Google Home Is Leaving Elderly and Disabled Users Behind

I continue to be an enormous fan of Google Home — for example, please see my post “Why Google Home Will Change the World” — — from a bit over a year ago.

But as time goes on, it’s becoming obvious that a design decision by Google in the Home ecosystem is seriously disadvantaging large numbers of potential users — ironically, the very users who might otherwise most benefit from Home’s enormous capabilities.

You cannot install or routinely maintain Google Home units without a smartphone and the Google Home smartphone app. There are no practical desktop based and/or remotely accessible means for someone to even do this for you. A smartphone on the same local Wi-Fi network as the device is always required for these purposes.

This means that many elderly persons and individuals with physical or visual disabilities — exactly the people whose lives could be greatly enhanced by Home’s advanced voice query, response, and control capabilities — are up the creek unless they have someone available in their physical presence to set up the device and make any ongoing configuration changes. Additionally, all of the “get more info” links related to Google Home responses are also restricted to the smartphone Home app.

I can see how imposing these restrictions made things faster and easier for Google to bring Home to market. For example, by requiring a smartphone for initial Wi-Fi configuration of Home, they avoided building desktop interfaces for this purpose, and leveraged smartphones’ already configured Wi-Fi environments.

But that’s not a valid excuse. You might be surprised how many people routinely use the Internet but who do not have smartphones, or who have never used text messaging on conventional cell phones — or hell, who don’t even have cell phones at all!

Now, one could argue that perhaps this wouldn’t matter so much if we were talking about an app to find rave parties or the best surfing locations. But the voice control, query, and response capabilities of Home are otherwise perfectly suited to greatly improve the lives of the very categories of users who are shut out from Home, unless they have someone with a smartphone in their physical presence to get the devices going and perform ongoing routine configuration changes and other non-voice interactions. 

In fact, many persons have queried me with great excitement about Home, only to be terribly disappointed to learn that smartphones were required and that they were being left behind by Google, yet again.

I have in the past asked the question “Does Google Hate Old People” — — and I’m not going to rehash that discussion here.  Perhaps Google already has plans in the works to provide non-smartphone access for these key Home functionalities — if so I haven’t heard about them, but it’s clearly technically possible to do.

I find it distressing that this all seems to follow Google’s pattern of concentrating on their target demographics at the expense of large (and in many cases rapidly growing) categories of users who get left further and further behind as a result.

This is always sad — and unnecessary — but particularly so with Home, given that the voice-operated Home ecosystem would otherwise seem tailor-made to help these persons in so many ways. 

And at the risk of being repetitious, since I’ve been making the same statement quite a bit lately: Google is a great company. Google can do better than this.