Google’s OnHub Goes Toe To Toe With Amazon Echo

Yesterday Google announced preorders for a new device called OnHub. Their marketing, and most of the coverage I’ve seen so far, touts OnHub as a better WiFi router than you are used to including improved signal, ease of setup, and a better system to get your friends onto your AP (using the ultrasonic communication technique we’ve also seen on the Amazon Dash buttons). Why would Google care about this? I don’t think they do, at least not enough to develop and manufacture a $199.99 cylindrical monolith. Nope, this is all about the Internet of Things, as much as it pains me to use the term.

google-onhub-iot-router-thumbOnHub boasts an array of “smart antennas” connected to its various radios. It has the 2.4 and 5 Gigahertz WiFi bands in all the flavors you would expect. The specs also show an AUX Wireless for 802.11 whose purpose is not entirely clear to me but may be the network congestion sensing built into the system (leave a comment if you think otherwise). Rounding out the communications array is support for ZigBee and Bluetooth 4.0.

I have long looked at Google’s acquisition of Nest and assumed that at some point Nest would become the Router for your Internet of Things, collecting data from your exercise equipment and bathroom scale which would then be sold to your health insurance provider so they may adjust your rates. I know, that’s a juicy piece of Orwellian hyperbole but it gets the point across rather quickly. The OnHub is a much more eloquent attempt at the same thing. Some people were turned off by the Nest because it “watches” you to learn your heating preferences. The same issue has arisen with the Amazon Echo which is “always listening”.

Google has foregone those built-in futuristic features and chosen a device to which almost  everyone has already grown accustom: the WiFi router. They promise better WiFi and I’m sure it will deliver. What’s the average age of a home WiFi AP at this point anyway? Any new hardware would be an improvement. Oh, and when you start buying those smart bulbs, fridges, bathroom scales, egg trays, and whatever else it’ll work for them as well.

As far as hacking and home automation, it’s hard to beat the voice-activated commands we’ve seen with Echo lately, like forcing it to control Nest or operate your Roku. Who wants to bet that we’ll see a Google-Now based IoT standalone device quickly following the shipment of OnHub?

46 thoughts on “Google’s OnHub Goes Toe To Toe With Amazon Echo

  1. I”m not entirely sure how you can say that it’s anything like the amazon echo… if anything its going toe to toe with the apple airport extreme.

    A) Amazon Echo is not a router, and does not route traffic.
    B) OnHub does not have microphone/voice interaction
    C) OnHub does not do anything but route traffic
    D) Amazon Echo does everything except route traffic.

    The only thing this is similar about these two products is their shape.

    1. I disagree. The “On” part the system gives it away. Instead of having control through voice-activation you have control through the app on your phone. The site even shows communication with it when you are not in your home, another feature that will be useful for an IoT adorned home.

      For the price of the Amazon Echo it is ridiculous that it isn’t also an AP. Of course the benefit of that is you don’t need to run Ethernet to it.

      1. From my perspective I think the key is to not look at the specific features of each device but more the intent of them; they’re both trying to angle themselves to be ‘central’ devices in your home – the Echo by trying to do ‘things’ for you vs OnHub aggregating connections (and so data) through it.

        1. spot on. getting to be *the* way into your home (its devices) is key for those cloud mongers who try to make everyone think that IoT == cloud_shit. google definitely has an agenda here and I’d be very cautious in letting them have any more user data than they already have.

          I hope there will be some IoT vendors and strategies that simply don’t require cloud shit and have a good privacy policy that is believable. I wonder, are there any out there, like that, right now? or does everyone want to data mine the hell out of you under disguise of ‘giving you better service’ ?

          1. Google have already confirmed the only data they will colelct is about the performance of the device and the radio traffic/congestion in the area, presumably so they can get a better understanding of the environments people will use these in.

  2. This is a $199 solution to a $75 problem for some, a non-problem for others.

    Does Google believe I have become so dissatisfied with my $40-75 router that I am willing to spend $199 to improve it?

