Google to Replace Bricked Google Home Units Affected by Firmware Updates
Google Home and other smart speakers are updated automatically in the background when new firmware is released. There is not a way that a user can control this. The connected devices take their instructions from the cloud. On Friday, I saw this once again on an Amazon Echo Show that suddenly displayed the message, “Shutting Down.” That is an indicator that Amazon was sending a firmware update to its devices. For smart speakers, which typically don’t have a screen, you rarely know the update has happened unless you suddenly hear the noise indicating a reboot has taken place.
Google Home Devices Brick After Update
After a Google Home firmware update in September, several Google Home device owners began posting complaints in Google forums and on Reddit that their devices were bricked (first reported by Android Police). At first, Google support personnel recommended power-cycling the devices and then doing a factory reset if unplugging the device wasn’t successful. Those steps worked for some people but not others. When they plugged their devices back in even after a factory reset four white lights shone continuously from the top of the devices or a single green light. This past week a Google engineer acknowledged the problem, indicated the team was having difficulty diagnosing the root cause, and would update affected users.
Problem Existed Before September
Interestingly, the response thread was not to one of the recently affected users, but to a similar complaint made on January 30, 2019. And, there were other descriptions of identical problems plaguing users in June and July of 2019 posted in the Google forum. That means the recent update was not likely a new problem but was the result of how newer firmware interacts with a subset of Google Home and Mini devices. The engineering team must have quickly concluded the issue wasn’t isolated to a specific firmware release because not long after the post acknowledging a known problem existed Google issued a formal statement to both Android Police and 9to5Google that said:
We are aware that a small number of Google Home and Google Home Mini devices are affected by an issue that causes the device to stop working. We have a fix that will prevent the issue from happening and will be rolling it out soon. We are replacing affected devices.
This is a blanket statement. It doesn’t say they are replacing the affected devices still under warranty. The plain language is that all devices affected will be replaced. It appears the impact was limited to a few devices and the impact on Google’s reputation likely would have been limited. However, we see time and again that Google is very sensitive to any issues with its smart speakers that become publicly discussed.
An incident with a Google Home Mini two years ago led to a Google engineer actually going to a customer’s house to troubleshoot the incident. Last week, Google took over 80% of third-party Google Actions down for 3-4 days in some countries in advance of potential security issues being published by a researcher in order to ensure no users were compromised. These were all issues related to engineering, either software or hardware, so Google reacted decisively, if not always quickly. In these responses, you can see how important Google views its reputation related to smart speakers. It will take a short term hit in cost in order to stave off almost any potential for reputational harm.