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Google (GOOG) will introduce Home, its Amazon Echo competitor, at its I/O developer’s conference today, according to a rash of news reports published yesterday.
I’ll certainly be watching. Echo (and its voice-activated personal assistant, Alexa) were the surprise hit of last summer and a rare hardware hit for a company that changed the world with the Kindle e-reader but also produced the flop known as the Fire phone. But what has been most fascinating about Amazon’s (AMZN) device is how Echo has become a gateway drug for the connected home.
I know Michael Wolf agrees. The Activate CEO and I were both dinner guests of Fortune Tech alum David Kirkpatrick last week, and this very subject came up as the appetizers hit the table. Michael smartly said that Echo could be the gadget that finally breaks through the frustrations of the so-called Internet of things, at least as it pertains to consumers. I heartily agreed—one of the many reasons I’ve shunned such gadgetry is because it’s too often more trouble than it’s worth. (When you do what I do, your tolerance evaporates quickly.)
Which brings me back to Google Home. If it’s anything like Echo, it will let you summon a taxi, order dinner, or check in on how the NBA draft lottery is shaping up. (Congratulations, my dear Philadelphia 76ers.) None of these things by themselves are that groundbreaking. And the machine learning, speech recognition, and artificial intelligence technologies such devices use can be rudimentary.
But Echo clearly changed the way regular people interact with the connected home. You don’t need to be the family IT guy to get value from it, however small. You don’t need to spend a Saturday trying to make gadgets work with each other. Done right, Home could do the same for Google. And together, they could start to crack a market that Gartner, the market research firm, already estimates is worth $546 billion this year.
Alexa, thumbs up.