PALO ALTO, Calif. — Nest Labs has made its mark by persuading consumers to think of thermostats, smoke alarms and security cameras not as boring appliances but as alluring objects representing the homes of the future.
Now the Palo Alto gadget-maker that Google acquired last year is working to get more household devices talking to the Internet and one another.
And it has tapped Greg Hu, as the leader of the Works with Nest program, to help coordinate nearly 12,000 outside developers seeking to build applications, from lights to deadbolt locks, that work with Nest’s platform. Unlike app-makers for smartphones, many of Nest’s partners are legacy home product companies.
Hu sat down for an interview recently at the Palo Alto headquarters of Nest. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You and Nest CEO Tony Fadell both spent a lot of time at Apple. Do Nest and Apple have a similar business philosophy? And what’s it like working for him?
A: It’s great. Lots of energy. He’s got a really strong point of view on where the products are heading, where the developer program is heading. It’s very familiar here when you come from Apple. We care a lot about design, about product design, the details, the messaging, how we talk about the products and features. We spend a lot of time designing the website. It’s about wrapping up that customer experience in a compelling way.
Q: So Tony doesn’t like to call it Internet of Things, right?
A: We hate it. We never use the term IoT.
Q: What do you prefer?
A: These are connected products, but we want it to become a little more meaningful than that. It’s almost like a conscious home. It’s doing the right thing. The technology’s enabling it, but it’s really kind of in the background. Customers don’t have to think about programming their devices. It’s really intuitive. They don’t have to think about plugging in a hub just to enable things to actually talk. This is a fantastic thermostat, one of the best if not the best in the market, and you just plug it into your wall. That’s how we imagine the home. Users don’t have to think about programming or technologies or communications protocols.
Q: How many Nest users are using apps created by third-party developers?
A: We looked at the numbers earlier this year, and 1 in 8 Nest homes has a Works with Nest product. We were optimistic about people trying new things, but I think the adoption’s been surprisingly high for us.
Q: Which are the most popular integrations?
A: Connected lights are pretty popular. The Philips Hue light integration is meaningful because it saves customers energy. So if they forget to turn the lights off and leave the house, and Nest turns the home to “away,” it will automatically turn off your lights. And in a safety event, if Nest Protect (smoke and carbon monoxide detector) goes off, you can have the lights flash to indicate there’s some kind of issue in your home. Those are the types of things that really resonate with customers.
Q: Any you are particularly excited about?
A: I’m actually really excited about this Yale lock (called Linus; it launches this year). I think it’s going to be awesome. We’ve started to get rid of car keys. You can just walk into a car, and start your car. It’s going to be really fun to see the home become key-free. You can just enter a passcode. So I can go running or cycling and I don’t have to carry keys with me. We also care a lot about security in the home, and having a passcode-based lock is actually more secure than a key-based lock because it can’t be copied; you can’t lose your key and have somebody else pick it up. People can’t bump your lock. And it looks fantastic and it’s going to look great on the front door.
Q: How do you maintain Nest’s privacy standards when working with third-party developers?
A: There are a couple key tenets. One is being really transparent with the customer. So that the customer understands, with all these connected products in the home, how are they working together and what data and information are they sharing between each other? At any point, they can choose to deconnect them and deauthorize that integration. It’s the customer’s data. It’s their home. It’s a sacred place. We want to make sure that they’re always in control and understanding exactly what’s happening.
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