On Google, Nest and Home Automation: ‘This Changes Everything’

Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest Labs likely to have greater impact on home automation than Lowe’s Iris, Comcast/Xfinity, ADT Pulse, ZigBee, Z-Wave, other smart-home initiatives, says CE Pro’s Julie Jacobson.


Google shows it is now serious about the smart home with its $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest Labs, maker of an Internet-of-Things thermostat, smoke/CO detector and no doubt other home automation devices in the future.

The search company has tried to get into the home automation business for many years, but failed in the past with such non-starters as Android@Home in 2011 and PowerMeter in 2009.

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The former gave us a prototype connected light bulb; the latter gave us a dashboard to work with smart meters that never materialized.

The acquisition of Nest, I believe, will get Google into the game this time and will have a major impact on the home control market—more so than Lowe’s IrisStaples ConnectZigBeeZ-WaveADT PulseVivint, Comcast/Xfinity, other cable companies powered by iControl, and any other initiative before it.

That’s my prediction, and I’ve never said such a thing in the 20 years I’ve been doing this.

How Smart is Nest?

Compared to what’s out there, the Nest learning thermostat really isn’t all that smart – at least it wasn’t at launch when it was in its own little silo.

It learns user behaviors and adjusts thermostats automatically to save energy, but anecdotally, everyone I know that has the device turns off the learning mode. Even so, I’ll go with Nest’s statistics that the thermostat is saving people lots of energy.

The sleek-looking puck from ex-Apple exec Tony Fadell has sold quite well. The “godfather of the iPod” told Forbes last month that the device was now in 1% of U.S. homes – about 1.1 million households.

RELATEDHow Did Nest Get So Lucky?

He says as well that Nest is working with some 20 utilities to deliver Nest thermostats for demand-response and other energy-management initiatives.

Few realize that the Nest thermostat actually has an un-utilized ZigBee radio built in. Utilities love ZigBee at the meter, so maybe we’ll see some activity there.

Energy trials like Nest’s are responsible for the bulk sales of maybe millions of thermostats in the past, but no trial has ever progressed to mass-rollout status in the U.S.

This, no doubt, will change.

Since Nest’s launch in 2011, the company has made its inaugural product more interesting by opening up the API last year, enabling third parties to communicate with the thermostat for integration into entire ecosystems.

The first partner is Control4, maker of professionally-installed home automation systems, but throngs of DIY product makers are expected to follow suit (some have cracked the code already).

What this Means for Google & the Universe

In the 20 years I’ve been covering home automation, I’ve never said, “This changes everything.”

But this does.

Virtually every giant consumer-oriented tech company has tried to launch the platform for home control – the so-called HomeOS.

Microsoft has tried too many times to count, with its latest non-initiative being, well, HomeOS . Motorola Mobility (now Arris) tried with its 2010 acquisition of 4Home. AT&T has its own proprietary Digital Life platform built upon a product it acquired from Xanboo in 2010.

All of the major CE companies have tried at least once. Some, like LG and Samsung, have been successful in Asia, but never in the U.S., despite many attempts.

Philips’ Hue lighting control has momentum, but there is no indication the company has a bigger ecosystem in mind.

Cisco and Linksys have tried and tried again, starting in 2006.

Belkin seems to be doing OK with its Wemo Wi-Fi line, but Belkin isn’t really a big name in CE and won’t drive the industry.

Whirlpool and other major appliance lines keep trying. Ford, OnStar and other automotive players continue to plug away. Still, nothing.

So that brings us to Google, which I firmly believe will invest heavily in product development, ecosystem-building with partners, cloud services, marketing and, ultimately, deployment.

Lights, door locks, fitness products and other smart devices will roll out of the Nest machine. Automation apps will magically appear on Android devices. Google will incentivize cellular providers to sell automation devices and services in their stores.

And together, Google and Nest will change the face of automation forever.

Bold claims from a 20-year home-automation follower, reporter, advocate and skeptic!

Am I wrong?

Twenty and thirty years ago, utility demand-response trials and energy-management systems were thought to be the Trojan Horse for home automation. I never believed it once, not for a second. Crazy that the lowly thermostat may, in the end, have been the catalyst for mass-market home control.

Google Acquires Nest for $3.2 Billion (2014)
Nest Protect: A Smart, Talking Smoke & CO Alarm (2013)
Nest Opens API for Thermostat; Control4 is First Home Automation Partner (2013)
Microsoft Acquires Startup Home Automation Co. from Slingbox Founder (2013)
Microsoft Takes Another Stab at Home Automation, Launches Lab of Things (2013)
Motorola Sells Home Automation Group: What Will Verizon Do? (2012)
Google’s Big Home Automation Play: New Android OS, Wireless Protocol (2011)
Google Discontinues PowerMeter Energy Management Service (2011)
Microsoft Kills Hohm Energy Management: Whither Energy Dashboards? (2011)
Home Automation: Has Anything Changed in 15 Years?
Road to Home Automation Standards Paved with Good Intentions (2009)
Microsoft and Intel Promise Interoperability through New Home API (1998)

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
Julie Jacobson:

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson


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