Google positioned to set standards for smart homes

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.