Yesterday, Google made a bold acquisition, swallowing red-hot home-automation gadget company Nest for $US3.2 billion.
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.
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.
This isn’t to say that Nest doesn’t have problems. It does.
Like many other people, I was seduced by the sexy design, remote app control, and hyperventilating gadget-site reviews of Nest’s thermostat. So I bought one. Then I read all the actual-user reviews in which Nest customers had discovered that the Nest thermostat looked nice but suddenly went haywire and boiled or froze their houses. Nest, some Amazon reviewers said, was all form and no function. It looked pretty, but it couldn’t do what even a $US10 hardware store thermostat could do, which was reliably control the temperature in your house.
One prominent tech guru, John Borthwick, recently complained on Twitter that a Nest thermostat failure had led to a frozen (and busted) pipe in his house. And our Senior Tech editor, Jay Yarow, discovered that the only way to stop his house from turning into a sauna was to rip his Nest off the wall.
(After a couple of hours on the phone with tech support, Jay was finally referred to an electrician. The electrician came to his house, ran new wiring, and fixed the Nest, which was supposed to have been an easy self-install).
Anyway, after hearing of all these problems, I have been too frightened to actually install the Nest I bought. So I don’t know whether it will work or not.
But it does look cool.
And the “remote-control life” aspect of it is really cool.
Someday soon, most of the equipment in our lives will likely be controllable from our tablets, laptops, and smartphones — and Google being in the laptop, tablet, smartphone, and Internet services business makes it an obvious buyer for Nest.
Of course, Apple is in the laptop, tablet, smartphone, and Internet services business, too. And it needs to develop new product lines. So even if Tony Fadell and Apple design god Jony Ive hate each other, as some have suggested, it still seems like Apple should have bought Nest.