Google's Smart Home Acquistion Strategy Builds

Toward the end of last year Google acquired cloud-hosted database company Firebase. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Google will continue to offer Firebase’s services as part of its Google Cloud Platform line. While the new acquisition and the technology it brings can support a range of online services, the functionality could also be leveraged to be part of Google’s growing armory within the smart home.

Firebase launched in 2012 and now claims that close to 110,000 developers are using its service. Its technology provides a way for applications running on devices, such as smartphones or connected home devices, to communicate in real time with its cloud database without requiring additional software for translating and communicating.

Data synchronizing with the Firebase system, rather than communicating and storing in separate processes, gives the potential to support real-time applications. That potential could be chat or it could be enabling devices to respond to network control in the home with minimal lag between request and action.

Google’s smart home acquisitions in 2014 have touched most aspects of the emerging smart home space. The acquisition of Nest gave the company a foothold in the device market and the developing energy management space. Nest’s proprietary wireless communications protocol Weave is also the foundation for Google’s Thread protocol to interconnect devices wirelessly in the home. Nest smoke detectors and Dropcam cameras, bought by Nest after its Google acquisition, will leverage the connectivity, but so will a growing number of devices from Thread backers.

Following the primarily smart home device and device protocol plays of the Nest and Dropcam deals, Google purchased Revolv, the multi-protocol smart home gateway start-up that had looked to provide cloud connectivity for a range of in-home devices by supporting a wide range of wireless protocols. The purchase gives Google combined technology, from smart device through short-range protocol to a gateway device. Revolv also provided cloud management of smart home devices through a combined interface which, like the gateway itself, provided control over a range of third-party connected devices.

Now with Firebase, Google has the potential to leverage the cloud for smart home control while minimizing the potential lag between control signal and actuator change. That lag, while unimportant when home control is being managed remotely, will be key to making it acceptable for in-home control.

These acquisitions have the potential to expand the role of the Nest thermostat from a single-function device into the smart home gateway, with services that can manage a range of third-party devices and applications. Google’s strategy is dependent upon cloud connectivity and management and it has been quick to realize the limitations of cloud-only control, with the potential of leveraging Firebase to speed up device management. That doesn’t overcome all the limitations of cloud management, but it does show that Google is assembling the building blocks to make a serious and collected assault on the smart home market in 2015.