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It's Amazon Echo's world, now Alphabet's Nest just lives in it

Why Nest wishes it built an Echo, and why it didn't.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

For two years, Nest has pressed diligently to get any connected device to connect to its own. Now it’s adding two big ones to the list — Amazon Echo and Amazon Fire TV, integrations announced on Thursday that will arrive in the coming weeks.

On one hand, it’s a good sign for Nest — proof that it can tack on critical partners in the emerging market.

On the other, it may be a silent signal of defeat. That’s because Nest, which Google bought for $3.2 billion two year ago, is vying to become the central hub for every smart thing in the home. But so is Amazon.

And the pairing, an usual one between the two companies, is a tacit admission from Nest that Amazon has built an undeniable success in that market and done so with the artificial intelligence chops core to Google.

It may also signal that Nest isn’t going to make its own Echo. Senior executives at Nest had considered making a product similar to Echo, a voice-activated personal assistant, according to sources. But the plans were never hatched, largely out of concern that consumers would be too reticent of such a device tied to the search giant.

"At the end of the day, it’s Google," said one source familiar with the situation. "There are trust issues."

Nest CEO Tony Fadell has tried to address these concerns in the past, stressing that Nest kept its data separate from Google at the time of the purchase. "There’s perception and there’s reality, and the reality of the situation is that the Nest data will stay with Nest," he said in an interview with Re/code at the time of the early 2014 acquisition.

In addition, the Alphabet reorganization may give Nest more cover on this claim, as it operates more independently.

A Nest rep declined to comment on its product plans, although sources said no Echo competitor is in the works. Other products are, those sources added, although it was not clear what. Nest currently sells just three devices: Its flagship thermostat, a smoke detector and a security camera.

Recently, Nest has led a concerted charge to tie them to other smart home products through its software and Works with Nest program. So, for example, it would mean that your connected dishwasher can talk to your Nest thermostat, and vice versa.

Amazon has led a similar charge, pushing developers to sync up with Alexa, the voice assistant tech behind Echo. Several people in the industry see Amazon as stealthily striding ahead in the market, where Apple, Google and Samsung have invested heavily.

David Limp, SVP of devices at Amazon, downplayed the rivalry between his company and Nest, noting that the e-commerce company sells "a lot" of Nest devices online. "This is just another way for them to delight our customers," he told Re/code.

Alexa is also integrating with Nest competitors Honeywell, Emerson and Ecobee, another thermostat maker.

The Alexa integration is not Nest’s first voice integration. Nest owners with the app for Google Now, the search giant’s personal assistant, can control their devices with voice commands. And Nest has stressed repeatedly that it’s an open system, willing to connect with any partner, unlike Apple, whose smart home initiative is closed.

"Since 2014, Works with Nest products — from air vents to door bells — have connected to Nest through their apps or the Web," Matt Rogers, Nest’s engineering VP, wrote in a post announcing the Amazon news. "But our favorite interactions may be through voice commands. It really feels like you’re living in the future."

For now, that’s a future with Amazon front and center.

Additional reporting by Jason Del Rey.

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