There was a lot of news at Google’s I/O developer conference this year, but when it came to the smart home, one thing stuck out. Nest, which Google bought back in 2014 for $US3.2 billion ($4.6 billion), has been fully absorbed and rebranded as Google Nest.
This isn’t the sort of rebranding where Google just slaps the Nest name onto existing products. It’s the kind where Google quashes any pretence of Nest operating as a separate, independent operation within the company. Of course, Google announced it was doing this in 2018, but this year’s I/O gave us our first glimpse as to what this really means.
As of 31 August 2019, the Works with Nest developer program will be kaput. It’ll be replaced with a Works with Google Assistant program. Over the next few months, Nest users can expect invitations to migrate over to Google Accounts.
Truthfully, it’s a bit naive to think that Google didn’t already have access to this data — account migration just makes it Official with a capital O.
As per Google Nest’s FAQ, existing Nest users won’t have their Nest Accounts deleted. Google just “strongly recommends” they migrate as “new connected home devices and services in the future... will only be available to our users with Google Accounts.” Likewise, new users will have no choice but to sign up via Google.
As for those who opt not to migrate, they’ll still get security updates and be subject to Nest’s existing terms and privacy policies.
If you scroll down to individual sections on cameras, microphones, home sensors and Wi-Fi data, a few themes emerge. Namely, that you’ll always be able to tell when a microphone or camera is on via an indicator light, and collected data will only be shared with third-party apps and services that buy into Google’s closed ecosystem.
This makes sense, and it’s encouraging to see Google address recent smart home privacy and security concerns. Just a few months ago, Google caught flack for not disclosing microphones were built into the Nest Secure security system. There have also been recent reports of Nest camera owners terrified by hackers claiming false North Korean ballistic strikes or threatening to kidnap babies.
It’s also pertinent when you consider the newly announced Google Nest Hub Max will come with an optional Face Matching feature. No one would buy into Google Nest if there wasn’t at least an illusion of privacy and security.
But the other takeaway is that in exchange for Google’s “better” security and privacy, Nest users are also facing a potentially broken smart home ecosystem. The Works with Nest program has been around for years, but it isn’t clear how many apps and products that currently work with Nest thermostats and cameras will survive the transition to Google Assistant.
A Verge report lists popular integrations with Amazon Alexa, Logitech Harmony, Lutron lights, August Home, SimpliSafe and Wemo switches may all be borked by the August 31 date. It also details that support for If This Then That (IFTTT), a third-party automation service that’s popular with the DIY smart home community, will cease as of that date due to privacy concerns given IFTTT’s open design.
On the one hand, this streamlining could be a good thing. After all, it doesn’t really make sense to use a thermostat as a smart home hub — Nest only did so because it was their best selling product and served as a gateway product for many homeowners. Plus, of the digital assistants out there, Google Assistant has far and away pulled ahead of the pack.
But many Nest owners have already bought into an ecosystem and configured their homes in a way which Google may arbitrarily decide to not support. They may have to rebuy products and reconfigure their homes — which if you’ve ever had to set up smart home products, you know that it’s an expensive and headache inducing process.
In the short term, we’ll probably see some fear-mongering as to how much Google is pushing into the home, and ticked off Nest owners will undoubtedly face some growing pains. (As I always say, if you’re really that worried, keep your sanity and hold off on buying into a smart home for as long as you possibly can.)
Or, in a year’s time, we could be singing Google’s praises for creating a seamless experience while mourning the dream of a truly platform-agnostic smart home. Either which way, Nest as we knew it is gone.