Comment After years of hype, the connected home is finally here thanks to a range of new products available this week from Google-owned Nest.
Having announced back in September that it would launch a new smart security system, doorbell and lock, the company finally put the last two into the market this week, as well as a new, smarter outdoor security camera.
The launch comes as the smart home market is starting to hit a tipping point: rival Ring was recently bought for $1bn by Amazon, and Apple's HomeKit solution is finally starting to make itself known.
The battle of the eco-systems is truly upon us.
But it is not the launch of the products themselves that represent a radical shift – there are, after all, numerous security systems, doorbell and smart locks on the market – but how they interact with one another.
As just one example, it will now be possible – if you go with the full Nest eco-system – to open your door, turn off your security system, turn off your internal security cameras and turn on your thermostat all with one tap on your smart phone.
Likewise, thanks to Nest adding its parent company’s digital assistant into their hardware, you will be able to leave your house, turn off the heating, turn on the cameras and your security system, and lock your front door all with a single voice command.
And while it is inevitable that our valued readers will immediately scoff at such an incredibly dangerous and stupid idea, the reality is that it represents a leap forward in smart home tech.
In the same way millions have reacted positively to being able to tell Amazon's Alexa to play music or turn up the temperature, this level of thoughtful interaction between products is going to be a game-changer for homeowners. No more punching noisy keypads, fiddling with keys, or tapping a host of smart phone apps every time you come home.
There are other useful interactions. For example, thanks to the Google Assistant being included in Nest's products and with Google's IoT Thread and Weave communication protocols, if someone rings your doorbell, you can set your internal cameras and/or Google Home, or Home mini, to also ring. You can use the same system to act as an intercom within your house.
With the company's smart IQ technology, it may even be able to tell you "Dave is at the door" thanks to facial-recognition. And, yes, you can inform Dave, from anywhere in the world "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that" while watching his reaction in HD.
Up until now, this kind of seamless and intelligent interconnectiveness has been largely theoretical. It is now a reality. But it is also a company-specific and costly reality.
The Nest Hello doorbell is $229. The Nest-Yale doorlock is $249. The Nest Secure starts at $499, with price going up as you introduce more sensors. The Nest Cam IQ is either $299 or $349 depending on whether you want the indoor or outdoor version.
This is potentially thousands of dollars, not to mention the ongoing subscription costs that you need if you want to make use of the most useful features such as facial recognition and smart alerts.
Alexa, can you tell Ok Google to tell Nest to turn off my Ring camera
And, of course, it is an eco-system world. So if you have several Amazon Alexas in your house, rather than Google Homes, you won't be able to do as much or have as much smart interaction. You will of course if you end up buying Ring gear: it also has a security system and cameras and a doorbell – and it is an absolute certainty that Amazon's technology will be added directly to those products going forward.
To be fair to Nest, it has gone to some lengths to ensure that all of its products will work individually and autonomously: you don't have to go with the full eco-system. But there are clear drivers in there to go the full-on Google-Nest route.
The big question may be: if Amazon and Google push everyone to thinking about smart homes as a single-brand deal, will it help Apple, which has adopted its usual control-freak, all-or-nothing style of product rollout?
And in a further sign that we are entering a new Smart Home 2.0 era, these new products from Nest incorporate design improvements on the previous generation of products, as well as tweaks to the business model borne of competition.
For example, Nest has put a "jumpstart" pair of contacts discreetly underneath its Yale smartlock to avoid the situation that august smartlock owners have been complaining about for some time: getting locked out when the AA batteries die.
You just hold a 9-volt battery (the blocky one with two contacts) underneath it to get it going and then replace the AA batteries once you're inside (what do you mean you don't carry a 9v battery with you at all times?)
There are also four, rather than two AA batteries, in the smart lock so it lasts longer. That said, it is a pretty bulky and ugly looking door lock – as all smart locks tend to be.
Given the experience of battery-powered smart doorbells – which run out of charge so fast that it rapidly becomes more of a hindrance than a benefit - it's hard to imagine that battery-powered locks are going to last long. But, unlike doorbells or security cameras, very, very few doors have their own power supply.
Nest has radically redesigned its own outdoor camera: ditching its magnetic ball-and-socket joint for a more traditional – and secure – fixed arrangement. The new outdoor camera is also designed for its power lead to go through the wall behind it and be plugged inside, rather than the first DIY version where you would plug it into an outside power supply.
This change is more significant than it seems because it demonstrates that the smart home market is moving beyond early-adopters and self-install enthusiasts to a more traditional model of professional installation.
How much this limits or grows the market, everyone will be closely watching to see: will people pay for both the product and the cost to install it?
And finally there are two signs that Nest is being buffeted by commercial winds.
First, it has produced a new range of standalone temperature sensors that will work with its eponymous thermostat and so bring it in line with its biggest rival – the Ecobee.
For years, Nest employees have been dismissive of the need to have separate temperature sensors dotted around your house. But people like them. And so here they are.
And second, the company has put out a new subscription offer for its cameras and doorbell: a five-day video recording service for $5 a month ($3 a month for each subsequent device) where previously its lowest offering was $10 a month for 10 days. That will significantly bring down the cost of running multiple Nest devices and could be the difference between people buying or not buying new products.
When we asked Nest representatives why anyone would go with the more expensive 10-day for $10 option over a five-day $5 version, their silence spoke volumes: the company knows everyone will shift to the lower cost option (while some will stick with the more expensive 30-day option). That's competition for you.
In the coming months, we will be testing this new wave of smart home products, particularly how they interact with one another and with digital assistants.
We'll let you know whether the smart home tech utopia is really here, or whether we risk spending small fortunes to make our homes easier to break into. ®