Within ten years "everything will
have data in it", says Nest CEO

| 3 comments

Tony Fadell portrait

News: every electrical device in the home will be linked to the internet within a decade, according to the CEO of connected home products brand Nest (+ interview).

"I think over the next ten years, everything that has a cord is going to have data in it," said Tony Fadell, head of the company that was bought by Google for $3.2 billion earlier this year.

Nest is aiming to bring "a smartphone sensibility to everyday objects" in the home, according to Fadell. It has so far unveiled a internet-enabled thermostat that learns your heating preferences and can tell when you're at home, and a sensor that can shut down your boiler if it detects carbon monoxide.

"Nest as a company is really about making the conscious home," he said in an exclusive interview with Dezeen. "What we're trying to do is make you, the consumer, aware of what you can do to be conscious about living in your home: more green, more energy, safer."

Nest thermostat
Nest thermostat

He added: "It's about addressing those unloved products in the home and bringing them into the connected world. It’s about being able to give you a product that you like to look at, to have on the wall, that you're proud to look at and don't want to hide away."

However Fadell claims the phrase "the internet of things" is meaningless and is "just a term to get stock prices moving".

"'The internet of things' is a term made by the industry to try to get people buzzing about something that there's no definition of," he said.

Fadell, a former Apple executive, co-founded Nest in 2010. Google's acquisition of the brand was interpreted as a sign of the digital giant's belief that the home will soon be full of smart devices that talk to each other via the internet to make homes more comfortable, safer and cheaper to run.

Nest thermostat smartphone app
Nest thermostat smartphone app

Fadell refused to reveal the home products Nest will unveil next but hinted that anything "that's been unloved since you were a kid" is ripe for a rethink.

"It's about addressing those unloved products in the home and bringing them into the connected world," he said. "It’s about being able to give you a product that you like to look at, to have on the wall, that you're proud to look at and don't want to hide away."

Here's an edited transcript of the interview:


Dan Howarth: Tell me about Nest.

Tony Fadell: Nest as a company is really about making the conscious home. What we're trying to do is make you, the consumer, aware of what you can do to be conscious about living in your home: more green, more energy, safer.

It's about addressing those unloved products in the home and bringing them into the connected world. It’s about being able to give you a product that you like to look at, to have on the wall, that you're proud to look at and don't want to hide away.

But also on the flipside, we’re trying to make the home more conscious of you. So the technology itself that's embedded in the home, it's not in your face like your cellphone or whatever. We try to eliminate the distractions.

Dan Howarth: What products have you brought out?

Tony Fadell: We have the thermostat. It can be wired or wireless and it hooks up to most boiler systems in homes here. Your boiler consumes about 66% of all of your energy that you expend in your home in a year. But only 40 per cent of [UK] homes have thermostats whereas in the US it's 100 per cent.

So we've designed the whole product for the UK. It’s not just about making a beautiful product but taking the largest consumer of energy in your home - your boiler - and giving you something that helps to save energy by learning your habits and not making you programme it to learn.

It can turn itself down when it recognises that you're not there. Or you can use your mobile phone so the temperature will be comfortable when you get home. So that's really what our thermostat is about: taking it out of the realm of what it is today, which is this ugly beige box. It’s incomprehensible - but it's just a switch.

The other product that we have is Nest Protect, which is a smoke and carbon monoxide sensor. Why do they have to be ugly? Why do they have to wake me up in the middle of the night when the batteries go low? Why don't they tell me what's going on wherever I am in the world? Why don't they talk to each other? Why don't they have carbon monoxide protection? That's the number one cause of deaths, you would imagine.

These are the products that we make to bring that smartphone sensibility to everyday objects, for you to not just have a better experience but to be safer, to help save energy and to be more comfortable.

Dan Howarth: What other products are you working on?

Tony Fadell: There's a nice list of things that we want to build but we're not ready to talk about them today. But you can look around your home to find something that's been unloved since you were a kid: that’s a good target for us to work on.

Dan Howarth: How far away are we away from this idea of a connected home?

Tony Fadell: Most people have a connected home today. It's called broadband: they get their voice and data communications through it. So the homes are connected but the thing is, how should things be connected in the home? There are different ways you answer that question with different products. Should they all have a display on them? Should they all do the same thing that they are doing today? No. A lot of products today do basic stuff.

There are many connected products in the home today besides your mobile phone or your laptop - it's just some don't have data. It's anything that's connected with an electrical cable. I think over the next ten years, everything that has a cord is going to have data in it, and not just electricity. They will be transformed in ways that are huge. They might be silent and when you look at them from the outside, they’ll look no different to the products that we have today. But they’ll be powerful and they’ll do stuff for you on your behalf without you ever having to get involved.

Dan Howarth: What if the internet goes down?

Tony Fadell: We make sure the products work without the internet. They learn habits, like when you turn it up and down in the morning and evenings. But most of that data is kept on the devices themselves so it's not like you have to have a data connection to get any of those extra functions.

