If there was any belief that the big IT players and hardware manufacturers weren’t intending to battle it out to be the gateway to the connected home, that thought was further erased a few weeks ago when Nest snapped up hub maker Revolv.
Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed but Nest made it immediately clear that the hardware hub, which had contained 7 radios to connect with a variety of home devices, would be discontinued. Nest didn’t want another piece of hardware that was having tepid sales (and which it didn’t design). Rather the Google owned smart thermostat and smoke detector maker was after the home networking engineers at Revolv, and did the deal to bring that expertise in house. Nest co-founder Matt Rogers told ReCode, “There’s a certain amount of expertise in home wireless communications that doesn’t exist outside of these 10 people in the world.”
But what was more interesting to me than Rogers’ comments on the networking team were his comments to The Verge. He noted, “It’s about building the platform so other people can build their businesses on it. We’ll sell more Nest products into a richer ecosystem.”
Rogers used the world “platform.” If Nest had initially been thought of as just a great piece of disruptive design, it’s clear that its ambitions now have much more to do with establishing a controlling platform for interacting with all devices in the home. If we consider the way people turn to their mobile devices now to check email, text, consume media, I believe that a similar behavior will take place in relationship to the home such that we turn to our phones to check on the air conditioning, whether the door is locked and the lights are off, and how much power we’re using. And it’s important for consumer IT leaders to have a hand in that relationship. The Revolv acquisition gives Nest the wireless networking expertise to make connections to the governing platform as seamless as possible, which will be important because the potential for buggy connections, particularly among hundreds of different device makers, is high.
On the same day that Nest acquired Revolve, it also announced new partnerships with a group of startups including Life360 and Rachio. It’s becoming clear that three of the leading consumer electronics and mobile players—Samsung, Google and Apple—all feel they need to exert control over the platform that winds up controlling the home.
When Apple announced HomeKit at WWDC, Apple’s Craig Federighi alluded to concerns over device fragmentation, noting Apple wanted “to bring some rationality to the space.” HomeKit is bringing third party devices in house through its Made for iPhone (MFi) program. The competition to control the smart home is yet another point where Apple and Google are now butting heads in mobile. The opportunity to be the preeminent platform for accessing the home with the best connectivity with third party devices provides another reason for a consumer to buy into the entire mobile operating system of each IT leader.
Finally, let’s not forget Samsung. The company picked up hub maker SmartThings a few months back for a reported $200 million. Samsung has a bit of a different angle in that it actually manufactures a number of connected home appliances like fridges and washing machines. It has attempted to build a closed ecosystem in the smart home that would communicate with its phones and smart watch. But I suspect even Samsung realizes that such an approach will fail due to the proliferation of third party devices and the SmartThings acquisition gives it an opportunity to develop its own platform for the home that is device agnostic.
Who will win? Similar to mobile, there’s unlikely to be one winner. But companies that maintain an open ecosystem, maximizes the number of devices that can easily connect, and figure out a platform that allows for quick and simple visualization and control of all connected devices will triumph. That’s actually a pretty tall order. But perhaps bringing in some of the best home wireless networking engineers is one place to begin.