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Nest Moves to Become the Connective Tissue of the Connected Home

Tony Fadell's Alphabet empire makes its big software splash.


When most people think of Nest Labs, the company Google acquired and then converted into an Alphabet entity, they think devices. Smart thermostats, smoke detectors and cameras. The CEO, Tony Fadell, who designed Apple’s iPod. Hardware.

But Nest has worked just as dutifully on its software, angling to become the primary platform for the wealth of things inside the home connected to — or soon to be connected to — the Internet.

On Thursday, the company took its biggest step on that front. It opened Nest Weave, a communications protocol it has used internally that lets smart devices talk to one another, to any developer. And it introduced the Works with Nest Store, an online retail hub to showcase certain devices that, as the name suggests, work with Nest’s existing hardware trio.

For Nest, the moves are a continuation of its longtime strategy to usher in the “thoughtful home,” its preferred nomenclature. “It’s basically completing the picture,” said Greg Hu, senior manager for the Nest platform and Works with Nest. “Products in the home aren’t created equal; they need ways to connect.”

The idea is to make the home of the future work as seamlessly as an analog one. “It feels, ironically,” Hu offered, “like hitting a traditional light switch.”

Hu, like Fadell and several Nest employees, used to work for Apple. As did Aubrey Thelen, head of developer relations, who also spearheaded today’s initiatives. Yet Nest insists it’s taking a different approach from Apple’s connected device play, HomeKit — Nest is opening its protocol to any interested developer, rather than selected ones, and will pair the devices to owners with iPhones or Android smartphones.

Along with Weave and the online store, Nest introduced an API for Nest Cam and refurbished its Dropcam acquisition, launched this summer. The company said over 11,000 developers have already synced up with its two other products, with one out of eight Nest products currently linked to a different company’s smart device. Now other connected devices can opt to integrate with all three Nest ones — or do it all at once using Weave.

Here’s how it could work: Yale, a lock maker, makes a smart door lock called Linus. It links to Weave. So when someone opens up a door with a Linus lock, it could trigger a Nest Cam to send a photo to the homeowner’s phone, or the Nest thermostat to turn on, or the Protect smoke detector to alert the user if, say, there’s a carbon monoxide leak. Nest also cites the benefit of its mesh network, Thread, that can support smart devices when Wi-Fi falters.

These types of integrations can help Nest improve its relations with the bubbling world of smart device startups, as well as established household industries, like lighting and appliances, looking to go digital. They can also help Nest ship more devices.

Hu claimed the move is also driven by an itch to serve Nest’s existing users. “These products are awesome,” Hu said of the Nest portfolio. “But we’re not going to make every product in the home. We’re not making a dishwasher. If a Whirlpool or Bosch makes a connected dishwasher, it’s a better customer experience over all.”

That said, some people in the connected device world are skeptical of Nest’s belittling claims. The company is most certainly putting out some other hardware down the line. And developers may be reticent to join Nest’s platform if the company one day unveils a product that competes with their own.

Nest’s new platform also, in a weird way, bumps into Google’s. In May, Google introduced its own Weave, a software for Internet of Things devices everywhere (not just the home).

Fadell and company always insist they operate independently from Google, yet the company said the two protocols will pair up. “Nest and Google are collaborating on the schemas and data models for connected products,” a Nest spokeswoman said. “This ensures that products built on either platform will be able to work with the other.” For instance, OnHub, the wireless router built by the team at Google Fiber, another Alphabet company, will work with Nest Weave “in the future,” Nest said.

The company doesn’t break down its financials. (And don’t expect that to change much, if at all, when Alphabet does later this year.) Earlier this week, the investment firm SunTrust Robinson Humphrey released a report estimating Nest’s revenues for this year at $450 million, predicting they will double by 2017.

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