For those in the “Hey, Google” camp, there’s another product in Google’s voice-controlled hardware lineup: the Google Nest Hub Max, a smart speaker with a tablet-sized touchscreen and a smart camera, which was announced at today’s I/O developer conference.
It’s a follow-up to the camera-less, smaller-screen Google Home Hub voice assistant released in the fall, with added video chat and security camera capabilities. The device, slated for a summer 2019 release, will cost $229 at Best Buy, Target, and Home Depot and online at the Google Store.
The Nest Hub Max’s embedded, front-facing “Nest” camera, with a wide-angle, 127-degree lens, is its defining feature. It can be used for video chat and for recording video messages through Duo, Google’s video calling app for iPhone and Android. While you chat, the camera automatically pans and zooms to follow people as they move around the room, a feature seen before in Facebook’s Portal device.
It does double duty as a Nest security camera, too. People can access a live feed of the Hub Max’s camera from their smartphones. When the camera is accessed, a green LED light on the device lights up. While the live feed is free, a subscription to Nest is required for recording and motion detection.
“Face Match,” a new facial-recognition feature, recognizes up to six household members and unlocks a personalized notifications view. For example, you’ll be able to stand in front of the Hub Max to see events from your personal calendar, reminders, and traffic alerts for your commute, among other things. The artificial intelligence that powers the feature is done on the device itself, meaning that video frames of your face aren’t sent to Google servers, according to Ashton Udall, product lead for smart displays at Google. Google Home devices without screens can already recognize different voices with "Voice Match."
The camera can recognize “quick gestures” as well. People standing up to 12 feet away can simply hold up their hand to play or pause video or audio.
And it can play videos from YouTube or, if you’re a subscriber, content from HBO Now, CBS, and others (no Netflix or Amazon Prime, though).
With the launch of the Google Nest Hub Max, the tech giant is more fully integrating Nest — the smart-thermometer and security camera company that Google acquired in 2014 — into its Google-branded products. The old Google Home Hub will be renamed the Nest Hub.
A survey by eMarketer estimates that more than a quarter, 26.8%, of US adults will use a smart speaker by the end of the year. The market is dominated by Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo products, with 63.3% of smart-speaker owners, but that share is expected to shrink through 2020 as Google Home (31%) and Apple’s HomePod (12%) ownership grows, according to eMarketer. Amazon also has a line of voice-controlled displays with cameras, called the Echo Show and Echo Spot.
One potential barrier is privacy concerns consumers have raised around always-listening microphones and internet-connected cameras, like the kind on the Nest Hub Max. In April a Bloomberg report found that a team at Amazon listens to people’s audio snippets recorded by Alexa devices and can see the customer’s first name and an account number. A new California proposal, AB1395, aims to force companies to completely and permanently delete your data when you tell them to. Last year, Google changed its default Assistant setting to not record its users’ “Hey, Google” commands. (You can turn it off in settings.)
The Nest Hub Max includes a switch that physically disables the device’s microphone and camera.