When Google updated its Google Home Mini to the Nest Mini, it maintained the same basic look and feel of its predecessor but beefed up the on-device AI and speaker to make a good product even better. But you know what would make that good product great? Copying the latest update to Amazon's Echo Dot, i.e., adding a more substantial mini-LED display to the device for basic functions like displaying the time.
Don't think Google would do that? Hard disagree. It doesn't seem like it would flummox Google at all, and after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right Amazon?
Echo LED the way
In the fall of 2019, Amazon held an event at its Seattle headquarters where it showed off a number of new products, some experimental devices and services, and even some updates to existing product lines like the Echo smart speaker. Somewhere in-between the updates and the new products, Amazon unveiled the Echo Dot with Clock, which took Amazon's extremely popular miniature smart speaker and slapped a pretty ingenious LED display behind the fabric speaker material.
Such a simple addition to the Echo Dot made a huge difference in usability.
Many at the time were not sure that this relatively minor update warranted a whole lot of attention, but as the devices began to ship and the reviews came in, it was clear that the Echo Dot with Clock was one of the stars of that show. While limited in what the display could show, it proved quite useful and well-worth the modest increase in price from the previous Echo Dot. It could display the time, all the time, as well as the temperate and timers upon request. Best of all, the clock's brightness dynamically adjusted to the light in the room, so it didn't blind you when the lights were dimmed or when you tried to sleep.
True, the Dot with Clock became more of a product that you sought out, and less of an impulse buy than the Echo Dot, but its presence allowed Amazon to further drop the "regular" Dot's price and be offered in numerous promos and bundles by Amazon and third parties.
Nest is next up
Since the launch of the original Google Home Mini, Google and other vendors have followed Amazon's strategy of giving these devices out like they were candy. There was a time not too long ago when you could get a "free" Mini for signing up for new cable, mobile, or streaming services, and stores like Best Buy often ran promos and BOGO specials on the devices. Strategies like these have been pivotal in helping Google chase down Amazon to solidify its position as the number two smart speaker company in the world. According to a report by the research firm Strategy Analytics, they're not even that far behind Amazon. In fact, that report said that Google's smart speakers grew 20% year-over-year, compared to 16% for Amazon.
Google's smart speaker market share is strong and growing.
It certainly seems like Google's Nest smart speakers are well on their way to catching up to, and perhaps even surpassing, Amazon's Echo devices, but I think the edition of an LED display to the Nest Mini could really push them over the edge. Even if all they did was copy Amazon's playbook for the Echo Dot and price this new version at the same or slightly higher than the current Nest Mini, Google could drop the current model's price and flood the market even more. Win-win for Nest!
Now I'm no hardware engineer (audible gasp), but it doesn't seem like it would be that hard for Google to augment a version of the Nest Mini with this capability. After all, Google smart speakers from the Nest Mini to the Google Home Max already have a built-in LED array under the fabric speaker cover to communicate various status changes. All Google would have to do is expand that array to allow for even the most basic smart clock functionality that the Echo Dot with Clock has.
The Nest Mini already has several design advantages over the Echo Dot, including the ability to be hung on the wall to clear counter space. It was also the first smart speaker that we're aware of to incorporate sustainable materials in its construction in the form of the speaker's mesh material made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. If Google wanted to press these advantages and leapfrog Amazon, it could add in the ability to display things like basic notification alerts, or use the colored LEDs to communicate more information about temperature, or the urgency of countdowns and alarms.
LED me have this Google
In our head-to-head comparison of these puck-sized smart speakers, I gave the edge to the Echo Dot with Clock precisely because of those last two words, "with Clock." I think that if Google were to add this feature to a Nest Mini refresh or even in a new form factor, it could reinvigorate that device and give it an even better chance to compete with Amazon over the next year and beyond.
The one downside to implementing this in the current Nest Mini design is that the LEDs would probably have to be on the top of the device, which makes it less useful when glancing at the time from across the room. If this proved to be too much of an obstacle, I think we as Nest Mini fans could wait a little longer for a more significant redesign to accommodate these features. But the genius of the Echo Dot with Clock was that Amazon didn't have to retool the design or form factor, so hopefully, Google/Nest won't have to do so in a significant way either.
Improved assistant and better sound
There isn't much room in such a small device for large improvements, but somehow Nest pulled it off. You get better bass, and more on-device smarts make this a smart buy. Adding an LED clock/display would be the icing on the cake, though.
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