Google is famous for coming to the market late. The search-engine business was well established before it arrived, and yet the company managed to take the lead. It now dominates the category. But can it do the same thing in the smart home?

The web giant is expected to launch a standalone device called simply Google Home on Tuesday, a device that it hopes will become the centerpiece of the smart home, and provide some strong competition for the well-established Amazon Echo. But it will be an uphill battle.

Even the fact that Google is fighting this kind of come-from-behind war seems a little bizarre. After all, it is the king of web knowledge, with literally thousands of Ph.D.’s working on artificial intelligence. It even has a well-received smart mobile assistant called Google Now.

Despite all of this expertise, the company seems to have been caught flat-footed by the Echo and its success. Amazon already has two years of product experience in the market, and Google is only now coming out with version one of its device.

Obviously, the smart home is in its infancy, so it’s not as though Google is out of the race. If it takes a smart approach to the Home device and finds ways of adding value that Amazon has not—such as opening up its device to a wide range of services and standards—then it has a chance. But it must put the pedal to the metal.

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Mathew Ingram is a senior writer at Fortune. Email him. Share this essay.