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Google’s Nest Hub Max: Smart Home Accessory, not Smart Home Hub

by Jack Narcotta | May 10, 2019

Google’s unveiling of the Nest Hub Max earlier this week at its annual I/O event isn’t particularly surprising. It’s a natural, if not expected, evolution of the Google Home Hub announced in late 2018 into a larger form factor sporting an integrated camera, Face Match facial recognition software, a bigger and higher resolution screen, and bumps up the audio quality to somewhere between the Home and Home Max speakers. 

Just don’t call it a smart home hub.

One of Nest Hub Max’ main selling points will likely be it does everything the Google Home Hub (now renamed the Nest Hub, as Google is bringing all its in-house smart home devices under the Nest brand) is capable of, albeit with a better display and fuller-sounding speakers. However this selling point doesn’t move the ball significantly further down the smart home field for Google.

Both the Nest Hub Max and the Nest Hub utilize the same range of Wi-Fi standards, both support Bluetooth 5.0, and both interface and interact with Google Assistant in the same ways and to the same degrees. These are table stakes if you’re a consumer in Google’s ecosystem, so there’s nothing new to note here. Hundreds, if not thousands of smart home devices support the same communications protocols.

Command and control of smart home devices, and creating scenes and routines on the Nest Hub Max via Google Assistant is the same as it is on the Nest Hub, any Google-branded smart speaker, or any third-party smart speaker compatible with Google Assistant. Again, no clear additional value to the smart home consumer is evident with the Nest Hub Max.

Compared to the Nest Hub, the Nest Hub Max does have a unique feature related to smart home: support for Google’s Thread networking protocol. On paper, this would seem to set up Nest Hub Max to truly act as a smart home hub. There are some well-known connected device companies and consumer brands that are members of the Thread Group – Apple, Arm, Arris, D-Link, eero, IKEA, Lutron, Osram, Samsung, and Yale, just to name a few.

However, in practice, support for Thread in the Nest Hub Max would be more compelling if Thread had a larger footprint in the smart home market. Even with the support of dozens of high-profile technology companies, Thread lags far behind competing smart home network protocols Zigbee and Z-Wave in terms of the number of devices deployed and brands supported. Further complicating things for Thread, Amazon has given Zigbee two huge votes of confidence: first by integrating Zigbee radios into its Echo Plus and Echo Show devices, and by joining the Zigbee Alliance board of directors in January 2019. 

Despite our criticism of the Nest Hub Max from a smart home perspective, Strategy Analytics believes it’s not a big miss for Google in smart speaker and smart display markets. If Google intended it to be a game-changer in the smart home, it would have equipped it with more robust, meaningful smart home features. The Nest Hub Max is a nice complement and logical addition to a growing line of Google-powered smart displays, and is fairly priced at $229, giving Google another arrow in its quiver to use against competitors such as Amazon’s Echo Show, Facebook’s Portal, JBL’s Link View, and Lenovo’s Smart Display.

However, as for enhancing Google’s smart home capabilities, Nest Hub Max is a smart home hub in name only. 
 
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