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New Nest hardware is coming, but will Gemini be ready?

4 weeks ago 55

For more than a year now, Google has made it clear that this is the company’s “Gemini era.” With what seems to be a Nest hardware renaissance on the horizon, where does Google’s smart home fit into the Gemini era?

Google is putting its full focus into AI development, and there’s no amount of dunking on social media that will get it to back down. Even the Google Assistant, once the company’s flagship product for smart home and mobile devices, is beginning to be replaced with Gemini. For owners of Pixel phones and other newer Android devices, Gemini can outright take over for Google Assistant, at least to a certain extent.

When we last demonstrated Google’s upcoming support for Gemini on the Pixel Tablet, we found that the same “Hey Google” invocation could summon either Gemini or Assistant, depending on whether your tablet is docked. Add in the fact that the Pixel Tablet is now readily available without the smart home-oriented dock, and it seems as though the Google Assistant is on the way out.

In the smart home, Gemini and Assistant take something of a tag-team approach. If you ask Gemini on your phone something like, “Turn on the living room lights,” Gemini will work with Assistant to get the job done. Despite Google’s near-universal intentions for Gemini, the company thus far has not publicly discussed bringing Gemini-powered answers and actions to speakers, smart displays, or televisions, leaving Assistant in charge.

However, by all indications, Google is preparing a massive wave of smart home products to be released in the next year or so. In the last year, 9to5Google has reported on a new Nest Audio speaker, Nest Hub Max smart display, Nest Wifi, and Chromecast with Google TV (4K), most of which are typically Google Assistant-equipped gadgets. Google has also partnered with ADT to bring more hardware and features into the Nest/Google Home ecosystem.

As it stands, Gemini and Google Assistant offer two distinct ways to be “helpful.” Assistant – and particularly its “next-gen” upgrade on the Pixel 4 and newer – does well enough at handling on-device tasks for you, such as “Play Twenty One Pilots on Spotify.” Give that same request to Gemini on a Pixel phone, and you’ll be told that it can’t help you.

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Next-gen Assistant (left) and Gemini (center, right)

Meanwhile, Gemini is capable of giving thorough and (usually) well-reasoned answers to even complex questions. For now, it can’t help with any tasks for which a dedicated “extension” hasn’t been made, though Google repeatedly stressed its intention for Gemini to be more “agentive” – acting on your behalf – in the future. While the feature was initially dubbed “Assistant with Bard,” it’s currently much closer to “Gemini with Assistant.”

But what if we could meet somewhere in the middle? On phones, if you ask Gemini for something that Google Assistant should handle instead, that handoff happens automatically. What if the new Nest Audio and Nest Hub Max – which absolutely need to be rooted in Assistant’s task-oriented nature – could seamlessly hand off questions to Gemini?

For example, if I say, “Hey Google, play rain sounds,” the usual Assistant can handle that without the use of AI. But if I ask something complex – “Hey Google, what are some fun things to do inside on a rainy day?” – the Assistant could pass the question along to Gemini for a more detailed response.

I believe a compromise along these lines would be the best-case scenario for Nest. As Google I/O 2024 made abundantly clear, every Google product needs to incorporate Gemini (or AI in general) to stay relevant (to execs), but it’s equally clear that Gemini is neither consistent enough nor capable enough of serving as the center of the smart home.

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