After years of hype and unfulfilled promises, the concept of the smart home looks to be losing the attention of consumers. This is due in no small part to the lackluster innovation emerging from major device makers like Nest, which has prioritized the safe and repetitive over the revolutionary.
A report released Wednesday by Argus Insights details that consumer interest in “connected home” devices fell 15 percent in the past year.
The report was definitely timely. Nest also held a special press event Wednesday where it unveiled its newest smart home product, Nest Cam, the spawn of its $555 million acquisition of plug-and-play security camera company Dropcam last June.
The Nest Cam boasts few notable non-cosmetic improvements over the Dropcam Pro of 2013, and stayed mostly in line with base expectations for a smart security camera these days, including upgrading video capture from 720p to 1080p resolution.
Other than an upgrade for the Nest Protect smoke alarm, there wasn’t really much else for the crowd to get excited about, something that was apparent considering the amount of time Nest spent talking about the Cam’s apparently ground-breaking “magnetic, zinc-alloy stand” (complete with its own tripod mount no less!). Many also expressed dismay over social media that Nest, which was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion last January, had failed to even make the Nest Cam weatherproof for outdoor video monitoring, a feature sorely missing from the Dropcam Pro.
The Nest Cam is still a fine product, and likely one of the best smart security camera options on the market now, but it’s been almost two years since Nest unveiled its last major product, was this really all we’d been waiting for?
Granted, Nest has never tackled the flashiest of products, and CEO Tony Fadell has always been explicit that his company is focused on simplifying the home rather than complicating it. But what had initially excited so many people about Nest was their ability to make the mundane and ignored, radical. They made their mark in 2011 with a thermostat so sleek and forward thinking that people were actually willing to use the word “sexy” to describe something that controlled their furnaces.
There are signs that something big could still be on the horizon for Nest, rumors ran wild a few months ago after Nest posted a job listing for someone to lead what they called Nest Audio. If Nest was to use their resources to build something like a high quality connected home speaker system with always-on Google Now access, think Amazon Echo meets Sonos, that would certainly be an exciting development for the smart home space.
Despite the relentless multitudes of smart light bulbs, power outlets and do-it-all buttons coming from various makers, new concepts are still springing forth from some. Unfortunately, most are either awful or being rushed half-baked and buggy to beat similarly ill-planned products to the market. The fault does not lie entirely with device makers. The lack of a unifying home automation framework is discouraging companies from specifying their product focuses as so few of them can easily communicate with each other anyway.
Hope may be on the way. At last month’s Google I/O conference, the company announced Project Brillo, a hyper-efficient Android-based competitor to Apple’s HomeKit IoT framework, and Weave, a set of developer tools that enable phones, the cloud and Brillo-powered devices to communicate with each other.
Apple does not seem to be throwing its full weight behind HomeKit, and planned hardware support for it at the moment is slim. If Google can easily woo device-makers to sign on, the improved compatibility will heighten demand and also discourage every company in the space from making repetitive iterations of the same product. Nest should clearly be Instrumental to this goal, yet the Google-owned poster boy for home automation only mentioned Brillo and Weave as a side note at its recent event.
This is a pretty critical time for home automation technologies, if the market continues to build anticipation for a product ecosystem that device makers don’t deliver on, average consumers aren’t going to be as receptive when the real deal comes around. Google and Apple are building frameworks that have the potential to unify the “connected home,” but if a Google-owned company like Nest can’t inject more innovation into the space in two years than a prettier copy of a product it overspent $555 million to acquire, I’m worried that the consumer demand won’t be around when Nest and others develop products that are really worth talking about.