Android’s Twitter account reminds us of the feature divide between Nest Hubs and third-party Assistant smart displays

Android's Twitter account reminds us of the feature divide between Nest Hubs and third-party Assistant smart displays thumbnail

Google isn’t the best at explaining its own products. Yet another example of this happened only a few days ago, as the official Android Twitter account posted about a Google Assistant feature that seemed to be new at first glance. However, it ended up being a reminder that not only is Google bad at explaining what its products do, but also that the feature divide between the Nest Hub and third-party Assistant smart displays is alive and well.

Is your guest looking for a strong connection?

Just say “Ok Google, show me my guest network Wifi password,” and they can connect with their #Android camera.

— Android (@Android) January 23, 2020

The above video shows off a “show me my guest network Wifi password” voice command on a smart display, which causes a QR code to appear on the screen that Android devices can scan to connect. The ability to scan Wi-Fi QR codes was added in Android 10, but some manufacturers (like Samsung) implemented it on previous versions as well.

Our first thought was that this might be new, but as it turns out, this first showed up when the upgraded Google Nest Wifi system was released last year. Wired mentions it in the site’s review from 2019:

One of my favorite features of the Nest WiFi is the ability to easily connect guests. Everyone who comes over wants to hop on your network, but I have all sorts of drives and data connected to my network that I don’t want anyone else accessing, so I use a guest network for everyone who doesn’t live in the house. Any router can do that, but then you have to remember a second secure password and help guests type it in. The Nest eliminates that hassle. All I have to do is open up any connected Google device with a screen (an Android phone or smart display) and I can get a QR code. My guest scans the QR code and they’re connected. There’s no typing in passwords; it just works.

Okay, so not new. But does it actually work? Did it go away at some point in time and just now return, like the on-again-and-off-again Google Keep integration in Google Assistant? Members of the Android Police team reported varying results. It didn’t work from Android’s Assistant when a Nest Wifi guest network was set up, nor did it work on a Nest Hub on a first-generation Google Wifi system, and the command also had no effect on a Lenovo Smart Display with a Nest Wifi.

We were eventually able to confirm the command does work, but it might have the most narrow compatibility of any Google Assistant feature to date: not only do you need a latest-generation Nest Wifi system with the guest network enabled, but the command only works on Google’s own smart displays. No third-party displays, no phones or tablets, no Chromebooks — only two specific products. The original tweet failed to mention any of this, of course, so there were plenty of people just as confused as we were.

Can you explain how to get this working?

— Fozz (@Real_Fozz) January 23, 2020

This is not working for me. Can you all please release more details on the requirements. I have @madebygoogle Wi-Fi and @madebygoogle Home Display.

Does this only work for users with a Guest WiFi?

Any guidance on this would be appreciated, seems like a cool feature.

— Barney IV (@LeeWoods650) January 23, 2020

This does not work

— Jack Falk (@bitshiner) January 23, 2020

While “Google is bad at explaining things” could make for an editorial on its own, the more annoying issue is the continued feature gap between Google’s Nest displays and third-party displays. Since Nest Hubs use a Chromecast-based software stack, and third-party displays run Android Things, there are subtle differences between the two that usually don’t become apparent until well after you buy one or the other. Rita went into detail about the feature disparity back in 2018, pointing out that displays from Lenovo from JBL were often months late to receive features compared to Nest Hubs.

This is an especially strange case because there shouldn’t be anything stopping Google Assistant from showing a simple QR code across all platforms. Three months after the Nest Wifi first became available to buy, the ability to display a code for guest networks is still limited to two specific smart displays from Google.

Just Google being Google, I suppose.

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