We’ve long heard the word “fragmented” thrown around when it comes to Android, but it’s not the only Google product that suffers from update issues on non-Google branded devices.
Google has been making waves in the smarthome spaces lately, with Assistant-powered products like Google Home and Home Hub becoming “must have” items for users who aren’t already using Amazon’s Echo devices. Like with other Google products, however, third-party manufacturers can build their own products using Google’s software. For example, several companies have Assistant-powered speakers; Lenovo and JBL also have their own smart displays, both of which are powered by Google’s Android Things.
But as Android Police’s Rita El Khoury points out, not all smart devices are created equally, even when they’re using Google’s own software:
With every first-party release comes a slew of third-party alternatives, boasting the same features, same integrations, same functions, but with different designs and prices. On paper, they should be equal to Google’s, but time and time again, we’ve learned that they’re not.
Never though have the lines blurred as much as with the Home Hub and its Lenovo and JBL brethren. They look almost the same, both on the outside and in their interface, and Google pushed them earlier than its Home Hub, advertising them and talking about them as if they were its own. Sadly, the story isn’t different this time either. These are still third-party products and are still going to get updates later than Google’s, suffering from lack of feature parity at almost every point in their lifecycle.
While JBL and Lenovo’s products look similar to Google’s Home Hub on the surface, they lack parity with Google’s product. In fact, they’re not even using the same platform. At a glance, they look the same. They function very similarly and even have a similar interface—but Lenovo and JBL’s products use Android Things, where Google’s Home Hub uses the casting platform.
To put that even more clearly: Google built a platform for smart displays, then used something entirely different in Home Hub. Thus, a lot of the features that are making their way to Home Hub either will never show up on other smart displays or, if they do, it will be months (or longer) after the arrival on Home Hub.
All this is to say one thing: while Google promotes openness and makes its core platforms available to other manufacturers, parity simply doesn’t exist between vendors. This is clear with Assistant speakers, smart displays, and Android devices—and that gap is getting bigger on the daily.
For example, Pixel phones have exclusive features you won’t find anywhere else (like call screening and camera features like Night Sight), Home Hub can do things other Assistant-powered displays can’t, and most Assistant speakers still can’t make calls. Hell, this line of thinking even extends to Chromebooks (though to a lesser extent)—the Pixelbook and Pixel Slate both have dedicated Google Assistant keys built-in. The Pixelbook was also the first to get Linux support.
While that may not be exactly the same thing, the answer here is clear: if you care about features and updates on your Google-powered products, you have to buy first-party. While Google’s other products don’t necessarily angle themselves in the same way that Android does, it’s becoming more and more clear that feature parity isn’t something Google cares about when it comes to third-party products.