Google kills some Nest speaker features

An image showing the phone with options for adjusting the volume

Google Home requires you to individually adjust the volume of each device when casting to a speaker group.
Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

All good things must come to an end, and that includes the ability to use Google’s multi-room casting for hassle-free sound control, one of the features found to infringe patents owned by Sonos.

After a trade commission ruled in favor of Sonos yesterday, sent Google to his Nest forums about instantaneous changes coming to its speaker group function. Google is rolling out software tweaks so that its audiocasting features do not infringe the five patents that triggered all of this.

Here’s the essence: You can no longer adjust the volume of all devices in a Google Cast homegroup with a single swipe. Instead, individually adjust the volume slider on each of the connected smart speakers and monitors within that group.

One of the benefits of choosing your Android smartphone as a home controller in a Google household is that pressing the external volume button will also control the volume of each speaker that contributes to the home group. But it also disappears and you can no longer use the quick shortcut to turn down the volume.

Google writes that most speaker groups should continue to function as expected unless you use JBL- and Lenovo-labeled devices that use a different casting protocol. JBL and Lenovo devices must have firmware version 1.52.272222 or later to work.

You can search for technical information in the Google Home app by tapping the device name and then Settings button in the right corner. You will find the firmware list below Device information. If you feel that your device is missing a firmware update, try resetting the factory settings and then associating it with your Google Account to get it updated.

A small subset of people will need to install a “Device Utility app” or DUA to receive software updates. If any of your devices fall into that category, you will see a prompt pop up, probably in the Google Home app, to download and install DUA. This will help ensure that your devices stay connected to your home wifi and running the latest firmware. Setting up new Google Home products will also include installing DUA.

People are angry if the answers to Google’s posts in the Nest forums are an indication. Some people even ask for a refund, citing that this removes one of Google’s friendliest features. “This ‘update’ breaks all purpose and functionality by using your devices to listen to music,” writes one forum member. “I’m physically disabled and bought devices specifically so I could control them by voice,” says another.

My house is covered in casting equipment (it’s my job!), So I went ahead and tested the multi-room situation myself. The first time I tried it was on what I would call a “legacy” homegroup I created a long time ago. It includes five speakers located around my area downstairs. When I cast music from Spotify, there was no way to control the volume when I pressed the phone’s button, and Google Assistant claimed that turning down the volume with a voice command was “not available”.

It will be interesting to see if more “fixes” are rolled out over the next two months, which is how long Google has before it will be banned from importing devices that infringe Sonos patents (which include Nest speakers, Chromecast streaming sticks and Pixel phones). But the company already had a contingency plan in place – the aforementioned software adjustments – which was approved by the judge who handed down the preliminary ruling in August last year, and what we see here is probably a result of all that.

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