Google Wants to Make a 'Helpful Home', Not a 'Smart Home'

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The concept of a "smart home" has been around for a long time. For decades, movies and books have glorified the idea of a house that can talk to you when you get home. We've even seen plenty of Rube Goldberg machines built in movies like 'Honey I Shrunk the Kids' or the 'Wallace and Gromit' series back in the 80s that cooked eggs for your breakfast, or made your bed for you. It's a concept that's been slowly coming to fruition with the advent of smart home gadgets, but Google doesn't want to use that term anymore.

It's understandable, too, because the term 'smart' has been vastly overused since smartphones started becoming more commonplace over a decade ago. Rishi Chandra, Vice President of Product and General Manager at Google Nest, spoke with Forbes about the term and what Google would rather use, instead. Chandra says he would rather coin the verbiage 'helpful home' with its products rather than 'smart home', as it represents a less-techy way of describing what Google Nest's products do and how the are designed to operate.

Smart technology is such a ubiquitous term that it could mean anything from a small connected device that only serves one or two functions, or a complex device that requires lots of technical know-how to get it going. That's why Google wants to recoin the term for their products because, in the end, people are buying Nest Thermostats and Nest + Yale Smartlocks to be more helpful in their lives, not so they can feel smart.

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Chandra says that, for the next five to ten years, Google Nest is going to be focusing on how to make its "ambient computing" products more helpful and less obvious, blending in with the rest of the home and becoming part of your everyday routine, instead. For example, Google has been working to further personalize Assistant with voice match or face match technologies; something that became significantly more obvious when it launched on the Google Home Hub last year (now known as the Google Nest Hub).

Matching your voice or face to actions has created an environment where one person can ask what their schedule is for the day without having to worry about identifying themselves, yet they still get personalized information, like their commute to work or school, or the important things that are happening on their personal calendar. It also means that video or music content can be more easily personalized for people, including mature content restrictions for younger members of the family.

That means if you've got little ears in the house and Google knows it, the content service can tailor experiences that are more appropriate for the whole family rather than playing things you didn't want them to see or hear.

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Chandra also goes on to speak of privacy concerns with IoT, smart home devices, and of course Google Nest's own products as well. Having a camera on all the time that can give a nefarious person the ability to spy on your family or belongings is frightening in any scenario. This is one reason why some products with cameras, like the Google Nest Hub Max, have physical covers that can keep these cameras from turning on until you want them on.

Chandra also wants to step back on the number of microphones that are on products, which seems to be a stark contrast with what Google and Nest have done in the past. Nest came under fire when users discovered that an update enabled a "hidden" microphone on the Nest Guard, which seems to be a marketing mistake they won't make again.

Interoperability is the last problem Chandra is looking to solve in this 'helpful home' product cycle. Smart home gear is notoriously difficult to use unless it's all from one brand, and oftentimes you'll find that services like IFTTT are the only thing linking many of these products together at all. While IFTTT is simple to use and is incredibly robust, it's a third-party solution that the "average Joe" most likely won't ever bother with because it's yet another step required to get things working.

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Chandra likens this debacle to the Internet browser issue that plagued web designers and consumers in the 90s, where certain web pages would only work with certain browsers and developers had to create many different versions of the same thing just to work with all popular software options on the market. Google worked with several other industry players to solve this issue with Chromium, which most modern browsers are built upon, and is looking to do the same with the 'helpful home'.