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Google Nest speakers just lost a key feature — and buyers are fuming

Google Nest Audio review
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Google devices rank among the best smart speakers, but it looks like some have just lost a major feature after a patent ruling against the tech giant in a case with Sonos.

On Thursday, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled against Google (opens in new tab) in a case brought by Sonos regarding patent infringement. Now, Google has outlined the changes (opens in new tab) to its line of Nest Audio and Google Home speakers to ensure it’s in line with the outcome — and some users aren't happy.

The most significant of the changes affect people with more than one speaker in their home, as volume will now need to be adjusted individually for each one, rather than done together as a group. Speaker group volume also won’t be adjustable using the volume controls on your phone in the Google Home app. 

“Most Speaker Groups should continue functioning as expected unless you have a speaker group containing other brands of Cast-based devices, like JBL or Lenovo, they need to be on 1.52.272222 or higher Cast firmware version,” the second point reads.

Finally, “a small set of users” will need to use the ‘Device Utility app’ to install their products and get updates. This seems to only apply to devices that haven’t already been updated, so people most likely affected are yet to buy one — or set up their Christmas gift. 

At the time of the verdict, Sonos warned that while Google could potentially get non-infringing patent designs approved by the ITC, workarounds might be bad news for customers. In a statement, it said that such actions could “degrade or eliminate product features in a way that circumvents the importation ban,” and that those changes “may sacrifice consumer experience” in the process.

Instead, it urged Google to pay royalties for the functionality — but the search giant has seemingly chosen the former option, regardless of the reaction from its users.

Customer backlash 

It’s likely that many owners of a Nest Audio or Google Home device will be unaffected, as you would imagine plenty of users only have one smart speaker in their home. Nonetheless, those who do buy more than one are, by definition, the company’s most enthusiastic customers, and this decision does risk angering them.

At the time of writing, the post announcing the changes has amassed 179 comments, and the overwhelming majority are unsympathetic about the situation. “Completely negates why I bought into Google speakers for the house,” reads the top-rated comment. “I believe a rebate is in order, your devices no longer work as advertised and as sold,” it continues.

“Either get some better lawyers and win the suit or pay Sonos a royalty or start issuing refunds to customers,” echoes another.

As the post is on the Google Nest Community blog, tags can be added to posts by anyone and, at the time of writing, 12 unflattering terms have been added by aggrieved users including “BaitAndSwitch,” “Cheapskates” and “False Advertising.” 

While consumer backlashes are almost always louder online than in the real world, it’s clear that some of Google’s most loyal customers are upset and looking for alternatives. Amazon could see this as a real opportunity to convert them to one of the best Alexa speakers instead.

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.