Google held its I/O 2022 event yesterday, but one much-rumored device was noticeably absent: The Nest Hub. Rumors had originally stated that there would be a Nest Hub with a detachable front screen that would work as a sort of “smart tablet.” These were based off leaks that most likely pointed to the newly announced Pixel Tablet, releasing sometime in 2023. While there is some disappointment among Nest fans, it’s not the right time for an update for several reasons.
The 2nd Gen Nest Hub released last year
The 2nd Gen Nest Hub released on March 30, 2021. That means it’s been just over a year since new hardware entered the market. The previous iteration of the Nest Hub released three years before that, and even with those three years to develop for it, the hardware didn’t change that much. The biggest changes were sleep-sensing capabilities and better audio quality. While a detachable screen could work as a sort of portable tablet, there’s not much use for it — not realistically. Anything a portable smart tablet could do can also be done on your phone, and probably faster.
The one hardware upgrade I can see Google pushing for is a significantly larger screen — perhaps something to compete with the Echo Show 15. Right now, Alexa has cornered the market on smart displays. The Echo Show 15 is massive and feels like a true smart device, while the Echo Show 10 caters to those who use Amazon’s communications features. Both of those devices have a specific purpose, but the Nest Hub has always felt vaguely like an afterthought.
Software is the next frontier
The only smart-home related announcement at Google I/O 2022 focused on new feature updates for the Nest Hub Max (not even the standard Nest Hub.) These updates relied on the Nest Hub Max’s built-in camera to recognize when you’re looking directly at the device, eliminating the need to say “Hey Google” repeatedly. This is a key feature that makes it more convenient to use; after all, wake words can sometimes be irritating. While watching the event, my own Nest devices triggered several times from the audio cues.
Another update came in the form of Quick Phrases. While this feature first showed up on the Google Pixel 6 last year, it’s now making its way to the Nest Hub Max. It utilizes the Voice Match feature to determine who is speaking, and certain commands can be given without the wake word. It’s a shortcut to some of the most commonly used features, like asking the time or setting a timer.
As far as the Nest Hub, all of Google’s attention should be on capabilities related to the Google Assistant.
The Nest Hub doesn’t feel like it has a set purpose
Google Assistant is the driving force behind the Nest Hub, but it feels divided. Half of it is targeted toward phones, while the other half is for smart assistants. Sure, it’s more conversational and easier to speak to than Alexa, but it doesn’t feel like there’s as much need to talk to Google Assistant. If I need information, I could ask — but Googling it on my computer feels like a much faster way to find what I’m looking for.
Alexa, on the other hand, aims itself at shoppers. You can order anything you need for your household. The Echo Show is often considered one of the best smart kitchen gadgets for that reason. Realize you’re out of something? Add it to your shopping list. Making dinner? Pull up a recipe. The Echo Show 15, with its large screen space and built-in widgets, functions like an actual command center in the home — you can leave notes, check to-do and shopping lists, glance at your commute time, and much more. The Nest Hub just doesn’t match up to that.
Google needs to solidify the audience the Nest Hub is serving. On a whole, the Nest series of smart speakers is aimed at audiophiles; the existence of the Nest Audio is proof of that. If you want functional smart speakers that provide better sound quality, then go with Nest — but Google shouldn’t divide the audience the way it has.
I’ve had a Nest Hub for years. It sits on my desk primarily as a digital photo frame that also has the time and the weather displayed on it. I glance at it from time to time. The Echo Show I use on a daily basis.
Before Google updates the hardware, Google needs to update its purpose. The Nest line of products needs a target audience beyond the general “smart home user” demographic. Google has the potential to tie in a lot of smart features through its phones; better geofencing, for example. At present, Nest feels like it’s trying to please everyone, but it should narrow its focus. Maybe then it wouldn’t feel so much like the Nest Hub exists solely to compete with the Echo Show.
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