If you missed the big news yesterday, Google is acquiring the home gadget enhancer, Nest Labs. Hailed as one of the most promising and innovative companies, Nest takes an Apple-like business model. Just like Apple did with the smartphone, Nest looks at existing technology and then improves on it. And, also like Apple, Nest is an innovator of old technologies, not an inventor. In Nest's case, the company targets home gadgets that severely need an upgrade. One of the more familiar of those gadgets is the home thermostat. Nest's smart thermostat learns all about your home heating and cooling habits, and over time, becomes automatic, though I've heard from some who tried it in the North West US, that the thermostat junks if you don't have air conditioning installed in your home. Few in the NW do. So, it's not perfect, but truly is innovative. In addition to learning your personal heating and cooling habits and schedules, the thermostat can be accessed from a smartphone, allowing you to control your home's environment remotely.
After the announcement that Google was acquiring Nest, the social world lit up. This was a huge announcement. The social wires were soaked with all sorts of emotions. Some supplied jokes. Things like:
"Someone asked what temperature I keep my thermostat set at. I had to Google it."
"Now, all those unknown Google+ users can adjust their home environment automatically."
Others issued states of astonishment, but, interestingly, a majority were fits of anger. More people than I could count were already determined to rip their existing Nest devices from their walls over the next weekend and go look for something else.
Why? Isn't it obvious?
Google has taken over many lives through schedules, travels, emails, and other things, and figured out a way to monetize all of it. There's very little Google doesn't know about each of us. No data is safe from Google (as long as you subscribe to any of their services). There's no question that the acquisition of Nest is only a way to steal more data away from the public, learn our energy habits, and then sell it back to us. Remember, the original Total Recall movie from 1990 (the one with Arnold Schwarzenegger)? Those living on Mars were being controlled by a madman, Vilos Cohaagen. Cohaagen provided oxygen to the Mars inhabitants and would regularly cut off supply to punish crimes against him. Yeah. That's Google.
So, now that Google is trying to "Nest" in your home, are there alternatives? Are there products available not bent on ultimately learning your bathroom habits?
Personally, I've not experienced the smart home phenomena so far, but after talking with some colleagues and sifting through research, there are at least two very real alternatives to the Google/Nest thermostat. The first one I note is much cheaper and actually works better in more situations.
Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat
The first is from Honeywell, is around $200 and can be controlled remotely using iOS, Android, or a computer. But, for $200, the Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat offers so much more than the Google Nest. It offers programming options that can be configured to work with the utility company's peak rate pricing, provide a reminder when it's time to change the furnace filter, and even display local weather and a 5-day forecast.
You can read more about it on Amazon.com: Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat
A German company, digitalStrom, provides a similar devices, but goes leaps and bounds further. Obviously more expensive, digitalStrom installs into your home fuse box and allows you to control every aspect of every appliance attached to electricity in your home. Adjust window blinds, set the coffee pot schedule, automate room lighting, and build cost analysis reports. And, the more interesting aspect of the digitalStrom solution is that its runs on Windows Azure.
A solution like digitalStrom is not something you can install over a weekend, though. The company requires an onsite engineer to develop a transformation plan and then more engineers to install the tailored solution. To me, this seems more of a solution to install when building a new home, not to retrofit a current living space. A solution like the one from digitalStrom is the future, just not right now for most.
More information about digitalStrom can be found on their web site: http://www.digitalstrom.com/en
There are others, but these are just a couple options to get you thinking. In fact, after digging into the non-Google offerings, I'm more interested now than ever to find a solution for my home. And, there's no reason why some of the current offerings couldn't work in a datacenter.
So, where's Microsoft in all of this? Other than digitalStrom running on Windows Azure, Microsoft has been very quiet on the smart home front. Mary Jo Foley reports that the HomeOS that Microsoft Research has been working on since 2010 isn't a home automation technology at all, but rather, a way to simplify connections for electronic gadgets in homes. She also suggest that, it's possible, that Microsoft's way forward for the smart home may be centered completely around the Xbox One through the acquisition of id8 Group R2 Studios last year. But, with Google now bullying their way into the home space, I except Microsoft to move forward with something.
In truth, Google is a very innovative company, and the acquisition of Nest shows they are very determined to win the future. But, more than anything, Google is great at pushing competition. And, truly, that's good for all of us. If Google didn't exist, we'd all be further behind in technological advancement than we already are.