This week in three separate but identical events to accommodate different time-zones, Google is hosting its “Works With “Hey Google” Smart Home Summit”. I watched the first event for the APAC region and although it was brief, Google packed a dense amount of upcoming changes for how the smart home experience will improve. Many of the changes bear a passing resemblance to Apple’s HomeKit.
For starters, at least if you use Android, the smart home controls become first-class citizens and become more integrated with the operating system itself.
This space is quickly available with the press of your handset’s power button. And it’s secure as well. Viewing or using the smart home controls from this screen requires authentication through whichever native method your phone supports: facial recognition, fingerprint, or PIN.
The idea is to make it easier and faster to control your home on-screen, for when voice commands may not be ideal. It makes sense as we add more devices to our home and a growing reliance on using them. And Google will surface automation or device-linking recommendations when new devices are added to the home as well.
Google didn’t stop there by just consolidating and providing faster access to smart home devices though. Many of the controls used on Google’s smart displays will continue migration to the handset, bringing a more cohesive experience across devices. Expect to see more slider controls and the like on your phone.
Additionally, there will be an improved flow from the dedicated controls in the Home space through advanced device settings and account linking. You may have basic functionality to control Home devices, for example, but tapping the control automatically surfaces the standard, full-featured control options, and deeper device settings. This seems more of a rejiggering of smart home app screens that already exist but in a more intuitive and streamlined manner for users.
Turner next focused on the Google Home Local SDK we’ve been hearing about since this time last year. The SDK was announced at the 2019 Google I/O event and developers gained beta access to it a few months later. Earlier this year, Google made the Local Home SDK generally available and although few, if any, device makers have touted its use, Google apparently does have a number of device partners already on board including GE, Lifx, Philips Hue and Nanoleaf to name a few.
Google is heavily pushing the usage of its Local Home SDK for several reasons. The obvious one is an improved customer experience by a device reacting faster when controlled by voice or phone since these actions no longer need to ping the cloud. And Google can continue pushing it’s “privacy and security at the core” message by keeping your smart home data in your smart home as more devices support local controls.
From what I can see, developers won’t have a tremendously difficult time adapting to the Local Home SDK, which works with Chrome and Node.js. Google appears to have made it easy for devices to advertise their support and registration as local home capable.
The last big development that you’ll see in the near future is support for Home and Away routines with Nest devices. Note that Nest essentially pioneered Home and Away settings for smart thermostats, enabling reduced HVAC usage when the thermostat’s sensors indicated an empty house. But Home and Away routines take things to the next level.
Turner says that consumers will be able to group multiple smart devices and actions in the home into routines that fire off when you arrive at or leave from your house. For example, instead of simply changing the thermostat settings when you head out the door, your security cameras can be enabled and your lights can turn off. Think of it like setting up a geofencing rule for your smart devices only instead of using your phone’s GPS location, devices in the house will determine if you’re home or away.
Google calls this Presence Detection, which technically it is, although it’s not at the individual level, which is something I want to see. Customers will have full control over which devices have access and what location data they can see and collect for this feature, says Turner. Essentially, after many years, this is a large part of the original Nest vision realized; Google had to consolidate and re-tool its APIs since its purchase of Nest to make this happen.
While it seems like Google is taking much of control of the smart home out of consumer’s hands to add more security and a cohesive experience (that’s because it is), individuals will still have a modicum of control when it comes to the new Home and Away routines.
Google is debuting a new Device Access Console both for commercial developers and homeowners to build and test their own Home and Away routines.
Not every device on the market will be initially compatible with these routines and you won’t be able to add any random device. However, if a device is supported by meeting Google’s partner requirements via security assessments and audits, you can create and test your own routines in the Console. I think of this as an appeasement to advanced users who were upset that Google removed some of their more in-depth automation as part of the transition away from Works With Nest.
The online event ended with Google’s commitment to the Connected Home Over IP (CHIP) effort, a smart home protocol standard which Apple, Amazon, and many others are a part of. I hoped for but didn’t expect to see much more than this passing mention, which was similar to Apple’s recent affirmation to CHIP during its World Wide Developer’s Conference last month. The most relevant CHIP mention was that Turner still expects the certification to be released before the end of the year.
With these announcements, Google has effectively set the stage for its smart home vision over the next year. And Android 11 will bring the first glimpses of a more effective smart home to consumers. After that, it’s up to device makers, developers, and CHIP before the full vision becomes reality.