Google Home is rolling out kid-friendly perks for users on Tuesday; Amazon Echo has a number of them as well
OK Google, help me with my homework.
That’s just one of the many thing your children will be able to ask the Google Home smart speaker, starting Tuesday, when the internet giant launches new experiences for kids via Google Assistant — complete with more than 50 new games, activities and stories. And with their parents permission, kids under 13 can also now have their own personalized Google Assistant with their own login, though parents can manage what the kids use Google for and for how long they can use it with Google’s Family Link app.
Among the things kids can now do: have a talk with people in different jobs (kids choose jobs like zookeeper and paleontologist and then hear a person who really does this job and get to ask questions); get homework help (including asking for state or country capitals, how to spell words, and synonyms and antonyms); enjoy storytime with a variety of titles like Hansel and Gretel and Princess and the Pea; and play games like Mickey Mouse Adventure (a partnership with Disney), musical chairs and freeze dance, and trivia.
For its part, Google is appealing to parents by pitching this as the antithesis to solo screen time: “Talking to your Assistant (instead of staring at a screen) is an easy way to be there, in the room, spending time with loved ones,” a spokesperson for Google writes. And sociologist and founder of ESME.com Marika Lindholm says that the Home and Echo “are much preferable to screen electronics,” which “create a passive experience where images are literally in your face allowing children to disappear into the world of fantasy, social media and information without much effort.” But, she warns that these devices can be addictive to children, so parents need to monitor and limit their use; and psychologist Fran Walfish, the author of “The Self-Aware Parent,” says that children under age 5 likely shouldn’t use these smart speakers as they may have trouble differentiating humans from electronics still.
This may also be a way for Google to compete with the continued dominance of Amazon in the smart speaker world (by the end of 2017, Amazon Alexa will be on about 68% of smart speakers, compared to about 24% for Google). Indeed, Amazon already has plenty to entertain the kids. Earlier this year, Amazon partnered with Sesame Street to let kids play games with and talk to Elmo and with and Nickelodeon to offer a skills game with SpongeBob Squarepants. Alexa can also read kids stories, do spelling bees and match trivia with them, and more. And like Google, Amazon also offers parental controls.
Ben Arnold, a tech analyst at research firm The NPD Group, says that both Google and Amazon likely noticed — long before they launched kid-specific offerings — that kids were using their speakers and that these kid-friendly offerings are a way “have more meaningful activities and apps for [kids] to use” and “to gain a deeper level of engagement” with young people. And these are future paying consumers for both companies, so engaging them now can pay off in the long run.
But Jonathan Hadad, a tech analyst at IBISWorld, says he believes that Google may have different motives than Amazon with these new offerings. While online retailer Amazon’s end goal is likely to make it easier for all people to buy things from it, “Google, on the other hand, is a software developer and product maker. But the company knows it can’t sell its main products to children. So, this is a way to target the next generation of customers,” he says. So, he adds: “By making them comfortable with a Google product at such an early age, the company will be better suited to market other products to this demographic as they become older,” Hadad says.
Whatever the reasons, one question remains: Will Google’s new offerings for kids help it gain market share over Amazon? Rick Singer, the CEO of GreatApps.com, says he doesn’t think so — at least for now — as these smart speakers are still something adults mainly buy for themselves. And Arnold notes that Google’s new offerings probably aren’t “a real driver of market share,” though these kinds of perks will help both Google and Amazon “solidify and deepen engagement in the households they are already in.”
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