    The basic idea is a faster, better router makes everything BUT my internet connection faster.

    That’s, um, great.


    1. I’ve never actually been satisfied with any Sub $100 router. Every LinkSys, Netgear, etc, etc device I’ve owned over the years seems to need at least a monthly reboot or just dies when you get enough users or connections routing through it. Now that normal home internet is 100mbit-1gbit you need at least gigabit connectivity and modern wifi standards to actually get the type of throughput over wifi and enough CPU and memory to handle connection tracking, NAT, etc. $200 is cheap for an 802.11ac Access Point or Router and on par with the current Apple Airport Extreme which has a very similar specs.

  3. I think the biggest feature that’s not getting any attention is that this thing will get continuous security updates straight from Google. Small Office and Home routers are becoming huge security vulnerabilities, and rarely get updates. This is a great step towards fixing the problem.

    1. I have had my Linksys router for 7 years and it still doesn’t have a firmware update. Went to DD-wrt just so I could close holes manually. Automatic security updates you say? how’s that working for windows…

      Automatic updates from a monolithic corporation that controls the source is like plugging a leaky roof with a rake, plug one hole but poke a dozen more to do it.

      1. I’ve had to disable my win7 updates – entirely – since MS has screwed the pooch more times in the last year or two than I am willing to tolerate. I now consider windows a local-only system and any internet things I do, I do via linux. MS has sent evil updates down parading as fixes and I have just given up trusting them. sad it has gotton to this, as I used to keep my win systems auto-updated. I now have learned my lesson and since I don’t have time to vet each and every MS update, I just disable the whole thing and keep my win boxes offline for the most part.

        1. Then why not update to a more secure OS in Win8 or Win 10 since its free? Really is no reason to hang onto Win7 unless you’re an enterprise user. Even then i took some of the software that my employers insist only work in 7 and wont upgrade home to try, work fine on Win10.

          1. I stayed with windows 7 rightup to last week, I have goneto windows 10 and to be honest it’squite ok. Windows 8 was a mess, Never updated didn’t like the forced metro screen with no start menu, I mean if your using a laptopwith no touch screen why have a touch screen interface?

          2. But do people seriously want to go back to the days of really long start menus you have to scroll? I never used the metro interface in Win8, pressed the windows key on my keyboard and typed the name of the program and there it was. Or it was on my desktop, or pinned to the bottom. Start bars are pretty redundant.

          3. win 10 is a SECURITY NIGHTMARE. you could not pay me to run or install win10 at home; and I’ll use it at work if I have to; but like win7, business will stay with win7 for a LONG time. there’s no good reason for an enterprise to ’embrace’ (cough!) win10; win10 is all about consumer lock-in and ‘everything-as-a-service’. I want no part of that, not at all!

            the only ones really suggesting win10 are those that have not read the horror stories about the total disregard for privacy on win10. I don’t even trust win8 and barely win7. I’d have stayed with xp but they eol’d it ;)

        2. It sounds like Windows is baffling you so maybe try IOS. My fat grandmother can work it so maybe you can too :) When you become an advanced user, you will know how to use custom install option. Keep studying.

    2. security updates – thru google! that’s a laugh! google abandons things left and right. they have a poor track record on security and device support. I have a flagship android phone that was abandoned and has no way to be updated, making it a local-only thing, more or less, now. google does this time and time again. why anyone would trust them with a hardware project is just beyond me!

      I can trust a cvs-update on freebsd (or whatever the modern version is). I can trust an apt-get update. I can trust a redhat update (been a while since I had to use rpm or yum, sorry). but I would never trust a vendor like google to keep me secure and updated. its not really their business and its certainly not their competancy.

      1. Look at Google+ is basicly forced you to have a profile if you used Gmail or Youtube yet it was a complete joke no one wanted in the first place. now thankfully shut down but imagine the people who put effort into using the service? Google Glass now I know it’s not completely gone just the explorer program ended and now there is no consumer product, those went for $1,500 a pop and is now pretty much useless.

