5 things that the Google Home app needs to improve the smart home experience

Google Home App Lifestyle
Google Home App Lifestyle (Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Some of the best smart speakers on the market are integrated into the Google Home app, and in Google's quest to control all of your smart home gear — the Home app is key. While Google has made some very beneficial changes to the app since it first launched, it still has a ways to go to be the one app to rule them all. Google Assistant is the platform that I gravitated toward to control my smart home endeavors, and though I'm happy with it, for the most part, I have some thoughts for some Google Home app improvements to make it even better.

Google Home app needs: Alarm and timer controls

Google Home App Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

While this one may not seem like that much of an issue if you only have one smart speaker in your home, if you have multiple devices or people using them, being able to control timers or alarms from the Home app would be amazing. I have a family of four in my house, including my two young children, who use our smart speakers for all sorts of things.

Alarm and timer notifications from the Google Home app would be helpful for times when you set the timer inside the home and then go outside.

I can't tell you the number of times an alarm or timer has been set by one of my kids in a room, only for them to leave to go do something else before it has gone off. This means I now have to track down where the sound is coming from to stop it. If a notification would show up on my phone alerting me that the timer or alarm was sounding, along with the ability to control it — that would be amazing.

This feature could also come in handy for families when an alarm has been errantly set for a child, and you need to shut it off before it wakes them. Being able to see what timers are active and the alarms set per device, or ideally a button to see a list of what's active, would be very helpful. Then by selecting an alarm, you are taken to the screen similar to what is already in the clock app, similar to the best Android phones.

Google Home app needs: Better broadcast controls

Google Home App Smart Speaker Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

The broadcast feature is hands-down my wife's absolute least favorite of Google Assitant smart speakers. This is for a few different reasons. One isn't really Google's fault. Her main gripe is derived by our kids, who like to tell us something through a broadcast from the other room instead of simply walking to where we are. But it's also because when a message comes through, it reacts like an echo, an actual echo, not the Amazon device.

When the broadcasted message plays, it doesn't do so simultaneously on all of the speakers. It will be out of sync by a word or two, or worse, minutes. That long delay can be creepy when the message is seemingly done and then suddenly starts playing on another device. Google has been working to improve its broadcast functionality for a while now, but it's still not clear.

Trying to broadcast to a specific speaker can be confusing if you have multiple devices and don't know the exact name. Being able to initiate that message from the Google Home app by either selecting the speaker or room you want to send the message to or by choosing the Broadcast shortcut button that already exists.

Currently, if you tap on the existing Broadcast button in the Home app, all it does is activate Google Assitant for you to start speaking to. After selecting the Broadcast button, an improvement would be that it would show the devices capable of receiving the message, then allowing you to pick where you want the message broadcast. Also, the ability to remove smart speakers from being broadcasted to would be helpful.

Google Home app needs: More robust Routines

Google Home App Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Routines are another area that Google has been making great strides in improving. I have set up a few Routines that do a fine job of automating various functions. Having a chain reaction occur via voice command, time of day, or by initiating from the Home app is great — not perfect.

One thing I ask from Google, while not a change in how Routines work but more of a complaint, to not have the Routines that are triggered via a specific time of day get messed up due to daylight savings time. This one really annoys me.

The automation options available in the Home app for Routines can do basic functions quite well, except that not all devices connected to your Home app can be included in a Routine. While this could be an issue with partner services, Samsung SmartThings connects to Google Assistant and Home, but not all of the devices in my SmartThings setup are available in the Home app.

For more complex automation, I have to use IFTTT to execute a command containing multiple actions.

One example is that I have some SmartThings branded motion sensors that I would like to use in creating a Routine. When I open a door, I'd like for the light to come on, and then after a specified period of time that motion is no longer detected, turn the light off. I can't do this in the Google Home app.

Creating a chain reaction of events as If This Then That, IFTTT, allows is something that is sorely missing from the Routines feature in the Google Home app. Google Assistant can control hundreds of device types from hundreds of different brands, but many of them are limited in what can be done in the Home app in terms of automation.

Google Home app needs: Improved device maintenance

Google Home App Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

I have been building out my smart home for about five years now. In that time, I have used many different brands of devices, some of which need to connect to their own hub before connecting to the Google Home app. In the big picture, this isn't a huge deal, but the issue is when you end up with duplicates — let me explain.

As I mentioned in the Routines section, I use Samsung SmartThings to control some devices that aren't compatible with or that I need additional functionality from or aren't available from the Google Home app. The Routine section illustrates the duplicate device issue clearly.

I have a motion sensor turn a Philips Hue smart light on when motion is detected and off when movement stops. To accomplish this action, I have to connect my Philips Hue account to my SmartThings account. I also have my Hue account tied to my Google Home for various reasons. This means that I now have duplicates of every light in my Philips Hue account showing in my Google Home app. It would be helpful when adding my Samsung SmartThings account to Google to choose the devices I do and don't want to include in the Home app.

Another device management feature that would be helpful is when asking Google Assistant to perform an action, and when a device is unavailable, to tell you what device it was in the Home app. When multiple brands are used in a single room, and a single voice command can control them all, it is difficult to know what device or brand isn't working correctly when the Google Assistant simply says, "Sorry a device was unavailable."

