Brian Ries sees Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of the smart-home tech company Nest as part of a push for total data dominance:
No longer satisfied crunching data gleaned from the lives we lead on computers and smartphones, Google will soon have a hand in data that maps the patterns of our lives in our homes. Our home-data. Smart-thermostats will lead to smart-sinks. Smart-sinks will leak into smart-refrigerators. Smart-refrigerators to smart-stoves. Smart-stoves to smart-beds (already a thing). And so on. … The company, it can be surmised, could soon know the hours we sleep. The time we wake up. The amount of water we used when we bathe.
I think it’s easier to slot in this purchase with Google’s recent push into robotics, led by the former head of Android, Andy Rubin. Nest always thought of itself as a robotics company; the robot is just hidden inside this sleek Appleish case. Look at who the company brought in as its VP of technology: Yoky Matsuoka, a roboticist and artificial intelligence expert from the University of Washington. In an interview I did with her in 2012, Matsuoka explained why that made sense. She saw Nest positioned right in a place where it could help machine and human intelligence work together: “The intersection of neuroscience and robotics is about how the human brain learns to do things and how machine learning comes in to augment that.”
Joshua Gans worries that Google’s acquisitions are stifling innovation:
Some are concerned about the data. Nest have said that it will remain private. Frankly, that is the last of my concerns. The data is something that can be used to make things work better. In any case, my bet is that Google will provide an option to opt in to share data in return for some better features down the line. As with pretty much every other case involving privacy, people will give it up in a heartbeat without much in the way of negative consequences. That was inevitable — Google or no Google — and, in fact, Google has a reputation to stabilise with this and so is surely a better place for that data to reside.
My main worry is on the innovation front. I don’t want Nest to stop. But there are precedents for that happening with Google. My favourite example is GrandCentral. In 2007, GrandCentral had done the seemingly impossible — finally worked out a sensible way for people to have a single contact number. David Pogue described it quite perfectly and enthusiastically. Soon after Google bought GrandCentral. The hope is that they would bring it to scale and move it beyond the US. In other words, do what they are promising to do for Nest. It then lay dormant for 2 years before being relaunched as Google Voice. Apart from some basic integration, not much has changed. This was a service that should have replaced all others — including Skype — and it didn’t happen. It is hard to point the finger anywhere else but Google for that.
Henry Blodget wonders why Apple didn’t snatch up Nest first:
Nest makes connected thermostats and smoke detectors. It was founded by Tony Fadell, one of the guys who designed Apple’s iPod. Nest products look like Apple products. Nest products are beloved by people who love Apple products. Nest products are sold in Apple stores. Nest, in short, looked like a perfect acquisition for Apple, which is struggling to find new product lines to expand into and has a mountain of cash rotting away on its balance sheet with which it could buy things. But Apple didn’t buy Nest. Google did. And this appears to continue a pattern in which — in the bitter head-to-head battle between Apple and Google — Google is fixing its weaknesses (hardware) much faster than Apple is fixing its own weaknesses (software and services). At first glance, in other words, it appears that Google’s aggressiveness has once again caught Apple snoozing. And now a company that looked to be a perfect future division of Apple is gone for good.