      2. Benchoff’s sweater is the only thing you can trust. Sheesh dude, you drank the Kool-Aid and then ordered the commemorative glass with Linux Kool-Aid Man giving some kid a puppy that was stuck in a burning house.

          1. :D Nice one, Benchoff. I feel like that sweater has Dr. Who-like capabilities with all manner of yo-yos, chattery teeth, a multimeter, and a recently weened wombat all nestled in there with the sonic screwdriver. Keep on rockin it :)

  4. These devices are nothing alike, I own two (2) Amazon Echo’s and Amazon has keyed in on the idea of “voice only.” Who wants to drop what they’re doing and look at an App or screen. The Echo does offer additional info via their smart phone / device App, but this is rarely used and the voice interface is amazing. I spent two hours last night interacting with Echo “Alexa” and had a giant smile the whole time. The speakers are excellent and better than most Bluetooth speakers. Echo trumps Siri or other voice assistance by allowing you to verbally interrupt her, modify commands, make new requests and even make requests while the TV’s on in the background. The whole point is no touch needed, no buttons to press, no screen to look at. Commands like “stop” “pause” “volume 7 (0-10)” queries about facts, weather, etc. all work while she’s playing music or the news. This has never been done before. The response times to queries, facts, requests for music are blazing fast. The integration with my home lighting, ceiling fans is magical. The Echo is a game changer, now with open source development allowed, etc. – who know where this will go. With Amazon’s super powerful cloud and clout behind it all, her power to communicate like the star ship Enterprise computer is only a few years away. The Echo is not a router.

    1. Your Echo experience sounds way better than mine. I’ve asked mine trivia, like the populations of cities or the birthdates of celebrities and she can’t answer. I’ve asked for sports scores and she replies with “the New York Giants are a football team.” I’ve asked her to play music, and almost none of what I like is available is available on Amazon. She won’t even try playing a song from youtube or another source. I’ve asked for movie times, and I’m told who is in the movie. Just about the only thing she does right for me is telling time and weather.

      1. jamesey10, My Echo has no problems with populations of cities, details about celebrities, science, sports, music, etc. But, I have noticed that sometimes if I don’t phrase something well, she acts dumb. Plus, they’re adding new capability daily (cloud side). I’ve only had my two Echo’s for about 10 days, so I’m still learning. Last night I was mind boggled as I had her play so many amazing old songs from rock bands and more from the 70’s, 80, 90, etc. It’s important to connect the Echo to your Pandora, Amazon Prime and all possible services shown in the smart phone app. If you haven’t purchased the song and it has a copyright not purchased by Amazon, it’s forced to use iHeart radio or Pandora. You can also force it to use those services by saying “Play _ _ _ on Pandora” etc. Amazon can’t access illegal music. Keep in-mind that the Echo will evolve fast as Amazon spends millions in the cloud side development, plus allows outsiders to contribute to the Echo system (no pun intended). Obviously, older songs are more likely to be available for free or through Amazon, versus new artists still sticking to their desire for revenue. Use the tips card with Echo and continue to experiment, I’ve found I love it more and more every day. Remember Siri was under development by another company long before Apple picked it up and it continues to evolve. Since the Echo is truly hands free, has a much better voice, allows you to interrupt her, etc. I think you’ll see her evolve at a staggering pace.

      2. Do you have an accent? (Non-American) My wife has an accent and voice recognition doesn’t work for her. I have a mid-west accent and I watched a lot of science-fiction growing up, so I do great with it.

    2. I’m just not that trusting of ‘cloud vendors’ and their hidden (and not so hidden) agendas.

      voice control sounds very futuristic, but given the total lack of caring about privacy from corporations (esp cloud-based ones), I would not install (at home) a voice-input device if you paid me.

      funny idea: maybe there’s a place for a clear plastic casing that shows the mic – very clearly being disconnectable thru an actual, real mechanical switch. if there is a trustable way to disable voice and video inputs on things, that would at least help restore some of the broken trust with the industry, in general. of course, calling attention to the lack of trust is nothing you’ll ever see a vendor mention. its the third rail.

