Nest's "we build everything" strategy already looks old, thanks to Apple and others

By James Robinson , written on May 27, 2014

From The News Desk

Just four months ago, we were all going collectively nuts over Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest, a "smart home" company masquerading as a thermostat manufacturer.

Nest would get its product into your house and its app on your phone and then slowly build itself out brick-by-brick -- thermostat, smoke alarm, Dropcam acquisition? -- until eventually your home was Google's castle.

Little wonder, then, that other smart home companies wanted to copy Nest's strategy. Talking to Jason Johnson from August about his company’s planned smart lock, he happily admits as much. (Of course, onto its fourth production delay, August has to ship a first product before Johnson begins to think about a winder strategy.)

Already, though, the device-by-device approach is looking outdated.

Apple hinted yesterday it will soon announce a platform that would turn the iPhone into a single household remote. SmartThings actually beat Apple to that punch the week before: CEO Alex Hawkinson announced last Wednesday that it would integrate its platform with 100 “SmartThings certified” devices through a platform initiative that already involved 5000 developers.

From here on, SmartThings will mostly forgo developing new hardware in favor of these third-party partnerships. It allows almost every type of device to be controlled from the SmartThings app (connected devices with closed APIs need a certain amount of hacking to be brought on to the platform). You can attach a Jawbone to grandma and get an alert if she hasn’t woken up at the usual time, control that Dropcam set at your front door, or link up a Sonos.

Speaking to Hawkinson the day before this launch, his experience from the past year gives him a few key insights about the smart home market, as it starts to take shape. People don’t start out trying to connect their entire home, they begin trying to solve one key logistical problem and move outwards. There’s no set package the smart home can be fit in to. The contours of our individual lives and what we’re in need of connected control over don’t align. Whence, a platform that we can mould to the specific demands of our life is the only real option.

Apple and SmartThings make a powerful business case. There are so many connected devices already, the Internet of Things-deal is exploding so quickly, that creating a means for all of these remote powers to be bought together seamlessly, a universal remote, has the potential to get real market traction.

The open platform allows consumers to utilize the smorgasbord of connected tools that exists currently. If the idea takes off, it is bad news for the Nest’s and August’s of this world. Trends don’t wait. By trying to set the parameters of what consumers might need, and slowly too, they might find themselves going from trying to reinvent the home, to being a single plaything in another company’s domain.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]