I Was Invited to Preview the New Google Home App, Here’s What’s New
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Google Home has been crying out for an update for some time. In 2020 Google took the decision to sunset the Nest app in favor of Google Home, but in 2023 a lot of users are still finding themselves somewhere between the two. Hopefully, this updated app, currently available through Google’s public preview program, will bridge this disparity.
The home screen when you first launch the app has had a complete rethink. At the very top is the name of your Google Home, clicking this gives you the option of switching between your home and away settings, a nice touch for something that is often required to be done whilst on the move.
Further below are several categories of devices such as Cameras, Lighting and Climate. One good feature here is that within Lighting, for example, you have the option to turn off all lights, useful if you’re trying to save energy.
You then have Favorites (further details below) and a small widget at the bottom that shows what’s playing on your most recently used device. From here, you can pause, disconnect directly from the widget, or press it to get further options, such as volume.
At the very bottom is a menu where you can drill further into the app. Favorites (the default home screen), Devices, Automations, Activity and finally Settings.
Favorites is one of Google’s stand out features of the new app. You can add actions such as Lighting scenes, or multiple switches, or temperature changes, or any other combination of changes for devices compatible with Google Home.
It eliminates the previous issue of finding those devices you use more regularly. I was impressed that adding Nest cameras to Favorites gave you a live feed within the home screen, meaning I could view all areas of my home just by launching the app.
This is where the app gets a little disappointing. In the bottom right is a fixed + symbol for adding new devices. This takes you through the fairly straightforward process of adding either a Google product (such as Nest or Chromecast) or any other product compatible with Google Home (Hue lights, Sonos etc.). However, I’d have liked to have seen some better organization here.
Devices are grouped into the rooms to which they were assigned during set up, but they are essentially in just one huge list with the room as the heading. This means, if you have a lot of devices, you have to scroll down a huge list looking for the device you want to interact with. A cascading menu where you choose Room -> Device Type -> Device would be far easier to navigate.
Activity is a nice new feature as it shows past events from around your home. I particularly like this feature for the Nest cameras as it shows a sped up animation of the footage relating to a particular event (e.g. unfamiliar face seen on Driveway Camera).
But it also shows a list of other events such as manual temperature changes on your thermostat, heard events (if you have this feature enabled) or changes on your account (e.g. new devices being added, or permissions being altered). You can filter this history so that only events from certain devices or types of events are shown.
Camera Timeline View
The Nest camera timeline has had a refresh. Previously accessing a camera showed a sliding time bar that could be scrolled back to earlier recordings, events being highlighted with a blue line. Now, all the events are shown with animated snippets below the main feed, making it much easier to navigate to a specific moment.
Google Home for Web
Another new feature is Google Home for Web. This is also still in its preview mode, but navigating to home.google.com will give you a view of all your cameras in your browser, and allow some minor functionality (turning them on or off). It’s limited to cameras at the moment, but let’s hope Google adds in some other smart home controls.
An update for the Google App Home app has been long overdue. Google’s suite of smart home products are expensive by market comparison, and forums are currently rife with complaints of devices not functioning as expected (see here for our article on Google Nests depleting reliability).
The new version of the app has improved the navigability and added some nice features, but it’s brought it up to a level slightly less short of it’s competitors. The main issue, apparent from Google’s users’ social media gripes, is the functionality of the app and how it interacts with its compatriot devices. Until this is addressed, the migration of consumers away from Google’s Smart Home product line is likely to continue.