Home Builders are Reportedly Dumping Nest After Google’s Changes
One of the most profound problems with the idea of a “smart home” is the fundamental disconnect between how hardware manufacturers think about these products and how homeowners and homebuilders consider them. There have been multiple instances of companies going out of business or canceling older product lines with little-to-no concern for what would happen to the user base they left behind. Hardware manufacturers, it’s clear, want to treat home automation the way we treat cell phones, where you buy one, use it for a few years, and then swiftly upgrade to the latest model.
Vendors want ecosystem lock-in and often relatively short replacement cycles. Customers, however, want broad interoperability with other products and standards and long life-cycle reassurance. The last thing anyone wants is to be locked into a smart home solution vendor based on what equipment was included in their house. Builders are moving away from vendors that require lock-in solutions, and that appears to very much include Google Nest.
Multiple home contractors have reported that they stopped using Google Nest products after controversial changes the company announced earlier this year. In May, Google announced that it would wind down the “Works with Nest” program that was previously used for connecting the Nest ecosystem to third-party products and services. Instead, Nest users could make a one-way transition to the Works With Google Assistant (WWGA) program instead — but this meant giving up a lot of WWN functionality and the ability to integrate with third-party products that belonged to that system.
Last week, Google announced some additional features coming to the Works with Google program that should alleviate some of the concerns of end users, including a Device Access security program that other vendors can apply to (allowing certified products to control Nest devices), an update to Google Assistant that allows Nest devices to trigger a “routine” (a series of predefined actions), and a Direct Access for Individuals to allow end-users to create their own automated actions. Both of these last two features are coming at a later date, with routine support expected in 2020. The new Device Access program is already live.
Google is claiming that these moves are all about safeguarding end-user privacy. That would be more believable if Google wasn’t one of the leading companies responsible for the monetization of end-user privacy in the first place. The only thing funnier than the idea that Google cares about privacy is the idea that Facebook cares about privacy. What Google cares about is locking up all of that sweet, sweet data in its own silo. Every company claims to be concerned about user privacy. Every company is also convinced their own data-collection practices and policies represent the one safe refuge that individuals should trust.
But at least some builders aren’t jumping onboard with these systems. Home builders like David Berman, who install thousands of smart-home devices in homes per year, quit using Nest after Google announced changes to the program. “We were more or less forced into the switch,” he told Bloomberg. “When people buy a connected device, they expect it to connect. That’s not something that happens with Nest anymore.”
It isn’t. And if vendors get their way, it never will be. Silicon Valley companies view long-term contracts with customers as little more than an annoyance. In 2014, when Google bought Nest, Nest co-founder Matt Rogers wrote that “Nest data will stay with Nest.” Today, that’s no longer true, and Roger’s original blog post has been removed from the website. In Silicon Valley, the promises you make about long-term service and support are only as good as the length of time to takes to delete a webpage. In Silicon Valley, promises about customer data protection practices have expiration dates.
It’s not clear if homebuilders across the US are following the example of those Bloomberg spoke to, but this implies Google is losing major market share to Amazon Alexa in the smart home space. Whether that’s any kind of actual improvement is a different question.
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