Works with Nest Changes Shows Fragility of Smart Home Market
Let me start by saying that I’m absolutely in favor of Google’s decision to fully integrate the Nest brand into their expanding smart home ecosystem. The decision to shut down the Works with Nest program is one that will have a drastic number of implications for the wider smart home ecosystem, which we’re about to dive into, but the move will enable Google to have tighter control over the products and services that can access the program—an important step forward for a company that desperately needs to change the narrative around its data control and privacy efforts.
The Works with Google Assistant program, which will replace Works with Nest, will allow for data sharing between connected devices and apps—but only among a much smaller number of pre-approved partners. That’s a positive on the privacy front, but what it does is create a whole host of problems for consumers (and manufacturers) who are tied into the Works with Nest program and use devices that don’t fall on that list of pre-approved partners. Additionally, problems could arise when the program sunsets but support for the new Works with Google Assistant program hasn’t been added to certain devices—something some brands are already considering.
One way or the other, a large number of consumers are going to be left with smart home devices that no longer act as they were intended to. Scenes and schedules that previously provided a simple, automated in-home experience are going to end up broken and useless. One prime example of that, as a Google VP recently told Variety, is the IFTTT protocol. The IFTTT system, which has served as a smart home early adopter’s way to make multiple devices interact and execute specific tasks, will break when Works with Nest shuts down on August 31. Google said it plans to replace much of IFTTT’s functionality with its own Google Assistant routines, but it won’t be able to accommodate all of those actions.
More importantly, though, this move by Google exposes the fragile nature of the entire smart home ecosystem as it currently exists. For what it’s worth, the smart home is still in its infancy in the grand scheme of things. But with all of the early hype and excitement around the technology, and as manufacturers have flooded the market with their own smart home devices, and as services like Works with Nest and IFTTT have established themselves as the early platforms for allowing devices to talk to one another, it’s terrifying to see how one seemingly minor decision by one company to move to a new platform can effectively take down an untold number of products. And who knows how that will reverberate throughout the industry, how it might impact product roadmaps, and even what it might do to entire companies that have tied their products to the Works with Nest platform.
Dramatic? Perhaps. But these are all fair questions.
There will be workarounds that emerge. Manufacturers will adapt and offer consumers a way to migrate to the new platform. And life in the smart home will go on. But not for everyone. This decision by Google—again, one that I support—will impact consumers who don’t even know what’s coming. The onus, then, falls on the industry as a whole—from Google, to the manufacturers in the space, to the retailers who sell these products—to educate the consumer on the coming changes.
Change is inevitable, especially when it comes to consumer technology. But it’s wild to see just how impactful this one decision is on an entire segment of the consumer tech market.