Yesterday in San Francisco, Google launched a pair of new smartphones, some AV devices and a Surface-like tablet. But future events could just as easily devote a large portion of their running time to the Internet of Things and smart home devices. Tilt your head by 90 degrees and you can almost spot Google’s subtle strategy to become the dominant name in your home — after all, as the phone market begins to play itself out, it’s only natural that the firm would move onto the next big thing. After years of lingering on the periphery of the industry, perhaps souped-up lightbulbs and thermostats are ready for their day in the sun.
But first, let’s consider the Chromecast, which is one of many options in the stripped-down smart-TV-dongle market. Unlike its rivals, the device doesn’t ship with a remote, so users are compelled to learn how to control their TVs from their phones. History has shown that the fastest way to get over the scare factor when a new technology comes along is to, somehow, relate it to the home entertainment experience. The best example is how Nintendo styled the Wii controllers to look like TV remotes so that people wouldn’t be intimidated to use them. But Google is hoping that the ubiquity of smartphones and the hardware’s dirt-cheap, almost throwaway price will wean people away from dedicated remotes.
It’s the same situation with the Chromecast Audio, since there are multitudes of wireless audio adapters that’ll bolt onto your existing HiFi setup. Google is betting that you’d much prefer to upgrade your current hardware for $35, rather than the $350 it’d cost for a Sonos Connect. But again, the smartphone is becoming the center of your home entertainment experience at the expense of dedicated controllers. For that little money, people who wouldn’t otherwise have bothered will take the leap based just on Google’s brand alone. Either way, they’re being gently, stealthily, encouraged to use their phones to run their homes.
But a smart TV and a slightly smarter HiFi setup won’t be able to establish Google as the king of the smart home hill on their own. That’s where OnHub comes in, because the $200 router promises to end your poor WiFi signal woes once and for all. Tucked inside that canister, however, are Bluetooth, Weave and ZigBee radios that are all lying dormant, ready to be activated in a future software update. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Google could enable its smartphones to run all compatible smart home products, like Philips’ Hue bulbs.
By the end of this year, Google will release Brillo, a stripped-down version of Android that’s designed for the smart home. This will be paired with Weave, a Nest-developed protocol that, as mentioned, is also baked into OnHub and can control other Internet of Things devices. It’s not too much to think that Nest users will opt for new Brillo devices since it’ll work seamlessly with their existing tech. It doesn’t matter much if they don’t, either, since OnHub can also work with ZigBee devices. In which case, it’s possible that Google could push an app out that’d take over every device in your home.
Imagine a situation where Google Now knows when you’re driving home from work and kicks up the temperature accordingly. If you have HDMI-CEC enabled then your Chromecast could have the TV tuned to your favorite Netflix show by the time you’re through the door. Given the rapidly falling price of smart lightbulbs, the lights could automatically dim when you sit down on the couch. Hell, this setup could even start pre-heating your oven so that your DiGiorno pizza can be on your table 20 minutes after you get through the door. It may sound like madness right now, but next year’s Nexus event could have a whole lot more Brillo in it.