Google has launched two new devices for the smart home and is revamping its Google Home app all in preparation for Matter and the third wave of innovation it believes the smart home is set to undergo. The search giant explained its vision for the smart home, launched a new router designed for Wi-Fi 6E, introduced a new wired doorbell and previewed a new version of Google Home on Tuesday.
First up, the devices. Google announced a wired Nest doorbell for $179.99 that will go on sale starting today. The doorbell is 30% smaller, but has more compute, memory and a machine learning chip inside. All of this allows it to have better image quality despite having the same number of pixels (960p), and it can also now offer 24/7 video recording.
If you want to upgrade from an earlier iteration of the wired doorbell, you’ll be glad to know that the mounting holes are the same. If you’re like me and wondering how we got to be in a world where we’re paying almost $200 every three years for a new doorbell, that fact will not bring you much comfort.
On the Wi-Fi front, Google is finally updating its mesh Wi-Fi hardware with Wi-Fi 6 capabilities and taking advantage of the new expanded 6 GHz of spectrum the FCC approved in 2020. The Google Nest Wifi Pro router system will provide up to 5.4 Gbps of capacity and each device will cover up to 2,200 square feet. You may only need one at $199.99, but if you need a three-pack it won’t set you back much at $399.99. They will be available Oct. 27.
Google will also provide basic security and parental controls as part of the Google Nest Wifi Pro hardware, and all of a customer’s Wi-Fi needs will be managed in the Google Home app. The routers will come in four colors and will act as Thread border routers. Other Google devices including the Nest Hub Max and Nest Hub second generation will also act as Thread border routers when the Matter standard is released this fall.
Unlike Amazon, which said it would turn some of its Echo speakers into mesh routers that would work with its Eero system, Google doesn’t think consumers want their smart speakers to double as routers. Both companies are embracing the phrase “ambient” when discussing the context-aware smart home. This marks a bit of change from Google which had been using the phrase “intuitive smart home” for the last few years.
More important than these devices is the work that Google showed off on its Google Home app. Google originally had only Nest devices (and then shoved Dropcam cameras into the Nest app). Everything related to Google devices was managed in the Nest app until Google released its own line of smart speakers. At that point it introduced the Google Home app.
In 2019, Google started moving more functionality to the Google Home app and began the process of killing the separate Nest app and programs. In 2021, it began launching devices that worked only in the Home app. But because the Home app wasn’t as full featured for devices such as cameras, many consumers elected to stay on the Nest app. Also, it was frankly, confusing to migrate from the Nest app to the Home app. The Nest app is now only in maintenance mode, but many camera customers still use it.
But those suffering through this bifurcated ecosystem will be relieved to know that Google is adding new camera features borrowed from the Nest app to the Google Home app, such as the ability to quickly scroll through events and to see live camera views within the app. And it will eventually add older Nest cameras into the Google Home app with those same software features.
Google is also revamping the Google Home app, and it will have previews available for curious souls in the coming weeks. Google has divided the Home app into a section for favorites, which might include your favorite camera views or devices, controlling “spaces,” which can be categorized as rooms or by other means, and a media player. The app also includes the Nest app’s camera viewing options as mentioned.
It’s also worth noting that existing Google Wear OS 3 watches will gain more smart home features with a software update in the coming week. Google says you’ll “be able to turn off the lights, adjust your Nest Thermostat, get notifications from your Nest cameras and more,” after the update.
Perhaps the most important element of the new Home app is the ability to create routines built on other sensors and devices in the home. Thanks to Matter, Google can pull in your Hue motion sensor to trigger a light or bring in Matter capable devices for other automations. For folks who are more comfortable building their own device drivers and complicated routines, Google is launching a script editor for home automation early next year.
These are good changes, and will help pave the way for Matter, while also unifying the Google smart home experience.
When it comes to the smart home, it feels like Google keeps getting outmaneuvered by Amazon on the feature front and Apple on the experience front. As a case in point, as it prepares for the launch of Matter smart home interoperability protocol is is trying to craft a coherent narrative about the smart home, while fixing what has been a fractured app experience divided between the Google Home app and the Nest app.
Rishi Chandra, the VP of product and general manger of Google Nest, divided the smart home experience into three eras with the first a focus on adding compute to devices that historically haven’t had them, and making them “smart.” The second era was voice, and making the home accessible to more people. The third era, which we are now in, he says will be based off innovations in the industry driven by Matter. It will also bridge the gap that Chandra says exists between smart home devices and our computing devices such as tablets, phones, computers and watches.
This hardly is a visionary statement, especially compared with prior efforts by Google executives to read the smart home tea leaves. Tony Fadell who was instrumental in the first era of the smart home at Google, was thinking about an intuitive home that used AI and context to deliver what the homeowners needed at that point in time. Voice took Google on a bit of a side quest as it released voice-capable speakers to compete with Amazon’s Alexa.
I feel like Amazon’s whole hearted embrace of voice, which has led to more than 140,000 devices working with Alexa has helped it gain so much ground in the smart home while still leading it to the same point Google is today. Google says it has more than 80,0000 devices that work with Google. That gap can be explained by Amazon’s original market leading position, but also by the launch of the Alexa Connect Kit, a module that handled all the hard elements needed to connect a device to Alexa.
Google’s integrations require a bit more work, and with the death of Nest and its Works with Nest program, it broke many of the established integrations, causing dev partners a ton of frustration (also consumers). But with Matter, some of that frustration will be solved, and the new Google Home should help guide consumers to the current agreed-upon future of the smart home. I just wish Google has articulated a vision a bit more clearly.
Update: This story was updated Tuesday Oct. 4, 2022 to correct when the Google Home preview will be available. It will be available in the coming weeks, not today.