But you need a data connection if you want to have remote control from somewhere else in the world, or if you want to get your energy history and see how much your using. For that you need data, which we'll have to store on servers elsewhere.

Dan Howarth: Who owns the data?

Tony Fadell: That data is your data. It's not ours. We don't sell it or commingle it with other data or publish it. It's all just to help us to ascertain what people are doing in their homes to make the products better.

Dan Howarth: The company was recently acquired by Google. What has changed since then?

Tony Fadell: It's allowed us to move faster to new countries, accelerate our product road maps and get more bold with our products. Stay tuned over the next few weeks or two years. You're going to see a lot of things that Google helped to enable.

Dan Howarth: What about "the internet of things"?

Tony Fadell: Tut.

Dan Howarth: You don't like that term?

Tony Fadell: People don't buy "things"; nobody cares about connected "things". They care about what that thing does and how it's better. "The internet of things" is a term made by the industry to try to get people buzzing about something that there's no definition of. It’s just a term to get stock prices moving. It has nothing to do with the general consumer. So that's the reason that I don't like it.

It's kind of like personal computers in the 70s. Everybody was told they needed a personal computer, but what does that mean and what does it do? So we don't say we have the "internet of things" thermostat or the "internet of things" smoke detector. They both work alone but when they came together, they start to magically do things together that they didn't do when they were apart.

So when you put the Nest Protect and the Nest thermostat in your house, there's nothing else you have to do. If a carbon monoxide alarm that goes off, then the thermostat turns off the boiler, because the boiler is the number one cause of carbon monoxide leaks in the house. It just happens without you having to do anything. Or the thermostat knows when you’re not there and turns the heating down.

Dan Howarth: Are some people dubious about technology knowing what they're doing all the time?

Tony Fadell: Sure. Till they touch and feel it, everybody is nervous about new technology- then they understand what the benefits are. So it's a natural human instinct to be wary of change, like the NSA controversy. It's healthy to have a discussion about them. If you don't want to connect these products you don't have to.

Dan Howarth: What sort of things are going to be put into homes in the future that are going to change the way we live?

Tony Fadell: Well I think we just did it and it's called the smartphone. It's on your person. That's another thing about the data privacy stuff. You have an incredible sensor on you at all times. Our products are in your home but you're not always in your home. That smartphone is with you wherever you go, it carries all the data about you. You put in all your photos and music, every text, tweet, email. It's all there. So maybe people adopted this before they understood the privacy issues and now they're saying they want it undone. But it's so empowering to people that they can't get rid of it, they can't shut it down.

Dan Howarth: There's a lot of talk about technology in the home but how much of it is really going to get widely adopted?

Tony Fadell: I think it's about convenience to people. We used to talk about RFIDs. That was the big thing in the mid 2000s. In every retail unit they were going to have RFIDs everywhere and they were going to be able to inventory the whole thing and tell you if stock was low and order more for you.

But I don't think it's anytime soon because how long did it take to get the barcode scanner in place? The barcode scanner was invented in the late 60s, early 70s, it wasn't until the late 80s until it really got used. These things take a long time. Walletless societies. You're going to be able to run around and wallets are going to be on your phone. So do I think it's going to happen? Probably but I don't think it's going to be anywhere near as fast as what people think, because it needs a whole industry to change. Only when barcodes were everywhere did they finally take off.

Dan Howarth: Do you think that applies to connected devices in the home as well? It'll only really work completely when all devices are transformed and they all talk to each other in the right way?

Tony Fadell: A lot of people say you need to change everything to make this stuff happen; you need a "smart home", which is another term I hate. No one buys platforms, unless they are building a whole new house or commercial building. No one thinks "I need a whole system of things;" no-one is going to pay $30,000 to change a lighting system so that they can turn it off from anywhere. Most people are happy in the homes that they are in.

But if you want to change one thing then that's fine. Our goal at Nest is to go one by one and reinvent those unloved products in your home, with or without data connectivity. As you get more and more, they start to link together.

But I don't think there's going to be a wholesale dumping of everything to put a new system in. I just don't think there is a such thing as the ideal home. Everyone's going to mix and match.

Dan Howarth: Are your products affordable?

Tony Fadell: This [thermostat] is £179 but look at how much energy you consume with your heating. Our data shows that you can probably save about 20 per cent depending on how often you're home or your habits. But if you can save 20 per cent on that heating bill every year, it quickly pays for itself.

  • James Hunt

    Even soup?

  • Tanuki

    I can hardly wait till my toaster gets it’s first virus and starts burning all my crumpets.

  • Jonathan Bates

    Nest are producing some really interesting products but to say that ‘the internet of things’ is “just a term to get stock prices moving” sounds like the type of phrase used to divide opinion and maximise the exposure of an organisation working entirely within the concept.

    Instead of dividing opinion, would it not be more prudent to position Nest as an enabler of ‘the internet of things’, taking on this concept and making it real in the eyes (and bank balances) of the consumers?