The Implications of Google Ending “Works with Nest”

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3Q 2019 | IN-5557

Google has announced it will finally bring together its Nest and Google Home smart home efforts into a single brand and management platform. This change will have Nest customers transitioning from Nest to Google Home device and system management, and may also cause them to lose capabilities and services they already use. Nest’s existing partners will have to work to transition their capabilities to the new platform, and some will lose access to the Google smart home ecosystem. Above all, this serves as a timely reminder for the industry of the drivers and drawbacks that have underpinned the past few years of accelerated growth in the smart home market.

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Google Ending Its "Works with Nest" Partner Program

NEWS


Google has announced it will finally bring together its Nest and Google Home smart home efforts into a single brand and management platform. This change will have Nest customers transitioning from Nest to Google Home device and system management, and may also cause them to lose capabilities and services they already use. Nest’s existing partners will have to work to transition their capabilities to the new platform, and some will lose access to the Google smart home ecosystem. Above all, this serves as a timely reminder for the industry of the drivers and drawbacks that have underpinned the past few years of accelerated growth in the smart home market.

One App, One Platform, Not All Integrations Will Move

IMPACT


Google says it is making this switch to simplify the experience for end users as they adopt smart home services and devices. The move aims to make interoperability between its offerings more transparent by replacing the separate Nest and Google Home brands with the new Google Nest moniker. In addition, the company intends for the move to improve consumer security and privacy by delivering a single privacy agreement across Google Home and Nest products for the first time. End user migration from Nest to Google accounts will take place during the summer.

Key to these changes is the ending of the Works with Nest partner program and its replacement by a single platform—an enhanced Works with Google Assistant program. Google says it will work with the companies behind the most popular existing Works with Nest integrations, but not all. Developers and companies behind existing devices and integrations working with Nest’s earlier program will continue to work, but won’t be developed to enable new features supported by Google Assistant going forward. No new Works with Nest integrations will be accepted after August 31, 2019. Google says as it migrates the functionality used by Works with Nest integrations to the Works with Google Assistant (WWGA) platform, third-parties will be expected to migrate their services and customers from a Nest Account to a Google Account. However, it is not guaranteeing all functionality will be migrated.

The company says the WWGAplatform currently supports over 3,500 partners and 30,000 devices but that, even so, one of the most popular Works with Nest features will not be immediately migrated to the new platform. Instead, the ability to automatically trigger routines based on Nest Home/Away status will not be available on Google Assistant until later this year.

Major smart home vendors have issued warnings to their customers. Lutron, for example, warned its end users that they will lose the ability to automate the operation of lights based on Nest’s Home/Away Assist status, alerts from Nest cameras, and smoke and/or carbon monoxide detection by Next ProtectThey will also lose the ability to control the Nest thermostat from within the Lutron smartphone app.

Some supporters of Works with Nest are being asked to invest in the switch while others are being cut from any integration at all. Google has also said that one key impact of its switch to works with Google Assistant is the end of Nest If This, Then That (IFTTT) interoperability. IFTTT has long given end users and companies a relatively simple and ad hoc way to offer smart home and other application integrations. Once Works with Nest is shut down, IFTTT support is set to end entirely. The more open Application Programming Interface (API) Works with Nest infrastructure also supported unofficial integrations, which will also lose connectivity.

Leveraging Smart Home Control

RECOMMENDATIONS


Nest launched the Works with Nest program in 2014—the same year Google acquired the company. However, it left Google’s direct control the following year as it became a separate company under Google parent Alphabet. The realization that the company had become too detached from an essentially parallel smart home effort within Google itself meant that Nest was back under Google’s control in 2018 and provided the impetus for the drive to bring the two businesses together/

However, as Nest’s ownership moved around, thousands of device manufacturers and developers integrated with the Works with Nest program as they looked to benefit from the success of the company’s smart thermostat and other popular smart home offerings. Now, many of those third-party program and device makers face uncertainty as to when, and if, their devices and services when will be ported into the WWGA program. If they aren’t ported in, there will be an additional expense to remain within Google/Nest smart homes, but it would be even worse if WWGA no longer offers to share the amount or types of data these third parties require. Google said it would only give numbers of thoroughly vetted partners access to additional data if customers explicitly allowed such data sharing.

The rationale for Google to push to Works with Google Assistant and a single platform across its smart home offering is understandable. Smart home demands a simpler way for consumers to deploy devices and have them work from a single interface. Supporting two customer platforms duplicates support costs and complicates customer management. For customers too, there are additional passwords and steps to take in managing their smart home devices that potentially hamper their ability to interconnect the devices like a system. Thereremains a good deal of customer education and effort required to pull together rival branded popular smart home devices and services into a system—a single brand across the growing Google smart home device roster makes adding new devices a more simple prospect for consumers.

The move also solidifies Google’s control of data in the homes with or set to deploy its popular Google Home devices and the Google Assistant voice control platform at the heart of those devices. Voice control is an increasingly key starting point for millions of smart homes. The low-cost and readily understandable use case for voice control in the home provide Google, Amazon, and a growing list of competitors around the world with the key relationship to smart home users. The popularity of voice has not just been built on quickly recognized value in the eye of end users and the subsidized pricing of supporting hardware, but also by the ability for the vendors to gain a close relationship with millions of connected homes and the valuable data those connections can deliver.

Despite enormous growth over the past decade, the smart home, to many degrees, remains in its infancy. Even so, over the next five years, key markets will transition from seeking new consumers to having to appeal to existing smart home users looking to add and integrate new devices alongside existing ones. The ability to draw the most attractive third-party smart home partners to any smart home platform will be driven by that platform’s scale and reach.

While Google, Amazon, and others still feel they need to grow their user bases as quickly as possible, supporting third-party integrations will continue to be a valuable asset. For example, Google has made a point of insisting it is working with Amazon to migrate the Nest skill that supported Nest thermostat and Nest camera livestreaming control via Amazon Alexa.

However, Google’s approach to its Works with Nest program is a valuable reminder of the key dynamics in the smart home market. Smart Home is a market that remains almost completely free of standardization. While this may have helped draw investment and speed adoption, it does leave the control of millions of home systems and devices in the hands of a relatively small number of players. The popular embrace of voice control has further exacerbated this shift and placed control into the hands of some of the wealthiest companies in the world.

Google may still feel the need to enable interoperability with a large portion of vendors to underpin the appeal of its own smart home offerings, but integration with its platform is very much at the company’s discretion and Google’s incentives for supporting such partnerships will change over time. The company is not unique in this and its closest rivals are subject to the same drivers and freedom to do the same in future. What is clear is that, as the largest smart home players increasingly expand not just their smart home hardware product lines but the applications and services they deliver as well, more and more third parties will become direct competitors and risk having their engagement in the largest smart home ecosystems restricted or removed entirely.

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