Has Google emptied the Nest?

The Internet of Things is a growing world of connectivity. But has one massive player just shut the door on what should be an open network? Anna Hayes explores Google’s discontinuation of the Works With Nest program.

The number of connected devices is growing year-on-year and a large part of their appeal is their ability to work in tandem with each other through a central hub.

Approximately 14.2 billion connected devices were in use across the world last year with that number expected to grow to 25 billion by 2021, according to analyst Gartner.

As with anything technology related, security of data is a concern and it’s one that Google says is a driving factor behind its decision to discontinue the Works with Nest program or, perhaps a more accurate statement might be to ‘kill it with kindness’, allowing it to drip feed its remaining connections until the last users jump ship.

Founded in 2010, Nest Labs specialised in a smart thermostat, which acted as a hub for further home automation devices and connections. They followed that up with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as well as home security systems including cameras and smart locks.

In addition, the Works with Nest (WWN) program allowed third party devices to communicate with Nest’s products including virtual assistants and other home automation platforms. In 2014, Google acquired Nest for US$3.2 billion and set about a rebranding process.

In May of last year, Google announced its proposed discontinuation of the program to much furore from the Nest-using community who were facing the prospect of newly zombified devices with one fell swoop of a programmer’s mouse.

Google Nest director of product and smart home ecosystem Michele Turner responded on the Google Blog with the somewhat ironically titled post ‘We hear you: updates to Works with Nest’, where she sought to clarify the changes and stress its commitment to the security of users’ data.

She says: “The decision to retire WWN was made to unify our efforts around third-party connected home devices under a single platform for developers to build features for a more helpful home. The goal is to simplify the experience for developers and to give you more control over how your data is shared.”

While the initial intention was to shut down the Works with Nest on 31 August 2019, the uproar, as Michele writes, was heard and, instead, the network was left open to existing users after that date.

Google clarified that those who chose to remain on a Nest account after that date would not have access to new features that would be available to users who migrate to a Google account. Google stopped accepting new WWN connections on August 31.

For new Google Nest users, there is minimal disruption as they’re effectively starting from scratch. But for seasoned Nest users, who have multiple WWN devices in their home, things are more complicated as third party devices may not have the same, or any, functionality with Works with Google Assistant (WWGA).

A number of high-profile companies were set to be affected by more limited functionality including Philips Hue, IFTTT, Lutron, WEMO, SimpliSafe and many others. The big issue for many is the breakdown of functionality in the area of routines where the Nest thermostat, for example, could trigger changes in temperature based on a Home/Away status.

IFTTT urged its users who wished to retain existing connections and routines on Nest products not to migrate to a Google account as the process was irreversible.

Google is working on delivering a single consumer and developer experience through the Google Assistant, according to Michele who adds: “WWGA already works with over 3,500 partners and 30,000 devices, and integrates seamlessly with Assistant Routines.”

Google is working with Amazon to migrate the Nest skill that allows control of Nest thermostats and cameras through Alexa, but not every third-party product will get the same hospitality.

Michele says: “For these custom integrations, partners will undergo security audits and we’ll control what data is shared and how it can be used. You’ll also have more control over which devices these partners will see by choosing the specific devices you want to share.”

She adds: “We know we can’t build a one-size-fits-all solution, so we’re moving quickly to work with our most popular developers to create and support helpful interactions that give you the best of Google Nest. Our goal remains to give you the tools you need to make your home, and those of other Nest users, helpful in the ways that matter most to you.”

On a notice on the Nest website, the team says it is committed to supporting the WWN integrations that “users value most”, adding that once any particular WWN functionality is available on the WWGA platform, users could migrate with minimal disruption.

They say they are committed to making the smart home less complicated and more helpful by bringing all Nest and Home products together under the brand of Google Nest.

There is less clarity when it comes to the future for third party devices. Nest says that all WWN connections must be removed before migrating to a Google account – this process cannot be reversed but users will be allowed to review their WWN connections in Google to decide how to proceed.

“We recognise you may want your Nest devices to work with other connected ecosystems. […] Additionally, we’re working with other partners to offer connected experiences that deliver more custom integrations.”

The concern, of course, is that not all third party services or devices will make the grade on Google’s criteria, leaving the Nest faithful with either a suite of technology that they can’t upgrade or modify for fear of loss by remaining on a Nest account, or a house full of unusable or, at the very least not fully functional, probable pricy tech, that will have to be set up all over again.

There is also the suggestion that in shutting out certain third party devices, Google is essentially creating its own closed ecosystem – something that goes against the very essence of IoT.

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Reference: Connected Home