Google Home 'Bricking' Reports Raise Questions About Intelligence of 'Smart' Devices

Faulty firmware appears to be causing some Google Home systems to become unusable, raising questions about how user-friendly the products really are, and how comfortable people should be in relying on "smart" technology.

Consumers have reported number of recent "bricking" incidents involving Google Home products, according to PCMag. Bricking is a term that indicates an electronic hardware device becoming useless, often after a software or firmware update.

Google Home users claim their devices became unusable due to one or more of the constant firmware updates the products receive. Some say their devices were restored after unplugging and replugging or applying a factory reset, but many others report the products remain bricked despite their best efforts.

Google Home products are "smart speakers" that interface with the Google Assistant app, enabling users to control media playback with voice commands. They are also one of several available "smart home" devices, which are intended to provide a convenient centralized way to manage technology within a home. They typically involve using voice commands to control enabled "smart devices," which can include climate control systems, door locks and surveillance systems.

Google Home
Some users claim their Google Home systems became unresponsive and unusable after firmware updates. Matthew Horwood/Getty

Apple iPad Pro units made in 2018 have also recently been reportedly subject to bricking, after users installed an apparently faulty system update. In those cases, users appear to have been able to recover the devices using a full system restore, which may solve the issue but could also mean the loss of user data saved on the device.

Other consumer electronics devices often reported to break down from software or firmware issues include smartphones, home computers and video game consoles. Even less obvious products, like a new model of tech-enabled shoes, seem to be vulnerable to digital breakdown. Shortly after their February 2019 release, stories started to emerge about pairs of Nike's $350 Adapt BB self-lacing sneakers bricking due to a firmware update.

Vulnerabilities are not limited to self-lacing shoes and home consumer devices.

October 2019 reports claim that certain models of Tesla electric vehicles have been bricking due to faulty flash memory modules. A relatively inexpensive Google Home unit becoming unusable might mean having to turn on a television or lock a door manually, and an iPad becoming unresponsive might be an inconvenient and annoying event, but the crippling of a not-inexpensive electric car that is relied on for transportation is potentially a much bigger headache.

Of course, reports of issues rendering electronic devices unusable do not mean that most devices irretrievably break down. Generally, they do exactly what they are intended to do, or something close to that. But for the ones that do become "bricks," consumers are left with anything but the convenience that the technology typically promises.