Google is launching a new Nest hub smart display designed for your bedroom. It has a display, a sleep-sensing radar, and specifically omits a camera, so Google hopes users will plop the $99.99 device on their bedside table and along the way, create a new category of smart home device.
Much like we saw multiple features packed into a smartphone, Google (and likely Amazon) are packing more and more capabilities into their smart displays, designing a product that answers questions, controls the smart home, plays music and videos, and promotes wellness. I can imagine a future where many stand-alone sensors and devices are subsumed by the capabilities of these products. Google can too. This device has Thread, and will also support the delayed Connected Home over IP standard.
But let’s see where we’re at in this journey.
The second-generation Nest Hub has a seven-inch capacitive touch screen and a speaker with 50% more bass than the prior hub. It also has three microphones (one more than the prior version) which excited my husband who maintains that our current Nest Hub only hears him about half the time.
Google also included a local machine learning processor that will learn what your common requests are and process those commands on the device as opposed to sending them to the cloud. This will be awesome for those of you with toddlers who love Baby Shark when the internet goes out. Just kidding, the song is hosted in the cloud so Google will know what you want, but it won’t be able to deliver it.
It will be able to recognize your commands to turn on lights and handle that locally, however. But for all the tweaks, it’s the new sleep-tracking feature that is going to drive conversation around this device. Google is using its research into Project Soli, a radar chip that was developed to track fine-grained motion, inside this device. Soli was launched on the fourth Pixel Phone before getting dumped in the Pixel 5 last year. On phones, radar-mediated gesture control made little sense and apparently added a lot to the cost of the device.
I had long argued that Soli would work best when it comes to gesture-control on a smart display. With this product, Google does offer gestures for skipping songs and turning up the volume, but the product designers during a briefing went to great efforts to explain how Soli is also going to be used to track people’s sleep. This is part of an incursion into consumers’ bedrooms with the Google displays.
Along with sleep tracking, Google has built a sunrise alarm, taken out the camera, and doubled down on music, its picture frame features, and access to videos via YouTube, Disney+, and Netflix.
So about that sleep tracking. Apparently, 20% of Google Displays were already in use in the bedroom, according to Google, so it made sense to build features solely for this spot in the home.
To set up sleep tracking, a user needs to opt-in, set the device up on their bedside table, and calibrate the machine by lying in the spot where they sleep at night. The device only tracks one person and does so by sending radar pulses across your sleeping form to monitor your breathing. Google’s product managers say the company has looked at more than 100,000 nights of sleeping for thousands of volunteers and asserts that Soli sleep tracking is as accurate as a sleep lab test.
For people who don’t want to wear a wrist-based tracker or sleep on a special mattress pad, the new Nest Hub changes the game. You don’t have to charge it, and you don’t have to worry about a foreign object distracting you at a night. You will likely worry about privacy.
Google tries to alleviate those concerns by making sleep tracking an opt-in feature, but it also lets users easily delete the prior’s nights sleep or pause tracking in the app and with their voice. You get a visual indicator on the screen when the sleep tracking is on, and all of the motion data, as well as audio data from snores or coughing, is processed locally on the hub.
Google also noted that none of the sleep tracking data would be used to sell ads, but honestly, that’s not our big concern about Google’s forays into smart home and personal health devices. My worry is that Google will use data gleaned from sleep tracking, the Fitbit acquisition, the data coming to it from the smart home devices, and build incredibly accurate pictures of our home lives. It can use that information to build better services, but it can also use that information to lock newcomers out of a variety of markets. Additionally, by aggregating so much data about our lives it becomes an attractive target for law enforcement fishing for data after a crime.
With this launch Google also opened a window into its future by noting that sleep tracking will be free to buyers of the Nest Hub 2nd Generation for the rest of this year, implying that perhaps one day this might cost something or get wrapped up into a new service tied to the FitBit acquisition. I doubt that Google will suddenly turn the most compelling new feature on a smart display (and the reason I might consider an upgrade) into a paid service nine months after people buy it, but I do want to warn y’all. I suppose that’s what Google’s trying to do as well.
If you’re interested, you can pre-order it starting today and it will ship on March 25th. It comes in four colors and sells for $99.99.