Google made some interesting announcements at Google I/O in early May 2019, but the one that has gotten a lot of Internet-of-Things (IoT) enthusiasts upset is their announcement about the future of Google’s “Works with Nest” program.
This announcement has caused a lot of confusion, and even though this happened a month ago, there are still quite a few unknowns. I’ll try to describe the situation as best I can (as of early June, 2019).
Nest started out as its own brand with its Smart Learning Thermostat, before being bought by Google in January of 2014. Even after it was bought by Google, however, Nest continued to operate independently of Google’s other businesses.
In 2015, when Google reorganized as an independent brand under the holding company Alphabet, Inc., Nest still operated as its own company -independent of Google (or any other Alphabet Inc. companies).
In 2018, Nest was merged into Google’s hardware division and ceased to exist as a separate company.
Nest at I/O 2019
Nest is Dead. For Real This Time.
At the Google I/O developer’s conference in May of 2019, Google announced lots of changes for Nest as a company as well as Nest’s users and developers.
Nest as a separate company really ceased to exist in 2018 when the merged into Google’s hardware division. At 2019 I/O, Google announced a name change from “Nest” to “Google Nest”. Additionally, “Google Nest” is now the branding for all of Google’s home products.
In addition to the products created by Nest (smart thermostat, camera, and smoke alarm) all the other home-centric products offered by Google will be marketed under the “Google Nest” brand name. Although in typical Google fashion, some products under the “Google Nest” umbrella (Chromecast, Google Home smart speakers, Google Wifi router) may not be renamed.
In early June 2019 (as I write this) the product page for Google’s Connected Home store show two new products (the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max) and the legacy Nest products with this naming scheme, while Google products (everything else) do not share this naming scheme.
I mean do we actually have a “Google Nest Hub Max” and a “Google Nest Google Home Max” or is it merely a “Google Nest Hub Max” and a “Google Home Max”? Why not go all-in on the “Google Nest” branding or not do it at all?
When the names are so inconsistent, what are the chances the real hard stuff gets done well? Why cannibalize a well-known and (mostly) well-liked brand halfway?
The “Works With Nest” Platform is Dead. Or At Least On Life-Support.
The other big deal is the fact that the “Works With Nest” platform, which allowed your Nest Thermostat to serve as the hub for other smart home devices, will shut down on August 31, 2019. About three months from now.
Now, Google does have a replacement in mind. The “Works With Nest” platform will be replaced by a “Works With Google Assistant” platform. This platform will be much more tightly controlled by Google, and will likely not work with many of the current 3rd party devices that work under the current “Works With Nest” program.
The reason that Google gives for the move is privacy. All the access (and data) that were previously used by 3rd parties to control Nest devices will now all be filtered through Google. Which means that the data will all be swallowed up and used (somehow) by Google.
This means, that as it stands right now, lots of abilities will disappear from devices that integrated with Nest hardware. Things like:
- Hue lights changing color when the Nest Protect smoke alarm detects smoke or carbon monoxide. Or turning on or changing color if Nest Cam detects movement.
- Wemo switches turning on or off when the Nest Thermostat changes its status to Home or Away.
- August Home setting the Nest Thermostat to home or way when locks are opened or closed.
- Logitech Harmony remotes controlling Nest Thermostat temperature.
- Changing a Nest Thermostat’s Home or Away modes based upon the state of a SimpliSafe home alarm.
- ALL integrations with IFTTT for Nest devices will be going away. Unofficial Nest integrations with Samsung SmartThings will also break.
- Amazon’s Alexa will get special treatment, but the specifics of this haven’t been announced yet.
Some of this functionality may be replaced by the Google Assistant. However, now instead of a 3rd party company, users of Google Nest products must wait for Google to add additional capabilities to the Google Assistant app. Which means a much slower development and integration cycle, and some products will likely never be integrated into the service.
There’s also the chance that Google’s development on the Assistant app lags – ask anyone who uses the Google Voice app or Google Inbox. When Google moves on, the features of an app can languish for years, if it isn’t outright killed.
This means that the ecosystem that has been developing around “Works with Nest” devices is going to be significantly smaller in a couple of months. But no one knows how much smaller (yet).
One part of the death of the “Works with Nest” program that is easy to overlook is what this means for user data going forward.
The first thing to note is that Nest accounts (which used to be separate from Google accounts) are being phased out.
Current users are “strongly recommended” to switch their Nest accounts to Google accounts, and new users must use a Google account. Current users who don’t switch from Nest accounts to Google accounts won’t be able to use any of the Google Assistant features. So if you hold off on switching, your smart thermostat becomes quite a bit dumber.
When Google bought Nest years ago, one of the things that Google specifically mentioned is that Nest operated independently from Google, and your Nest data was not shared. That’s all changing now that your Nest data (including thermostat data, home/away data, camera images, lock status and more) will all be part of your Google account. And while you do have an option to opt-out, doing so will significantly gimp the (advertised) functionality of your $200+ thermostat.
Google does have a specific page for Google Nest Privacy, where they list three main principles:
We will be transparent about the data we collect and why
We will never sell your personal information to anyone
We will empower you to review, move, or delete your data
But this is still a treasure trove of data that Google can (and will) use to improve their billion-dollar business of ad-targeting.
The Real Pain
But the real damage that this will do is the confusion to the average smart home user.
Most people who have Nest and 3rd party devices probably don’t realize the difference between “Works with Nest” and “Works with Google Assistant”. If the transition between these two programs doesn’t go smoothly, it’s likely to turn a lot of people off Google Nest products specifically, and the smart home in general.
Killing a program as big as “Works with Nest” in only three months will also likely give other businesses and developers pause about working with Google in the future. The “Works with Google Assistant” program will probably require much more work with much less upside from 3rd parties, and why would they want to put in that time if Google can pull the plug with only a few months of lead time.
My Next Move
We’ve had a Nest Thermostat in our house for several years, and it’s been a pretty great product.
However, with this change, I’m definitely going to be looking into something that is more open. Right now the open-source Home Assistant, running on a Raspberry Pi looks to be a good way to centralize home control, so that’s probably where I’ll start.
I’ll need a new thermostat, of course, so if anyone is looking for a Nest Thermostat for cheap, let me know! I’ll be looking to sell one soon!