That’s the question I asked myself this morning as I walked past one of my beloved Nest thermostats. When I see my Nest of a morning, I don’t have to adjust anything. It is already working just as I want it to do. I can just look at it admiringly knowing that something I used to worry about — what temperature to set the thermostat at and how to program it — is no more. If I am in a mood for it, I might nudge the Nest over to display a green leaf indicating (via a metric that is somewhat obscure) that I am saving the planet. But nowadays I am already at my green leaf optimum — balancing my own energy needs with environmental guilt.
I have six Nest devices now in my house. Two thermostats and four Connect alarms. The latter don’t give me daily feedback but I know that I will appreciate their presence and hopefully not have to experience their full capabilities. Both represent my favourite sort of digital innovation — reexamining and improving on something that is routine and boring. Applying great design with technological opportunity to get things right. Basically, being quite happy to push the frontier on so called ‘first world problems.’
Google bought Nest yesterday for $3.2 billion. That’s Snapchat money for a business that was just starting but had real revenues. I don’t normally worry too much about Google acquisitions. I could see, for instance, the rationale for Zagat and Waze. YouTube has certainly been a success. But with Nest I worried. Nest was doing things so right I worried that change could only be wrong. I haven’t longed to do a Google search on my Nest. My imagination doesn’t allow me to see any improvement this time around.
The rationale for the acquisition of Nest seems to be similar to YouTube. Google will provide capabilities and investments that will allow Nest to scale. More importantly, as the Nest founder explained:
I was spending nearly ninety percent of my time on building the infrastructure of the company and I wasn’t able to spend enough time and cycles on what I love doing: products and creating differentiated experiences for our customers. That is where my love is and Google offered to let us focus on that, but with scale that will help bring our horizon closer to us, faster. Google offers to bring that scale to us. For me, ultimately building great products is key.
That sounds like a sensible rationale.
But there are worries. Some are concerned about the data. Nest have said that it will remain private. Frankly, that is the last of my concerns. The data is something that can be used to make things work better. In any case, my bet is that Google will provide an option to opt in to share data in return for some better features down the line. As with pretty much every other case involving privacy, people will give it up in a heartbeat without much in the way of negative consequences. That was inevitable — Google or no Google — and, in fact, Google has a reputation to stabilise with this and so is surely a better place for that data to reside.
My main worry is on the innovation front. I don’t want Nest to stop. But there are precedents for that happening with Google. My favourite example is GrandCentral. In 2007, GrandCentral had done the seemingly impossible — finally worked out a sensible way for people to have a single contact number. David Pogue described it quite perfectly and enthusiastically. Soon after Google bought GrandCentral. The hope is that they would bring it to scale and move it beyond the US. In other words, do what they are promising to do for Nest. It then lay dormant for 2 years before being relaunched as Google Voice. Apart from some basic integration, not much has changed. This was a service that should have replaced all others — including Skype — and it didn’t happen. It is hard to point the finger anywhere else but Google for that.
Time will tell regarding Nest but right now it seems appropriate to remind the world of the ghost of GrandCentral and hold Google to account.