Google Home Hub is Just Another Smart Display (Updated)

Posted on October 11, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Smart Home with 5 Comments

Update: Today, Google confirmed that Home Hub is just a Smart Display. —Paul

When Google first announced its Home Hub, I assumed that it was, you know, an actual smart home hub. It’s not. It’s just a Google-branded smart display. And one that comes with serious limitations compared to the competition.

Whether Google needs a “real” smart home hub is debatable. The geeks over at Stacey on IoT feel free strongly about this topic, but I think Google’s strategy is correct: It has put its hub functionality in the cloud, tied to your Google account, so that it’s now available from the Google Home app on mobile, or on the Google Home Hub and, soon, other smart displays.

The reason this makes sense is that compatibility with the Google Assistant/Google Home ecosystem is not optional for any smart home product or service. This isn’t Cortana, folks: It would be suicidal not to support the Google ecosystem. Google is counting on this. And as users of these products, we collectively expect it as well.

As for the Google Home app update, I got it last night and can report that it does function as a smart home hub. In other words, you can now control different types of devices from different hardware makers in a central location, much as you might from a “real” hardware hub such as Wink Hub or the Amazon Echo Plus, which provides a built-in Zigbee hub. It’s still pretty basic in some ways—I can control my Hue lights’ brightness but not their colors, from what I can tell—but they’re moving it in the right direction.

As for the Google Home Hub itself, I don’t see what all the fuss is. With a small 7-inch display, it’s tiny compared to existing smart displays like the excellent Lenovo Smart Display. This will make it less desirable in the kitchen, especially. You can’t use Google Home Hub in portrait mode, as you can with the Lenovo. And unlike other smart displays, Home Hub doesn’t even come with a camera, so video calls are impossible. (The Lenovo Smart Display has a physical shutter on its camera, and an off switch for its microphone, for privacy purposes.) That is nonsensical.

Yes, the Google Home Hub does have some unique features—its ambient EQ display is interesting, for example—but then that’s true of most hardware devices. But the big difference, for now, I guess, is its new dashboard view, which mimics the new Google Home app on mobile. You know, in that it is a software-based smart home hub. But this software will be made available on other smart displays. It’s not a differentiator.

Ultimately, the Home Hub is just a hardware-based middleman that sits, physically, between you and the Google Assistant and its cloud-based capabilities. It’s a microphone that will listen for your voice, a speaker that will communicate information, and a display that will augment that information with visual data.

It is, put simply, a smart display. Nothing more, nothing less. And not a very compelling one at that.


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