When Google revamped its Wifi router product, it extended the devices reach and doubled their speed, while also adding a full-blown smart speaker with Google Assistant. But the company paid just as much attention to Google Wifi’s design, down to the decision to ship the product in three colors. The surprising reason for this: Google discovered in tests that the look of a router impacts its performance as much as its innards.
“If the router looks better, it performs better,” proclaimed Google Nest connectivity product lead Sanjay Noronha in a recent conversation with Variety. That’s because consumers tend to hide ugly routers with protruding antennas from plain view, stowing them away in cabinets and behind shelves. The result is that the devices have to deal with additional barriers, leading to signal degradation. “The signal strength drops up to 50% if you hide these things away,” Noronha said.
The new Google Wifi routers look more like a designer Bluetooth speaker than anything you would rent from your internet provider. Round, chubby and available in colors Google likes to call snow (white), mist (light blue) and sand (beige), the new Google routers are meant to be shown off as opposed to be hidden.
Google Wifi being marketed as a mesh router system, meaning that you’re able to use more than one of these devices to cover every corner of your house with Wifi. The package Google will be marketing most heavily ships with a core router — the device that connects to an internet provider’s modem — and a Wifi point, which extends the system’s reach. Together, they can cover up to 3,600 square feet of space with wireless internet, for $269.
Users can also opt to buy additional Wifi Spots for $149 to extend their home network’s reach even further, or just opt for the core router for $169. However, there is another reason you might want to add extra mesh endpoints to your Wifi setup: Each Google Spot comes with a built-in version of Google’s latest smart speaker, the Google Nest Mini. Equipped with three microphones for far-field voice control, and the same driver as the Nest Mini, the Spot can be used to play music, listen to podcasts and access the Google assistant.
Google introduced both the new Nest Mini smart speaker and its new Google Wifi system at a press event in New York Tuesday; read this story for more on the Nest Mini smart speaker.
The search giant first got into the residential Wifi business in 2015, when it partnered with TP-Link and Asus to build co-branded routers under the OnHub moniker. Google followed up with its own Google Wifi mesh wireless networking system in 2016, and has since rolled out 15 software updates to add new features to the product.
Google Wifi products support guest networks that allow friends to access devices like smart speakers and TVs while protecting other devices on the home network. Consumers can also set rules for individual devices to keep their kids from accessing the internet after bedtime, and manage their router via Google’s Home app, even from afar.
Google’s previous Wifi product has arguably been a hit with consumers. Amazon.com currently lists it as the bestselling mesh router product, ahead of Amazon’s own Eero router, and a Google spokesperson told Variety that it actually became the #1 router in the U.S. this year, according to sales data from NPD.
That not only makes Google Wifi a success story for the company’s budding hardware business, it also provides the company with hugely valuable data on the devices consumers across the world use every day. That’s not to say that Google eavesdrops on consumers’ internet traffic — the company’s privacy policies emphasize that it isn’t. However, even knowing which and how many devices access the internet in your average household at any given time is very valuable to a company that is looking to sell consumers more of those devices, and operate services running on them.
What’s more, as consumers embrace smart devices in their homes, from internet-connected TVs to Wifi light bulbs to smart displays, routers themselves have the potential to play a bigger role in the home network. Google is in the process of adding Thread and Bluetooth low energy compatibility to its new Wifi devices, which will allow the routers to interact with a wider range of smart home devices.
The company is also directly integrating Google Wifi with some of its other smart home products. Google Wifi users who also own a smart display made by the company can simply ask the Google assistant to show them their guest Wifi network, which will pull up a QR code on the smart display. Guests then just have to scan the code with their phone to access Wifi, and don’t have to bother entering complicated passwords by hand.
The company also doubled the router’s internal RAM memory, giving it some headroom for future updates. “We are looking into a variety of features,” said Noronha. “The road is long, and it’s ahead of us.”