Friday, May 24, 2024

Google opens up its smart home to everyone and will make Google TVs home hubs

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Google has announced that it’s opening up API access to its Google Home smart home platform. This means that any app maker — smart home-related or not — can access the over 600 million devices connected to Google Home and tap into the Google Home automation engine to create smart solutions for their users inside their own app.

The Home APIs can access any Matter device or Works with Google Home device, and allows developers to build their own experiences using Google Home devices and automations into their apps on both iOS and Android. This is a significant move for Google in opening up its smart home platform, following shutting down its Works with Nest program back in 2019.

In a blog post published during its Google I/O developer conference this week, Google said some of its first partners to use the Home APIs include ADT and Eve. The home security company, of which Google is an investor, is launching a new Trusted Neighbor feature that leverages Google smart home products to let customers “grant secure and temporary access to their homes for neighbors, friends or helpers.”

Smart home device maker Eve is using the APIs to bring its app to Android for the first time “and build helpful automations like lowering the blinds when the temperature drops at night.” Additionally, Google Pixel devices will use the APIs to bridge “the digital and physical worlds so that bedtime mode can not only dim your screen but can also automatically dim your bedroom lights, lower the shades and lock the front door.”

The Home APIs are already available to Google’s early access partners, and Google is opening up a waitlist for any developer to sign up today. “We are opening up access on a rolling basis so they can begin building and testing within their apps,” Anish Kattukaran, head of product at Google Home and Nest, told The Verge. “The first apps using the home APIs will be able to publish to the Play and App stores in the fall.”

While the Nest Learning Thermostat still doesn’t support Matter, with Google Home’s new Home APIs, developers will be able to integrate it directly into their apps.
Image: Google

The access is not just limited to smart home developers. In the blog post, Matt Van Der Staay, engineering director at Google Home, said the Home APIs could be used to connect smart home devices to fitness or delivery apps. “You can build a complex app to manage any aspect of a smart home, or simply integrate with a smart device to solve pain points — like turning on the lights automatically before the food delivery driver arrives.”

He also cited ideas like a workout app that could keep you cool while working out by switching on a fan or a vacation rental app that could adjust the house to prepare for guests by turning lights on and adjusting the temperature.

The APIs allow access to most devices connected to Google Home and to the Google Home structure, letting apps control and manage devices such as Matter light bulbs or the Nest Learning Thermostat. They also leverage Google Home’s automation signals, such as motion from sensors, an appliance’s mode changing, or Google’s Home and Away mode, which uses various signals to determine if a home is occupied.

Van Der Staay said smart lock maker Yale is using the Automation API to allow its users to set lights to turn on when the front door is unlocked at night through its Yale Access app. However, Kattukaran said that while the company plans to make all devices available via the Home APIs, “V1.0 may not include a limited set of devices (for example, cameras).” 

While these types of automations can be set up in the Google Home app today, expanding to other apps could really broaden the appeal of and access to the smart home. It would also allow smart home developers to build more powerful apps leveraging all the devices that can connect to Google Home, similar to how developers accessed the Nest Learning Thermostat using the Works with Nest program, until Google shut it down, citing security concerns.

Van Der Staay said the new program is designed to be private and secure. “Users are always in control and need to explicitly grant access to their structure and smart home devices before an app can access it. And they can easily revoke access at any time from the Google Home app.” Developers also need to pass certification to use the APIs. 

Google is turning its TVs into smart home hubs with local control of devices

What’s also interesting here is that developers will be able to use the APIs to access and control any device that works with the new smart home standard Matter and even let people set up Matter devices directly in their app. This should make it easier for them to implement Matter into their apps, as it will add devices to the Google Home fabric, so they won’t have to develop their own.

In addition, Google announced that it’s vastly expanding its Matter infrastructure by turning Google TVs into Google Home hubs and Matter controllers. Any app using the APIs would need a Google hub in a customer’s home in order to control Matter devices locally.

Later this year, Chromecast with Google TV, select panel TVs with Google TV running Android 14 or higher, and some LG TVs will be upgraded to become Google Home hubs. (I’ve asked Google if they will also be Thread-capable and will update when I hear back.)

Additionally, Kattukaran said Google will upgrade all of its existing home hubs — which include Nest Hub (second-gen), Nest Hub Max, and Google Wifi — with a new ability called Home runtime.

“All hubs for Google Home will be able to directly route commands from any app built with Home APIs … to a customer’s Matter device locally”

“With this update, all hubs for Google Home will be able to directly route commands from any app built with Home APIs (such as the Google Home app) to a customer’s Matter device locally, when the phone is on the same Wi-Fi network as the hub,” said Kattukaran. This means you should see “significant latency improvements using local control via a hub for Google Home,” he added.

This is a huge step forward for Google Home and the smart home in general. While the platform has seen improvements over the past year, it’s still suffered from a lack of automation options and slow response times due to its reliance on the cloud. With new automation signals, including finally adding open and close for contact sensors and temperature changes as signals, plus local control of Matter devices, the tools are in place for a powerful smart home platform.

I’m also excited to see what developers — and other platforms — do with this type of access to Google’s devices and automations. It’s a significant shift that could take the smart home from niche to necessary.

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