Just three months after Nest co-founder Tony Fadell left the company and new CEO Marwan Fawaz took over, Alphabet’s troubled smart home division, Nest, is apparently experiencing another shakeup. According to a report from Fortune, Google is “absorbing” Nest’s software engineers in order to form a “unified Internet of things platform.”
Hiroshi Lockheimer, the current head of Android, will lead the group. The Fortune report notes that the combined group will “continue to work” on Google Home, Google’s forthcoming Amazon Echo competitor. A previous report from The Information (paywall) stated that Nest’s request to work on Google Home was denied by Google. A Nest representative denied this statement and said the integration would be similar to the Amazon Echo.
Google and Nest were definitely not on a “unified” platform path before this. Nest created the “Works with Nest” program along with the wireless protocol “Thread.” Google is working on “Brillo,” a stripped down version of Android for IoT devices, and both companies are involved with the “Weave” communication standard. It’s all very complicated and incomplete.
Nest’s time at Google and Alphabet has not been particularly fruitful. I expected Google’s massive resource infusion to supercharge Nest, but in three years we’ve mostly seen incremental improvements to existing products. Reports claim that Nest has had trouble getting several new products off the ground. Only recently did it finally launch an outdoor version of the Nest Cam. One narrative will say Tony Fadell was fired for the lack of progress at Nest, while another will say he just retired of his own volition.
This latest shakeup further blurs the line between Google and Alphabet, which has always felt like lip service anyway. Google is now serving as the software development house for a unit that was supposed to be a totally independent company. It’s not as if Google was developing thermostat and smart home software that it planned to license to third-parties—Google is now taking over a chunk of Nest’s operations and developing software exclusively for Nest.
Alphabet was originally a solution to questions like “What will Google do with Nest’s data?” The answer eventually became that Nest was an independent company under Alphabet that had nothing to do with Google, so the data was totally separate. That no longer sounds possible with Google-developed software and a unified internet of things platform between Google and Nest.
Update: A follow up report from The Verge sheds a little more light on the situation. Only “dozens” of Nest Engineers—the engineers “mainly responsible for the Nest platform”—are moving to Google. The group will work on third-party integrations for Google Home, with Nest still retaining engineers to work on Nest software.