Google Home app needs: Better device organization

Google Home App Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Device grouping is another area that could use some improvements within the Google Home app. As it currently stands, each device can only be in a single room. Being able to organize devices like lights in multiple groups can allow for further smart home customization that isn't currently available.

An example of how this could work is how Philps Hue does its Rooms and Zones. I have Hue lights in the room called Living Room, but some of those lights I have in a Zone. The way it works is if I turn on my Living Room lights in the Hue app, all of the devices in that room will turn on.

However, if I want to turn on the devices in my Zone called Living Room Colors, the devices in my room called Living Room, only the lights in that Zone would turn on. When I turn on my Living Room lights, all of the devices in that room will turn on — even the devices in the Zone called Living Room Colors.

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central

Google already allows something similar to this with its speaker groups. You can have a smart speaker show up in the Home app in a room and as a part of one or more groups. This same idea should be available for other devices as well.

What features do you want to see?

With Google I/O right around the corner, do you think we'll see any improvements to the Google Home app? The company is constantly working to improve its products, and I hope to see some of that come to the Home app. What changes would you like to see?

Chris Wedel
Smart Home Writer
Chris Wedel is a fan of all things tech and gadgets. Living in rural Kansas with his wife and two young boys makes finding ways to get and stay online tricky. By utilizing his years of experience with the tech and mobile communications industries — success is assured. When not conquering connectivity challenges and testing new gadgets, he enjoys cruising a gravel road in his UTV with some good tunes.
  • There's 2 things is like to see:
    1. be able to nest rooms. For example have floors (upstairs, downstairs, etc) and put rooms in them. I could then say "hey Google turn off the downstairs lights" 2. Be able to assign devices and rooms to home members so then the owner of the device could say "hey Google, turn on my bedroom light"or I as a parent could say "turn off X's light"
  • The work-around for nesting the rooms is to just set-up a routine and adjust individual devices accordingly or perform a number of your own custom commands. This way when you say "Turn off the first floor", your custom commands could be "turn off the living room" + "turn off the kitchen" + "turn off the playroom" (all the rooms on the first floor) and Google will address all the items that are grouped into each one of those rooms. I understand your logic of groups within a master group but once you embrace the assistant custom commands having to nest everything in a hierarchy although very convenient and tidy is not necessary. The second request should be addressable by proper room and item nomenclature because once you are in the room the lights in that room are triggered by on/off requests without specificity. The only issue I could see is if you label an item exactly the same in two separate rooms without appropriately prefacing the name with the room that it is in. Desk Lamp should be Living room desk lamp and Joe's room desk lamp but an easier way to manage things would be Brown lamp and White Lamp. My child decided on "Little Light" for the desk lamp.
  • While I agree that the workarounds do take care of some of the issues, most of the "average users" aren't going to want to dig in and create a custom routine that could be accomplished by allowing nested room/multi-room devices. Great tips though to help those who are willing to take the time to build the workarounds!
  • And workarounds is exactly what they are: a temporary hack until a permanent fix is found. Additionally, a routine is fine if all you want to do is turn the lights off. If you want to be able to change brightness, colour etc. You would have to create a routine for each possibility. Not really a viable method. Naming devices is what we do at the moment however this has it's own problems. Naming a light, "James's light" for example and then asking Google to "turn off James's light" nearly always results in "I'm sorry, I didn't understand". Whereas "turn off bedroom 2 light" works perfectly but is less natural. Also knowing which room a device is in only works if there is an assistant device in every room.
  • Just implement Broadcast the way that Amazon does and give me more triggers. A true intercom is needed. Once you allow device state triggers for implementing routines or actions Google Home can be used for all of my automation needs and I can get rid of my hub automations and IFTTT.
  • I want the same thing I've wanted from the Google Wifi app. More granular control to block websites on children's devices. Why can't we choose a whitelist or blacklist for websites in the app? For any router this should be a must at this point.
  • I didn't realize this was missing from the Home app since I haven't reached the point I need that just yet with my kids due to their age, but I'm getting close.
  • Google Cast to support Multiple Access Points. The fact it doesn't breaks Google Home's awesome Speaker Groups. Every Google Cast device must be on the same Wifi AP for the Speaker Group to see them. The whole point you may have multiple Access Points is because Wifi doesn't reach, which is unavoidable, so it's a pain my phone sees different devices depending where I am in the house.
  • Bring back Phone Calling in The UK. I believe it's still supported in The USA. No one uses Google Duo in The UK, so I can't call people from my Google Nest anymore :(.
  • What are some typical Routines people use? And what extra have they added with IFTTT? Thanks I only use one Routine to tell me my Reminders, the Weather, then the News.
  • I mucked around with it for the first time yesterday, as I normally use alexa. It is awful, adding devices is a nightmare and the routines, don't tell you what device it is for, I can not find a wait function, so I can switch on the smart plug on my coffee machine, wait for a few seconds and then get smart bot to press the switch. i thought I would use the Google voice assistant on my fitbit as I am having a few issues with Alexa on it, but I give up now.