Tag Archives: nest

Google makes stupid move with smart home product

by Steve Blum • , , ,

If you bought a home automation hub from Revolv, sorry, it’s about to be bricked. Google bought Nest, which in turn bought Revolv, and then decided to turn off the servers that make its gizmos work

So we’re pouring all our energy into Works with Nest and are incredibly excited about what we’re making. Unfortunately, that means we can’t allocate resources to Revolv anymore and we have to shut down the service. As of May 15, 2016, your Revolv hub and app will no longer work.

Thank you for your support and believing in us.


Oops. I said that. They didn’t. Not exactly. But that thought probably passed through the mind of anyone who bought a Revolv hub. With justification.

From a high tech, living-in-dog-years point of view, there’s nothing wrong with what Google did. And yes, I know, Nest is owned by Alphabet, which is now the new name for the Company Formerly Known As Google. And from a high tech, living-in-dog-years point of view, there’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s just one problem.

Consumers don’t care. They give credit or blame to the brand they know, and don’t give a damn what the suits or the geeks say (full disclosure: I used to be both and I’m still a geek). They don’t obsess over light switches, doorbells or coffee pots. They just want the freaking things to work and leave them alone for ten or twenty years.

Shutting down the Revolv servers is a mistake, but by itself it won’t make much difference. If Google and other tech-driven companies keep pulling this same dumb move, though, consumers will shrug off their brands and, eventually, the whole home automation category.

Free advice to Google: don’t confuse a light switch with Orkut.

The IoT hub is dead and Stringify killed it

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Simple solution for home automation chaos.

Stringify has mixed the glue that will bind home automation and the other gizmos and platforms of the Internet of Things together. Two weeks ago, the Los Gatos, California-based startup launched its server-based and mobile centric meta-platform that allows consumers to control 200 products and services offered by dozens of companies via a single smartphone app.

It’s a brilliantly simple proposition: instead of using a dozen different apps to control a dozen different products, a consumer installs one app that talks to a server that talks to a dozen different servers – cloud to cloud, if you like – and makes them all work together.

Organising a company TGIF was the example demoed at the Pepcom showcase at CES last night. Instead of starting the music, lowering the lights and alerting the crew that the keg has been tapped app by app everytime, you use an intuitive graphical interface on the Stringify app to, well, string it all together so you can trigger your standard party procedure whenever the pressure sensor on the kegerator says we’re go for lift-off.

That’s how it works in theory at least. The key is taking advantage of the APIs (application programming interfaces) published by service providers, including traditional home automation players like Google’s Nest as well as social media platforms like Twitter or web services like Dropbox. Home automation is just one of the many Internet and IoT market segments it addresses.

For now, it’s only available for iOS. Android will have to wait, said CEO Mike Yurochko, while they get it right on the iPhone. That’s both an economic necessity – Stringify is still working off of its $6.3 million seed funding round, led by ARTIS Ventures last April – and appropriate. I’ve taken a hack or two at home automation and struggled with an explosion of apps on my phone. Watching the Stringify demo invoked the same total conceptual shift as going from DOS to the Mac’s GUI did 30 years ago.

Open standards and clear consumer branding will be the cure for CES home automation confusion

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The new good housekeeping seal of approval.

There were plenty of home automation hubs at CES, as it turns out. The first home automation products out of the gate, at the pre-show press events, were primarily one-off gizmo-and-app combos, but the usual suspects eventually showed up.

Lowe’s Iris system was prominent in a demo smart home built on the show floor. Nexia had a presence too. Both have a similar business model: sell a hub and support it through a cloud server for $10 per month. Nexia’s rep wouldn’t say how many subscribers it has, but she did say it has 300,000 active devices on its network. Lowe’s rep wouldn’t give any details about number of users, but did say that their average subscriber has 8 connected devices. Put those numbers together, and you get a subscriber range somewhere in the mid-5 figure range for a typical fee-based platform. Not an exact estimate, to be sure, but that’s probably the ball park.

