From the Couch of Ben Johnson

Father, Principal Engineer at Prodigy Education, serial hyperbolist.

Goodbye, Nest

The iPhone revolutionized more than just phones. When Tony Fadell first started taking about Nest, his startup that would take the battery and processor innovations from the iPhone and put it in something as boring as a thermostat, it was a revelation.

Nest had an incredible early run. With an extremely small team (less than 130 people) Fadell essentially created the smart home industry. The original Nest had Apple’s insane focus on out of the box experience, app design, and delight applied to a device that hadn’t changed in decades. It meaningfully improved user experience and the environment. Three years later, they made a smoke detector, again applying software, hardware, and policy design to reimagine a boring commodity device.

A year after that, Google bought Nest. Since then, there’s been this sense that Google doesn’t know what to do with it. There were internal drama and culture problems and Tony Fadell was pushed out (likely for good reasons).

Modern Google is trying very hard to invest in hardware, but Nest is now a brand and not a company, and it seems rudderless.

Personally, I’ve become wary of Google’s privacy practices. I use some Google products (Docs, Sheets, YouTube), but I’ve drawn a line in areas like email and search. Today, my Nest smoke alarm reached end of life. Instead of replacing it I realized that I’m uncomfortable having Google devices in my home. I’ve replaced my thermostat and smoke alarms with alternatives.

I appreciate the Nest that showed us it was possible to innovate products long since assumed to be done innovating. I hope a new generation of companies can take the mantle and run with it.