You’ve probably been hearing a lot about Google Home lately. Yes, it’s the all-knowing oracle that tells you what’s coming up your day is and fill the room with the sounds of whales if you so desire.
But there’s another Google Home you need to know about. It’s an app that bears the same name, although it does way more than just work with your living room answer box. The Google Home app is essential because it does so many things, such as connecting to your physical Google Home device, finding apps for Chromecast, and giving you customization for what you get from the Google Assistant.
It’s an essential app, but it’s also kind of a convoluted mess. That’s why we’re offering a rundown of the key features the Google Home app handles and showing you where you’ll need to pay a little extra attention to find the functionality you’re after.
A new home
If you have a Chromecast, Chromecast Audio, Google Home, or device with Chromecast support like an Android TV, you’ll need the Google Home app. It’s the main hub that serves as a suggestion screen and dashboard for everything you can do with those products.
As indicated, it’s a must-have if you have any of the aforementioned hardware. In order to get some of the goodies like “OK Google, play Prince songs” or to launch Netflix, you’ll need to connect your accounts to various services.
If you have a Google Home or a Pixel, this app is a good resource to keep up with the expanding list of commands that you can issue to the Assistant. From the slide-out menu screen touch Things to Ask and you can browse many of the different capabilities of your devices.
Expect the gap to close over time in what the Assistant on the Pixel compared to Google Home. But for the time being Home is going to have more smart home controls, and you’ll find out about new capabilities from this app.
Google has tried to create something akin to the dashboard experience you’d get from a streaming device. It does fine for popular services like YouTube and Netflix, but it doesn’t quite pull in as much from all the other apps out there launched by cable channels and sports networks.
It’s one of the reasons that if you’re a cord cutter a true dashboard like Android TV is superior to a Chromecast, as you have to hunt and peck your way around your phone to find something to watch.
The search feature is generally useful, mostly for finding YouTube videos or specific television shows and movies. A “subscribe” caption will below programming that is accessible through some type of subscription service, like HBO Now.
Finding sports content is more of a challenge. A search for Warriors turns up a bunch of movies that are soaked in blood. Your best bet is probably to head directly to the service you’re most comfortable with, like Netflix, Hulu, Play Movies, or ESPN, and then just hit the “cast” button to start watching.
There’s more crammed in there
One of the frustrations of Google Home is that there’s a lot of different functions that are put into the app and they’re not necessarily easy to track down. As you scroll down the Discover section you’ll find it’s a weird hybrid of apps to integrate with Google Home, tips for launching the Google Assistant, and ways to find programming that works with Chromecast.
The more straightforward stuff you need to know about is in the slide-out menu. If a piece of connected hardware goes wonky, then touch Devices and you can can reboot it or view other settings.
Another layer deeper in Google Home settings allows you to personalize the Google Assistant by connecting smart home hardware or changing which services you get from your news briefing.
You can also enable Guest mode, which allows anyone to connect to your Home without being on your Wi-Fi network. It’s handy for letting someone play around with Home without giving them the keys to the kingdom.
You can get to it in other ways, but there’s also access to your shopping list that the Assistant creates in Keep when you start telling it to add items through a voice command. Google is taking the “home” in the name of this app seriously. It’s for your interactions with Google services around the house, an ambition that’s only going to grow.
The new home hub
As the Google Assistant rolls out to more hardware, my suspicion is that the Google Home app will play an even more centralized role on your device. In the meantime, there’s still some overlap between this app and the standard Google app.
But that’s kind of how Google rolls out products. It’s a scattershot effort at first with duplications of service, and then things get smoothed out over time. No matter how that turns out, the Google Home app will be playing a role.