Google has announced that its Home smart speaker will soon be able to free calls to friends, family and businesses without you having to lift a finger.
Dubbed Hands-Free Calling, the feature uses Google Assistant voice-recognition to place calls over a Wi-Fi connection. Google noted that the feature will be rolling out for users in the US and Canada as of 16 August, with other regions expected to follow in a future update.
The feature is similar to voice-activated calls on Android smartphones, although these use traditional cellular calls.
As Google Home uses a Wi-Fi connection – something Home needs to function in the first place – the calls are essentially free, minus your broadband premiums.
Home will also recognise names based on your existing Google Contacts list. As Google explains in a blog post, you could tell Home to call a relative ("Hey Google, call Dad) and it would leaf through your contacts list to find numbers labelled under "Dad".
Thanks to the introduction of multi-user support, Google guarantees you'll "reach your dad instead of just any dad." How this works for a contact entry with multiple numbers is unclear, although it's likely it will follow the equivalent feature on Android lets you pick before placing the call.
"In addition to Dad, you can also make free calls to your own personal contacts, as well as millions of businesses across U.S. and Canada," said Google product managers, Deniz Binay and Alex Duong. "Calling the bakery on 24th Street, ordering flowers from the nearest florist, and wishing grandma a happy birthday are now as easy as "Hey Google.""
You might be thinking that Home's latest trick is the ultimate death knell for landline phones, but there are a few caveats at this early stage. Firstly, the call will show as "Unknown" or "No Caller ID" to the recipient, which in our experience is a surefire way for someone to ignore your calls entirely. Google notes that a future update will rectify this by letting you add your mobile number to outgoing calls made via Home.
Premium calls and international calls are also a no-go unless you have a Project Fi or Google Voice account, but both will carry the usual extra charges.
The other omission, which may save landline phones for a little while, is emergency calls. This could also prove to be a major hurdle for the feature's implementation in the UK where Ofcom rules demand that VoIP telephony companies allow both "999 calls" and provide location information where possible.