In the beginning, Nest Labs sprinkled Apple's design magic on thermostats, and the people loved it. Then it went after lowly smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and those pedestrian devices may never be the same. But what's next in Nest's bag of tricks?
On Tuesday, as expected, the hot smart appliances company founded by iPod creator Tony Fadell unveiled Nest Protect, its answer to smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The news was first reported last month by former Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Lessin.
Nest Protect is a clever $129 device designed to help people appreciate what are no doubt two of the most unloved appliances in their homes. The smoke detector is a device that only seems to go off when toast burns or when the battery gets weak. That means climbing a ladder, struggling to pull the detector off the ceiling, yanking out the battery, and then, more often than not, forgetting to put it back up again. Nest says research shows that when there's a house fire, 73 percent of smoke detectors don't go off because they've been disconnected or had their batteries die.
With Nest Protect, it's easy to handle the alarm going off for burnt toast: Simply wave your hand at the device, and it goes quiet. If there's a real fire, or carbon monoxide is detected, the alarm that sounds is much louder than when there's nothing more than burning toast. In addition, the device sends a daily battery status report to the Nest mobile app (which is the same one that controls its thermostats). When a home has more than one Protect -- and homes often have three or more smoke detectors -- if one device senses any kind of problem, the others sound the alert. Plus, because Nest is building a platform, not just a collection of standalone devices, if the Protect senses carbon monoxide, it can automatically shut down a Nest thermostat if one is installed.
Nest is clearly committed to disrupting the home appliance market, bringing new life to staid product categories. It's already sold hundreds of thousands of thermostats, proving that there was a thirst for new approaches to product categories that hadn't been radically updated in years. It's hard to say how many Protects it will sell, especially when you consider that installing several of them at once is a pricey proposition. Still, with two product categories now disrupted, the question becomes what will the Palo Alto, Calif., startup attack next?
What next for Nest?
Unsurprisingly, the company isn't revealing specifics about its future product pipeline. But in a recent interview with CNET, CEO Fadell said that Nest is interested in identifying people's "key needs inside the home, and where [the] key touch points are," and that bringing connectivity to devices that provide energy data is a likely direction.
Added Fadell, "I think energy data is critical to go around to every single appliance that uses energy."
Beyond those who work at or very closely with Nest, no one knows what the company is working on. One clue to the future of its products, though, came when it announced recently that it is opening up its platform to outside developers. That means that a wide variety of third-party products could be connected to the Nest platform. Fadell said that the Nest auto-away feature, which because it automatically detects when people are home or not, and can turn appliances on or off as a result, is at the heart of what third-party developers might be able to do. "We're seeing things where [developers] want to do more and program other products inside your home," Fadell said. "They want to take advantage of [auto-away] information."
But Nest is obviously going to develop new products itself, especially as it grows past its current head count of 270.
To others in the smart home space, Nest is a clear leader when it comes to demonstrating to the public that connected appliances are worth investing in. "When I think of Nest," said Gabriel Bestard, CEO of smart lock maker Goji, "I think about saving money and helping the environment."
Bestard pointed out that blinds and windows are two main places where heat and cold enter a home. So developing connected blinds or windows would be "easy products for" Nest. For example, he said, during the summer in the Midwest, when the sun is blasting heat through the windows, and Nest's thermostat is recognizing that the house is heating up, "why not [have the] blinds go down automatically? That would be a good way [for Nest] to integrate two products together."
Similarly, Bestard suggested, if it's a cold and sunny day, Nest's products could work in conjunction to "bring the blinds up and let nature heat your house up."
For Jason Johnson, the co-founder of smart home device maker August, Nest has done a great job of re-evaluating elements of the home that have not kept up with the state of the art in technology or helping people use energy efficiently. "I would love to see [Nest] take further steps to manage my energy consumption," Johnson said. "I think that there's a lot of opportunity there."
Nest Protect smoke detector talks to you (hands-on video)
When one thinks about the home, and the number of appliances that are tied to energy use -- and that are unloved and unchanged -- it's clear a company like Nest has a great deal of options. Whether it's smart lights, smart blinds, washers and dryers, electrical systems, or many others, it's easy to imagine a company like Nest sensing opportunity and thinking it can create a new market. Of course, the Protect may flop, and one can ask why the company chose that as its second product.
But there's little doubt that the entire home is filled with appliances just begging to be brought into the 21st century. And Nest is leading the charge to do so. "Nest has proven that you can turn an already existing commodity product into smart and beautiful products," Bestard said. "That's definitely the way to go."
CNET's Paul Sloan contributed to this report.