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Android 11 beta’s smart home controls are a fresh start, but need to stay simple

There’s a reason I prefer commanding Google Assistant to turn on the lights in my apartment through the many smart speakers I have around. It’s easier than taking a smartphone out of my pocket, then opening the Google Home app, or the respective app I’ve downloaded for that gadget.

However, Google Assistant has its own challenges to overcome, and can be tripped up now and then. One misunderstood word can leave with the lights at full blast in your living room, when you wanted them turned low in the dining room.

That’s why I’m digging Google’s new quick-access interface for smart home devices. It was found first in the Android 11 Developer Preview, and can now be found in the Android 11 beta.

No fuss, fast access

The Google Home app can be overwhelming. Just one look at what’s on my smartphone, and I can assure you my dad would be intimidated when trying to figure out how to turn on the lights. It’s a mess, so it’s great that the quick-access interface in Android 11 makes it easier (for just about anyone) to interact with the smart home.

Android 11 Beta Smart Home Controls

Holding down the power button on my Google Pixel 4 (running the Android 11 beta) brings up a new pop-up splash screen that grants access to Google Pay, power controls, and also the Google Home interface I’m talking about. The grid-like arrangement reminds me of HomeKit’s layout, but I appreciate how this menu can instantly be accessed at any time.

Indeed, smart speakers are my first preference for commanding Google Assistant, but there are instances when using my phone is easier, including when lawn mowers are running relentlessly outside and the deafening noise makes it challenging for Google Assistant to hear my instructions.

Cameras, bots, and more

My customizable interface is largely dominated by the various smart LED light bulbs I have, but you can also add controls to access your cameras. Again, it’s useful that I can access my Google Nest Cam IQ Indoor through the interface, which overlays to the livestream after pressing on the corresponding button. I would like to see a preview of some sort, whether it’s a still image or the live stream itself, within the main interface. In the beta, it’s nothing more than a button to access the camera.

Android 11 Beta Smart Home Controls Camera Access

On top of customizing the layout of the interface, there’s an option to add controls to many other gadgets connected to the Google Home app. For example, my two robot vacuums and Roku streaming stick are among the options to pick from.

However, they don’t do anything at the moment when I press on their corresponding buttons. I can’t reiterate enough how useful it would be if the most important controls were accessible. Commands to have the robot vacuums start cleaning or return home would make sense, while a command to stream my phone’s screen to Roku is another logical option.

Android 11 Beta Smart Home Controls Adjusting Lights

Another set of controls include adjusting the brightness intensity of my smart LED light bulbs. Once they’ve been activated, I’m able to adjust them through the same icon, which displays the corresponding percentage. That’s the way it should be.

Simplicity is key

I can’t stress enough how rare it is for me to run the dedicated Google Home app to interact with my smart home. It’s just easier on most occasions to do it through a smart speaker.

That’s why it’s imperative for Google to keep this new interface simple and straightforward. It shouldn’t have all the same controls and functions as the Google Home app, but rather, focus on the most useful controls.

As we get closer to a final Android 11 release, I’m eager to see what Google decides to add into this interface. Interestingly enough, it’s accessible even if your phone is locked. However, you can’t perform commands, such as turning on the lights or viewing a camera’s livestream, without unlocking the phone first. Now that’s taking privacy into consideration.

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John Velasco
John is the Smart Home editor at Digital Trends covering all of the latest tech in this emerging market. From uncovering some…
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