Other hub-centric systems – free and otherwise – were there as well: ADT, Opcom, Insteon, Vera, Wink and the list goes on. Every home automation business model was well represented. The supply side of the product category has exploded, even though the demand side lags far behind.

A mainstream breakout – low 7-figures at the very least – won’t come until there’s a sufficient degree of interoperability. If not a single standard then it’ll require identifiable families of products at the least.

“As the homes get more connected, we’ll see the homes get standardised”, said Ulf Ewaldsson, Chief Technology Officer for Ericsson. Although, he said, that could mean more than one standard.

Coming out of the show, my sense is that vertically integrated systems that rely on proprietary technology won’t make it. Mainstream acceptance for the rest will start with standard-based technology – Z-wave, AllJoyn, and the list goes on. The real winners will emerge when the market begins to focus on a small number of brands.

One hint at the show: the most prevalent home-automation brand was Nest. The Google-owned thermostat company’s logo was prominent on one smart home product booth after another. Compatibility with Nest and, to a lesser extent, Apple’s HomeKit platform, was the method of choice for reassuring consumers that a company’s products are interoperable within a heterogenous system.

How do you say sugar daddy in Irish?

by Steve Blum • , ,

Finally, an electric utility is taking the plunge on home automation. Electric Ireland announced a deal with Nest, the Google-owned company which makes a networked thermostat that learns your habits and controls your home heating and cooling system accordingly.

New customers who sign up for a 2 year contract with Electric Ireland get a free Nest thermostat, including installation. Existing customers who extend for another 2 years pay €99 (about $123). the device goes for $249 in the U.S. Figuring in the cost of installation and using Irish retail pricing assumptions, though, the value of the device is €374 ($464).

Contrary to fears expressed by some, it’s not the beginning of a long slide into subsidy hell for the home automation sector. The Irish electricity market is competitive and the Nest deal is certainly an excellent marketing tool, but that’s an incentive to go first, not a make or break condition. As I’ve said in the past electric utilities, in competitive markets or not, can use home automation devices to cut costs by managing electricity usage down. It’s an extension of the smart meter concept, not an embrace of the profit killing mobile handset subsidy model.

But it doesn’t need to stop there. The first gizmo might be free, but there are more to buy. Besides its own, branded products, Nest is promoting compatible devices ranging from a security camera to Whirlpool washers and dryers to a Mercedes. And as products are added, the value of the control platform grows. Even if the first freebie can’t be justified on pure subscriber acquisition costs alone, the energy management benefits will eventually make up the difference. After that, it’s a profitable new business for electric companies.

Google positioned to set standards for smart homes

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Nest is in good hands with Google.

The quest for a mass market business model for home automation products and services took a new turn this week, when Google announced it’s buying Nest, which makes networked thermostats and smoke detectors. Since it’s unlikely that Google is going to drop $3.2 billion just to make pretty gadgets, the working assumption has to be that it’s developing an online platform to support networked products. Just as it developed the Android operating system, then bought Motorola’s mobile phone manufacturing business as a development tool and to lock down valuable patents.

Nest devices connect directly to the Internet via WiFi, and can be controlled using the company’s free online web portal or via smart phone apps. Which makes it suited to Google’s way of doing business. No intervening hardware, such as Z-wave or Zigbee hubs, are required; all that’s needed is a home Internet connection and a wireless router. There’s nothing to prevent Google from adding support for hubs later on, of course. But it’s easy to imagine Google adding its own secret sauce to the Nest portal and quickly creating what could well become the web’s default platform for free home automation support.

The retail selling proposition would be orders of magnitude simpler. Instead of trying to teach customers how to program devices and hubs and set up online accounts in order to sell a light switch, salespeople can say “download the app and Google will walk you through it from there”. Expect the usual handwringing from the usual suspects about privacy concerns, but if people are willing to let Google see their email, photos, calendars and contact books, why would they be particularly bothered about their thermostat settings?

Another advantage Google brings is its commitment to standards. If it pushes out an open source platform, as it did with Android, manufacturers can stop worrying about software development and Google can focus on providing services. And consumers can buy stuff that just works.