      1. The industry is dishonest at it’s core.

        They claim they NEED the data, and that it MUST be centralized.

        Meanwhile we all have increasingly powerful machines on our desk, with plenty of ability to do machine learning locally, without sharing data with corporations, hackers, the governments, and so on.

  5. People do not mind their devices learning about them or their habits.

    It is when the devices insist this data MUST be shared with corporations over the internet that people get weirded out.

    Even geek-centric commentators cannot seem to get over the desire to make fun of privacy advocacy. It is just too fun to feel superior to others, for any reason at all.

  6. I’m waiting for the day Google will start selling cameras to watch what you do and automatically comment on and post what you are currently doing on Google+. Then Facebook can sell ads for your activities. LinkedIn will legitimize your habits. Apple will then patent what you did, call it iWatch and sue you for infringing their technology. Amazon will still lose money trying to sell know off photos of you.

    1. They bought dropccam, and that is now known as ‘nest cam’., with its 24/7 monitoring stored in the cloud.
      And so they are in millions of homes, with a camera.

      Enough said.

  7. Those google ads are getting more and more standard and dumb and less refined and manipulative in a pathetic way.
    And it makes me go ‘pfft’ and ‘eew’
    But I guess it’s directed at the US market.

    And yeah, goes without saying I too don’t want google monitoring me even more and I’d never buy a google router, or get google internet..But I know there are plenty of eager customers.

    1. Google ads are at least somewhat localized.

      Those ads are meant for your market.

      Consumers the world over are credulous and non-discerning… At least in the western world i have traveled extensively within.

  8. Brainless clickbait title. If you think this has anything whatsoever in common with an Echo (other than the shape), then you’re simply an idiot. I don’t usually write such harsh comments, but this “article” richly deserves it.

    1. There is a difference between a title that is not correct and clickbait.
      That difference lies in that clickbait is designed to make many people click, and anything about ‘amazon echo’ is not that interesting to %99.99999 of the public, including the HaD public IMHO.

    1. Unfortunately many of us either have a U.S. ISP or an ISP that is owned by some U.S. corporation. so you must wonder if it is effective to try anything else than encryption to retain some privacy. :/

  9. > Oh, and when you start buying those smart bulbs, fridges, bathroom scales, egg trays, and whatever else it’ll work for them as well.

    hahaahahaha thanks for the good laugh!

    google and future proof hardware are the most distant concepts ever. Anyone who ever bought anything from google (from nexus phones to crazy eye wear) knows very well they dump and abandon such projects even faster than you can say “google reader”.

    1. Agreed. IoT is stupid as is cloud storage vs local. I think in 20 years folks will be hacking the IoT OUT of things. Kinda like Cue Cat ‘de-clawing’ back in the day. All my shit works fine without internet right now (save for the laptop) so the fridge will have to just wait on watching porn while chilling my vegetables ;) If you have so much shit that you can’t keep up with a burned out bulb and need to get an email reminder at work and have it pre-ordered on amazon, you probably have too much shit. Maybe find an old person that can’t drive and offer to take them to their doctor’s appointment one week. You will be surprised how f-ing stupid all of that garbage seems after just one trip. :)

      1. Cloud storage works a bit is when you stream to it while you are filming a cop or soldier abusing someone, since it prevents him (or her) simply taking your phone and with it the evidence.
        And when there is a fire at your home or someone breaks in to purposefully destroy/take your data.

        But it’s generally a shitty thing though, too much spying and hacking on the net.

  10. This device is very simple to explain – both in functionality and purpose. Last year Nest bought Revolv, a company that built a 7-antenna home automation centric router. Google then bought Nest. The OnHub is simply Amazon’s response (and attempt to jump ahead of Google) by getting to market first with a device that will essentially provide the same functionality. Now coupled with Echo. Amazon hopes to have the one-two knock-out punch to be the market leaders in wiring up our homes for home automation (or IoT as it has been rehashed these days).

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