Why The OnHub Is Google's Nexus One For Routers (And Why It's All About Brillo)

I've had an interesting Twitter conversation with Dave Zatz, a super-smart home tech blogger, about the OnHub. Dave pointed out that as a router, the OnHub might misfire for many because it's missing Ethernet ports and is pretty high priced for a router. 

He's right in saying that the OnHub is not perfect, and those two complaints are good ones to put near the top of the list. Without Ethernet, the OnHub can't connect to the many devices that need Ethernet (like Sonos bridges or, in my case, HomePlug to Ethernet adapters).  And he also is right about the price at $200, which is pretty expensive next to all those low priced Netgear, D-Link and Linksys routers at retail.

But here's the thing: The OnHub, while interesting in large part because it's a Google piece of hardware, is only the start. What Google is effectively doing with the launch of the OnHub is showing other router makers that this is the way they envision the central consumer connectivity hub of the future and, if they knew what's right for them, they need to come along.

In short, what I think what Google is doing with OnHub is the same strategy they used in 2010 when they launched their own smartphone with the Nexus One, they're creating a proof of concept for others in the market to emulate. 

Yes, the OnHub is Google's Nexus One for home routers. To refresh your memory, the Nexus One helped usher in the era of high-end Android phones. At the time, it really kind of put other Android-centric smartphones to shame, but the purpose, in my opinion, wasn't to shame other hardware makers with the Nexus One, but instead for Google to illustrate what their vision of a good Android phone looked like. 

And now with OnHub, I think they're doing the same thing, showing the rest of the hardware makers their vision of a router. Sure, part of the strategy may be to scare the router makers into thinking Google just entered their space (with TP Link playing the part of HTC, who made the first Nexus One), but again I don't think their intention is to take out these companies, but instead to get them to work with Google (and Brillo).

Part of what is shaping my thinking here is I know that Google made the rounds with other router manufacturers early this year evangelizing Brillo. In other words, they may be making their own Brillo-centric router but, make no mistake, they want other router makers to build hardware around their Android IoT stack.

Of course, some router makers say that they don't need Brillo to do build a smart home enabled home router. Securifi sure didn't need Brillo to build the Almond Plus. But as Google fleshes out Brillo and developers start to create IoT-centric apps and services tied to Brillo, these router makers might change their mind.

After all, it's not a secret that most router makers are pretty horrible at software (have you ever used the embedded software interface on a consumer router?).  Not to mention they already play in a commoditized market, so why wouldn't they jump on board with Brillo and possibly expand their market beyond simply connecting Wi-Fi devices and become a full-fledged smart home connection hub as well? I think if I was D-Link or Netgear this might sound pretty good.  TP Link surely thought it sounded pretty good. Of course Belkin might think different with WeMo at the center of their smart home strategy, but I could be wrong. 

Bottom line, this is only the start. You'll see more Brillo-powered routers soon, and I have a feeling some of them won't be Google branded. 

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  • Michael Wolf

    There’s one rule around radios: prices always come down. Initially router makers might keep smart home connectivity in the higher-end routers, but they’ll seep down as prices come down. Google probably also wants to drive volume on 802.15.4 radios which will bring Thread/Zigbee prices down.

    And don’t think Comcast and Verizon won’t put these radios in their routers. That’s coming too. Whether or not its Google/Brillo running it is yet to be seen (I kinda doubt it), but it’s coming.

  • Zatz

    Still think most folks will get their extra home automation bands via souped up Amazon Fire TV or Echo, Apple TV, LG/ADT camera, etc. Routers are commodities and it’s going to be hard to get people to upgrade… unless you Verizon and Comcast, preloading these things with radios… to upsell home automation and monitoring.

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