part of their Google Assistant program, available from assistant.google.com
The emphasis for Google Assistant is that it is primarily available on Android devices.
And not everything in the Google Assistant directory is available on Google Home. Each Google Action features a list of “Available Devices” to show if it is compatible with Google Home. For example my Google Action, Georgia Tech Trivia is available on various Android devices and Google home.
Incentives for Developers
Amazon has offered Developer Perks since 2016 for free t-shirts, socks, hoodies, promotional credits, and even free Alexa devices. Google has always offered a free t-shirt for your first Google Action and $200 of Google Cloud services/month for 1 year. As of February 2019, Google has upped the ante with a free Google Home device and exclusive access to Google Group. Google Dev Incentives page here. Unfortunately, Google isn’t very specific about what will qualify for the free Google Home, and they event admit it in their FAQs.
Tutorials and Resources
In response to Amazon’s 4-hour Alexa Live webcast, Google began a series called “Behind the Actions” explaining how to develop for Google Home basics on April 30, 2019 and May 2, 2019 (Part 1 and Part 2 respectively). Check out part 1 below.
Sample Code for Google Home
Google has published 14 samples in their GitHub repository for Google Home developers. Amazon has published hundreds of samples across their GitHub repository. The Google Home samples tend to pack in multiple functions in each repository vs. Alexa which usually focuses on one function per sample. Alexa evangelists will also hold live coding sessions on Twitch and publish their sample code out to their personal GitHub repositories. We will find out soon enough often Google Evangelists publish videos in their new series, “Behind the Actions.”
Publishing without Coding
Amazon released Blueprints in early 2019, a method to publish ‘apps’ / ‘skills’ to Alexa without writing code. Read more about Blueprints here. Google also created templates for creators to publish on Google Home without coding, from their Actions Console.
I tried out Template Actions and created Georgia Tech Trivia for Google Assistant and Google Home.
Is developing for Google Home seamless from Alexa Skills?
Google published a knowledge-base article on how to import your Alexa code and publish on Google Home here. I successfully completed the steps in this article exactly once. I took my Alexa skill, Cocktail Roulette with one API call, and tested successfully on Google Home. Unfortunately, Cocktail Roulette for Google Home was not approved by Google due to their Alcohol and Tobacco policy. Other skills using more advanced functionality such as databases and/or MP3 audio sounds were not transferrable without a complete rewrite for Google Home. I have published the following apps on Google Home and Alexa, links below:
- Ramblin’ Wreck – Alexa – Google Home
- Wireless Technology Forum – Alexa – Google Home
- Atlanta Run Guide – Alexa – Google Home
- Georgia Tech Trivia – Alexa – Google Home
- Cat Food – Alexa – Google Home
Functionality for Developers
Amazon has boasted rapid deployment functionality and features for developers, with their notifications and APL (Alexa Presentation Language) releases. Surprisingly, Google Home has a lot of the same features, but hasn’t spent as much time and resources making announcements. Here’s a feature by feature comparison for developers.
Overall, Google’s functionality for developers is not far behind that of Amazon. Google updated their Actions on Google about a year ago and have been quietly adding new features ever since.
If you’re interested in learning more about Google development, please check out my other posts here or contact me directly.