With the announcement this week of Nest Labs purchase of Dropcam, along with their announcement of a new developer platform, including API’s, Google has finally given us an inkling as to where they are going with their home automation strategy. Apple revealed their plans a few weeks ago at their World Wide Developer’s Conference, when they introduced HomeKit. With both of these introductions, the battle of the heavy weights for the “home of today” has finally begun, and the two approaches couldn’t be any more different. Google/Nest is all about the Cloud, and Apple is all about their continued push to sell iOS hardware as the controller.
The Google/Nest Strategy: It’s in the Cloud
When is a thermostat not a thermostat? When it’s Nest and attached to Google’s massive cloud. It is clear from recent moves that Nest’s intention is to become the central platform for Internet of Things’ [IoT] connectivity in the home. The Nest developer program was introduced with partners Mercedes-Benz, Jawbone, IFTTT, Logitech, LIFX, and Whirlpool, all connecting their devices to the centralize cloud controller through Nest. With Jawbone, Google says the Up24 band can let the Nest thermostat know “to heat up or cool down your home before you even step out of bed.” Your Whirlpool dryer can start spinning your clothes when you wake, providing you a nice warm and wrinkle free shirt to put on that day. Nest’s smoke detector can tell LIFX smart light bulbs to “flash red to let you know there might be danger and help alert those who are hearing impaired.” Mercedes owners can now have their cars tell your Nest thermostat when you’re heading home so it can “start heating or cooling at exactly the right time.”
This is just the beginning. With an open developer platform we are going to see all the typical home automation functions connecting to Google’s central cloud platform, all through your Nest. One can easily image where this is headed. Your Jawbone will be able to talk directly to your dryer, your car directly to your lights, etc. Each of the connected devices will be able to communicate directly through the Nest translator thermostat.
Prior to the Nest API announcement, Nest Labs announced the purchase of IP webcam provider Dropcam. Matt Rogers, the founder and head of engineering at Nest said in a blog post on the company’s website, “Many of you already own Dropcam products and have asked if we could make them work with Nest.” Purchasing Dropcam and pairing it with Nest’s products is the first step in Google/Nest’s building out their hardware portfolio for a home automation platform.
The Apple Strategy: It’s the Controller
Apple has taken a different strategy with their HomeKit announcement. So what is HomeKit? HomeKit is a smart-home iOS software framework that enables discovery and control of third party connected devices by an iPhone or other iOS device. Many of today’s smart devices are controlled by a dedicated application (Belkin WeMo, Nest, Philips Hue). Apple allows multiple devices to be controlled by a central app, and, of course, Siri.
Apple’s strategy, at least for now, is to stay out of the hardware fray, and focus on their own existing hardware with new software on top. On the surface, this doesn’t seem to be a very revolutionary idea. A week or so ago, I wrote about Revolv and SmartThings, home systems which provide the same basic functionality as HomeKit, independent of the OS. Though a hardware/software combination platform, both of these systems also work with most of the same smart-home devices that HomeKit is able to control. And they are here today. And they are available on multiple platforms. Now before I totally write off HomeKit as a “me too” product, Apple did add a few twists, allowing for “scenes” or groupings of devices such as “time for bed” which could adjust lights, thermostats, etc..
Apple strategy is focused on increasing their value with existing customers and staying out of the competitive hardware segment. Apple users can now assume that the iOS device in home owners’ hands will be THE controller for their homes. In addition, Apple changed the rules to focus on the iOS devices as the controller of choice, rather than focus on what underlying technologies and hardware were in use. There is certainly something to be said for that. My guess is that Apple realizes the infrastructure technologies they currently employ in the iPhone (i.e Cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) are the pillars for the connected home of the future. By encouraging vendors to build around supporting the iPhone as opposed to focusing on the infrastructure wireless technologies, they can guide the market without having to make a large investment in hardware products for a fractured market. Down the road I would expect to see Apple take a further step and introduce products (other than AppleTV) for the home, but not until they have solidified the iPhone as the controller of choice for Home Automation.
So Who Wins?
The consumer wins, for now. Competition is good, and there are really two solid camps here: Apple and Google. Anyone already wed to the Apple platform will have great options with HomeKit compatible devices. Anyone already using Android platforms will go with the Nest/Google solution. Bottom line is that both strategies show an increased desire from both companies to provide consumers with new and interesting technologies that have the potential make our in-home lives better, or at least more “automated”.