At Google’s I/O developer conference earlier this year, alongside the launch of the Pixel 3a smartphone, the tech giant also revealed that it was merging its Home and Nest brands as part of its new smart home strategy.
That means some of your favourite smart home products now have new names such as Google Nest Hub or the Google Nest doorbell as part of this integration.
As well as a new name, the smart home team has a new philosophy: it’s no longer about the “smart home”, it’s going to be all about the “helpful home”.
“We think ‘smart home’ is a very tech-oriented way of explaining what something is to consumers,” explains Rishi Chandra, VP of Google Nest. “We’re technologists, we get caught up in the cool, gadgety stuff that we’re doing. But in the end, the consumer cares about, how are you helping me in a meaningful way?”
Here are five ways that Google hopes the helpful home will change your life.
1. Always accessible
Google’s new vision of the helpful home is powered by what Chandra is calling the next stage in computing: ambient computing.
It sounds complicated but really it’s just the next step in technology – we’ve had PC computing, web, mobile and now ambient computing is an “always accessible computer to you”.
We’re already experiencing this new wave of ambient tech with the likes of smart speakers, but Google expects this to go to the next level soon.
2. Instant connection
One way ambient computing will make your home more helpful is through instant connections. For instance, if you have a smart doorbell and a smart speaker on the same Wi-Fi network, they should recognise each other and connect up automatically.
“It should feel seamless to the user,” says Chandra. “We have an opportunity to integrate these devices in a deeper way than it is today – we just need to build it.”
3. Tech can tell who’s who
As computers become ‘always accessible’, they need to understand who is speaking to them and requesting an action. Google first introduced this with the voice match feature on the Google Assistant, so the AI can tell which person is speaking.
The company is taking this a step further with the new Google Nest Hub Max (£219, available to pre-order now) – the bigger version of the normal Home Hub, which includes a camera for the first time. “My Nest Hub Max is in a shared space, but when I interact with it, I want it to know it’s me, understand who I am and does the thing I want to do,” explains Chandra.
This is why the Hub Max features a “Face Match” feature – the camera can recognise who is in the room and the commands they want. Google also wants to take this a step further by working with service partners, such as Spotify.
“[The tech] should understand that when I’m listening to music and my kids walk in the room, don’t play explicit music. These are the conversations we’re having with the content services industry, how do we adjust and build better experiences for the home.”
4. Understanding privacy
Companies which make smart speakers have been in trouble recently over the recordings of conversations heard by the AI and the privacy implications of this. Google said at the time that it recorded some Assistant conversations to ensure the service works for different dialects – recording only 0.2 per cent of all audio snippets.
Privacy and security come up time and again as reasons people don’t like connected devices in their home. At I/O, the company has introduced a new set of privacy commitments. When the Nest Hub Max ships later this year, it will be the first Google product to include a privacy card in the box explaining to customers the different controls, what information the Hub Max is collecting and how to deal with it.
It also includes information on how to use the camera on the device. When the camera is on, there will be a green light on the front of the Hub Max. To turn off the camera, swipe up from the bottom of the screen and tap the camera icon.
Google says that any features that use the camera or microphones will be off until you choose to turn them on.
5. The ultimate home gadget
With our living spaces becoming ever more helpful, what new gadgets and devices could we see making themselves at home in our homes? For Google, it’s a case of less is more.
“My view is that the innovation is going to be less about launching new categories of devices but making the categories work in a way that solves new sets of problems,” says Chandra.
However, if there’s a product that pulls all this tech together, he thinks it’s the smart displays like the Nest Hub and Home Hub Max.
“I think they will be the centrepiece of the helpful home – they serve as input, you can interact, and they’re super easy to access. Reading out your calendar is much harder than just displaying your calendar. So having a screen that can actually guide and display information is much more powerful.”
Expect more “helpful home” features to come out of Google in the future. Chandra likens this moment to the invention of the telephone and its ability to connect people and homes.
“I believe that with the combination of web computing and ambient computing, we are at a new explosion of opportunities and new experiences that can really simplify people’s lives every day.”