Once a trailblazer, Nest is now three moves behind (Oh, and it will share data with Google)

By James Robinson , written on June 24, 2014

From The News Desk

Despite the continued media impulse to breathlessly cover every one of Tony Fadell’s thoughts about hardware, in six months Nest has made an awkward transition from early trailblazer to running three moves behind everyone else in the consumer IoT racket.

Case in point: late yesterday evening, the company announced its plan to turn Nest into a smart home platform. Which puts it in line as about the millionth company to make the platform move, behind the likes of Apple, SmartThings, Quirky, home security company Vivint, AT&T and the kid that lives down the street from you, probably.

Nest had long kept its API closed, tipping its hat toward maybe slowly establishing its smart home walled garden, brick-by-brick. But the splintered and segmented nature of the smart device market, with lots of different brand loyalties at this early point, means that you’re better served owning the playing field, not making all of the equipment. The news makes sense, it's just a couple months slow.

This apes the Apple HomeKit and SmartThings announcements, identically. Nest has keyed itself into the same array of home devices, smart light bulbs, garage doors and such, to expand its reach and control in the home. It even has some of the same companies as SmartThings working with it, like Jawbone, and both SmartThings and Nest have bragged separately about having 5,000 developers involved with their schemes.

The Nest thermostat will now become the central control point of the smart home and I would assume, like Apple and SmartThings, the Nest app will be beefed up significantly to become the universal remote for the living space.

Don't misread the cynicism. Nest can be late in here and still win. This is a new space. As the Wall Street Journal notes, only 12 percent of houses with a broadband connection own a smart home device. But to do this well it will need to develop a platform that goes past letting other smart devices orbit around the Nest thermostat. Apple’s HomeKit will look to take advantage of the central role the iPhone plays in our lives to make it the remote control of everything. SmartThings made sensors and hubs to begin with and wanted to set up a platform to allow consumers to create a smart home around the specific contours of their own life. The Nest announcement seems to lack any early ethos outside of simply following suit.

The secondary news peg underneath Nest’s news was much more insidious and troubling than just a general lack of innovation. One of the tools integrating with the new Nest platform will be Google Now. Nest co-founder Matt Rogers said that the company will share some limited user-information with Google.

Nest had always protested loudly that it wasn’t sharing data with Google, but like any good company that had been giving 3.2 billion reasons to be compliant and sell its users out, it was always vague and never spoke in absolutes. At the Code Conference in May Tony Fadell said it had “no intention” of sharing data with Google. In January it had “no plans” to do it. It was always going to happen.

And now the company is beginning its data sharing journey with Google right as it begins to expand its scope and what it knows about its users. Last week ‘Nest Labs’ announced its purchase of Dropcam for $555 million. The idea that Nest had bought Dropcam totally separately, like a kid being given $20 to spend at the mall by its parents, was a bit laughable. It seemed designed to take out the anxiety that could be brought on by Google directly entering into the home surveillance business.

Tony Fadell has tried to claim loudly that Nest is completely separate to Google. When The Information wrote yesterday that Fadell was running Google’s hardware division, he went into full blown defense mode to let everyone know he runs Nest with its own management and brand.

With today’s first talk of data sharing between Google and Nest that ‘line’ between the two companies looks ever more ridiculous and Fadell’s continued claims otherwise seem more like an insult to our intelligence. Nest in the home is Google in the home. It'd be dumb to think otherwise.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]