By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated June 24, 2014.
The Internet of Things may have taken a significant step forward. On Tuesday, Google-owned Nest Labs announced a new Developer Program and API for connecting home appliances and software to its products -- an ecosystem that could apply to businesses as well.
The Palo Alto, California-based company, which had focused on developing an intelligent thermostat prior to the Google acquisition in January, said its new program is intended to have lighting, appliances, fitness bands and even cars connect securely with Nest products.
The API can access Home and Away states, smoke and carbon monoxide alerts, and peak energy rush hour events, and the Developer Program supports iOS, Android and Web interactions. Additionally, Google Ventures and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Buyers are offering financing for Nest-related projects.
Matt Rogers, Nest founder and its vice president of engineering, said in a statement that the company's goal "has always been to bring this kind of thoughtfulness to the rest of your home and life -- and that's what the Nest Developer Program is all about."
The company has already started integrations with a range of other companies, including Mercedes-Benz, Whirlpool, Jawbone and LIFX.
An integration with task-automation app IFTTT, for instance, allows a user to create an if/then connection such as: "If my Nest Protect detects smoke, then send a text message to my neighbors." LIFX light bulbs flash red if smoke or carbon monoxide is detected, and they can randomly be turned on and off at time intervals when the occupants are on vacation.
Mercedes-Benz owners can check on the status of their home thermostat as they're driving, as the Nest thermostat will increase heating or cooling of a home according to when the occupants will be home for the day. The Nest thermostat can also tell the Whirlpool dryer to switch to a longer, more energy-efficient cycle when the owner is out.
If the home is part of a Rush Hour Rewards program, which offers discounts to cut back on electricity during peak hours, Nest will let Whirlpool know when the rush hour is about to begin so washer/dryer cycles can be delayed until it's over.
Garage Door Openers
Other integrations are in the works, and are expected to be released by the fall. They include garage door openers such as Chamberlain or LiftMaster, which can let the Nest thermostat know you're home when it opens and that you've left home when it closes. Parent company Google has integrated voice commands for Nest into Android phones, and Google Now can let Nest know when you're on the way home.
While all of the interactions outlined by Nest are initially directed at the home, they all could -- and probably will -- apply to businesses as well, since businesses also use thermostats and lighting, and also have cost-saving and time-saving needs.
But it still remains to be seen if this ecosystem will end up saving time. For instance, if a neighbor opens your garage door and it tells Nest you've gotten home, while Google Now says you're still at work, will you have to step in and override them? The possibilities for confusion among a vast set of third-party interactions seems inevitable, adding yet another management task to home dwellers.
There's also the issue of whether the Nest API will be competing with the many other protocols out there that are also trying to become the good cop running your home. Apple, Microsoft, independent groups, Phillips and others are all eyeing this role. Will you have to manage separate systems?
Al Hilwa, program director for Application Development Software research at IDC, pointed out to us that home automation "has been around for a while," but it has been "complicated and fragmented."
"Most people," he said, "are looking for extreme simplicity, which is the challenge." Hilwa added that Google "is seriously investing in this space, and probably thinks it will be the Next Big Thing, second only to wearables."
Google's presence, and Nest's bid for an easy-to-use ecosystem, he said, "bodes well, and may have given Nest an early lead."