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Home TECH Google's Fuchsia OS takes over smart displays, now on its second device

Google’s Fuchsia OS takes over smart displays, now on its second device

Enlarge / Google’s Nest Hub Max is a 10-inch smart display designed to view photos, make video calls, control smart home devices and access Google Assistant, among other tricks. However, the speakers aren’t the best, and there’s no physical shutter for the built-in camera.

Google

The realm of Google’s third major operating system, Fuchsia, is expanding a bit today. 9to5Google reports that Google has completed the implementation of Fuchsia in the Google Nest Hub Max. Along with the original Nest Hub/Google Home Hub, that puts two of Google’s three smart displays on the new OS, with the only holdout being the second-gen Nest Hub. The Nest Hub Max is the first device with Fuchsia that Google currently sells – the Home Hub only got Fuchsia after it was discontinued.

The google smart display user interface is written in flutter, a Google programming language designed for portability, running on Android, iOS, Fuchsia, and the odd streaming platform Nest Hubs often use. So it’s not correct to describe the UI as “similar” after the OS switch: it’s exactly the same code because Flutter runs on almost everything. However, you will get a slightly newer version of code and it comes with a Bluetooth menu. If you dive into settings and hit “about device,” you’ll see a “Fuchsia Version” field that says something like “6.20211109.1.3166243.”

It’s a bit strange to do a full OS switch to the futuristic and secret project Fuchsia and then have basically nothing to show (or tell) in terms of obvious improvements in performance or security. You can dive into the minutiae of Fuchsia’s source code, but it remains a mystery in terms of the practical benefits it offers consumers. Google never talks about Fuchsia, so not much is known about what exactly Google is accomplishing here.

Smart screens find a good home

Some of this OS change might be out of necessity. Historically, Google’s smart displays haven’t had a strong operating system foundation within the company, so perhaps Fuchsia represents a way for smart displays to be incorporated into a viable Google platform. Google’s first smart displays were from third parties and ran Android Things, a stripped-down version of Android designed for IoT devices and smart displays. Android Things was shut down in early 2021, so it’s no longer an option for smart displays.

Google’s in-house smart displays made the odd decision to run an offshoot of the Google Cast platform, an operating system originally developed for Chromecast. Building full touchscreen interaction and a full user interface on Cast OS was a massive change for something that was previously just a video and slideshow receiver, but that’s the plan Google followed. When the actual Chromecast lineup had to undergo an equally drastic change with a full user interface, No updated its own Cast OS and switched to Android TV (now called Google TV) instead.

Does Cast OS have a future at Google? It doesn’t look like the product’s original hardware, the Chromecast will want to have a lot to do with it in the future. If Google wants to be competitive with Roku, that means even the cheapest Chromecast needs to run full Android TV and have a remote. Android TV still has all the benefits of the simplicity of a Chromecast: it can cast media to you with the press of a phone button, but it also adds installable media apps and games. If Chromecast ditches its namesake operating system, then the only thing supporting Cast OS will be smart speakers. Cast OS could die altogether, or it could be scaled back to just a zero UI embedded OS for smart speakers.

Fuchsia is interesting because it is one of the few operating systems that is not based on Linux. The kernel is called “Zircon” and the project Fuchsia describes himself as “a new open source operating system built at Google from the kernel up to meet the needs of today’s growing ecosystem of connected devices.” Fuchsia originally claimed that it would one day run on smart displays, speakers, laptops and smartphones, but as demonstrated above, Google’s roadmap of operating systems at the margins can change very often. It’s hard to imagine any project dethroning Android or Chrome OS, but Google isn’t afraid of product duplication.


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