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Connected Homes February 2015 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Kyle M. Whitman

Works with Nest

Why is this topic significant?

Google subsidiary Nest Labs now offers a cloud-based software solution—Works with Nest—that allows home-automation manufacturers and service providers to link their solutions with Nest's. WWN has some distinctive attributes that help make complex—and potentially compelling—multidevice interactions much more accessible to ordinary users than before.

Description

As of the end of January 2015, Nest's website lists more than 30 companies (including Nest subsidiary Dropcam) that offer Works with Nest (WWN) integration on some of their home-automation products and services. Home-automation-solution providers that want to connect their devices to WWN must ensure that those devices are online (for example, via a home user's Wi-Fi connection) and must also maintain their own cloud service that manages and maintains those connections. WWN's application-programming interface allows those third-party-solution providers to link their own online services to Nest's cloud service, which, in turn, allows the third-party solutions to issue commands to Nest's products (or vice versa).

Nest controls most of the user experience of WWN. For example, users configure their devices' WWN functions via the Nest mobile application or the Nest website. "Configuring" a typical WWN function typically involves deciding only whether to turn that function on or off, and many WWN-paired devices or services have a single function only. The function itself can be complex, however. For example, Philips' Hue smart lightbulbs have a WWN function that causes the lights to turn off automatically when a connected Nest Thermostat determines that no one is home (via its presence-detection system). If no one is home for more than a day, then WWN will periodically switch different Hue lights on and off so as to simulate that someone is at home, to deter burglary. Households that have a Nest Protect smoke alarm can enable a function that flashes their Hue lights when the alarm goes off.

Implications

Among the various solutions that exist for connecting home-automation devices and services, WWN has a few distinctive attributes. First, WWN's cloud connection allows Nest to abstract away the difficulties that arise in attempting to connect various home-automation devices over a local-area network. Those difficulties essentially become the relevant third-party-device maker's problem, thereby helping to protect Nest's brand image if basic connectivity issues exist. Nest's handling of the core WWN user experience is also good for its own brand but can also be very helpful for third-party manufacturers. Creating high-quality user interfaces has proved to be extremely difficult for home-automation providers, and Nest's software and design capabilities are among the best in the home-automation industry.

Impacts/Disruptions

Ultimately, it is WWN's combination of very simple, "zero-configuration" setup and powerful, useful capabilities that distinguishes it in the home-automation market. In comparison with typical approaches to home automation, WWN comes far closer to embodying the kind of user experience that home-automation systems will need to deliver in order to have any chance of finally achieving true mass-market success. But considering that many standards and quasi-standards that do not work with Nest are already in use in millions of homes today, that success is far from assured.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Home automation, home security, broadband connectivity, software, cloud services

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Thread

Why is this topic significant?

Thread is a new low-power wireless-communications protocol for home-automation devices that equip communications hardware compatible with the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. Google subsidiary Nest Labs is a founding member of the Thread Group and uses the standard to allow its own devices to communicate with one another. In the future, devices from multiple manufacturers may use Thread to integrate with Nest products and with each other.

Description

During 2014, Nest Labs founded the Thread Group together with eight other home- and building-automation hardware companies, including Samsung, Tyco, Freescale, and ARM. As of the end of January 2015, the Thread Group's website lists more than 50 additional group members, including home-automation-peripheral makers, appliance makers, utility companies, and hardware vendors.

Thread runs on hardware that supports the IEEE 802.15.4 standard for physical- and media-access-control network layers. 802.15.4 hardware is relatively common in home-automation peripherals: Many other low-power communications protocols, including ZigBee and MiWi, run on 802.15.4. Thread offers essentially the same benefits that these other low-power wireless protocols offer, including very low energy consumption (an important attribute for many types of home-automation peripherals) and a self-healing mesh-network topology (also very beneficial for home-automation). Thread offers—among other options—improved security in comparison with that of other low-power protocols; the Thread software stack includes AES encryption (a common type of encryption standard in use in many kinds of networking applications) that is enabled by default. Thread also contains many optimizations that improve performance over that of older low-power wireless protocols.

Apparently, no third party has yet produced or even announced any Thread-compatible hardware, software, or services in finished form. Reportedly, Nest uses Thread to enable wireless communication between and among its Nest Protect smoke detectors and Nest Thermostat products. The thermostat became available in 2011, and Nest Protect has been available since 2013.

Implications

Nest Labs' first major product, the Nest Learning Thermostat, has incorporated an 802.15.4 radio chip since its first release in 2011. The April 2012 Viewpoints discusses the inclusion of this radio chip, for which Nest Labs had announced no applications at the time. Given that the chip could support ZigBee (indeed, the part found use in a number of ZigBee devices of the time), Nest might have used the hardware to popularize low-power wireless networking for home-automation use. Evidently, Nest was unsatisfied with the performance of ZigBee and other existing 802.15.4 protocols and opted to create its own.

Impacts/Disruptions

Nest Labs may have played the most significant role in creating Thread and its within-the-home wireless connections to partners' hardware. But it remains unclear what role Thread will play in Nest Labs' burgeoning home-automation strategy, which currently appears to center on the Wi-Fi-to-cloud-connected, protocol-agnostic Works with Nest (WWN) platform. Notably, many of the home-automation-equipment manufacturers that are members of the Thread Group also offer products that integrate with WWN. No indication yet exists that any of these products use Thread to communicate with Nest devices directly, but it is possible that Thread and WWN could integrate in the future. For example, Thread would be ideal for connecting low-power sensors that could in turn enhance many types of existing WWN applications.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Home automation, building automation, smart buildings, smart cities, smart grids, home security, broadband connectivity, software, cloud services

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: