Business Internet of Things

Which System Will Dominate the Programmable Household?

Nest says you won't want to remove the batteries from its new Wi-Fi connected smoke alarm.

Nest says you won’t want to remove the batteries from its new Wi-Fi connected smoke alarm.

On the path to the programmable, interconnected household, two startups are pioneering the way.

One is Nest, which founder and former iPod software developer Matt Rogers says aims to close the “gap between the consumer experience in mobile products and the ones in our homes.” Rogers’ co-founder, Nest CEO Tony Fadell, previously led the Apple team that created the iPod and the iPhone.

They introduced a $249 “learning thermostat” in 2011 and are now taking pre-orders for the $129 Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector, unveiled yesterday. Both are Wi-Fi connected and controlled from a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Nest’s open-source competitor is SmartThings, which promises to let you “unlock a new world of possibilities by using your smartphone to communicate with everyday objects in your life.” Six of the company’s seven founders came from ReachLocal, an online marketing solutions provider, or its custom software acquisition, Refactr. Presenting at Techonomy Labs in Menlo Park in May, SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson said the company wants “to bring the power of the Internet and the connected world to bear into the smallest and simplest of connected objects.”

SmartThings offers a “know your home” starter kit for $199, or, for $100 more, a “know and control your home” kit. Apps let users monitor lights and switches, doors and locks, kids and pets, cars and keys, and dangers and damages remotely. An active community of open source developers is collaborating on 120 more SmartThings projects.

In The New Yorker’s “Elements” blog this week, Matt Buchanan wonders if the emerging rivalry will create a familiar divide among consumers:

“Nest is a closed, proprietary ecosystem built with meticulous design and care; SmartThings is open-source, so anyone can develop products within its platform. It’s all too easy to imagine that, just as today we are unable to send a friend on Android an Apple iMessage, we might at some point talk about our home as a “Nest,” while a friend’s house is the land of SmartThings.”

In his post that asks, “Can Smart Design Make You Love Your Smoke Detector?” Buchanan says the totally programmed home is a decade off and guesses that Nest’s releases might make it easier for more people to adapt to the new internet of things frontier:

“[I]n convincing people to strip away the dumb infrastructure of their homes, and replace it one beautiful, easy-to-use device at a time, Nest’s deliberately paced product releases may be more palatable for the average homeowner than a full-scale technological upheaval.”

The open vs. closed system question is one Andreesen Horowitz Partner Frank Chen raised at the same Techonomy Labs where Hawkinson presented last May. Chen called it “probably the most active debate that we have internally about [the Internet of Everything] right now.”

He asked, “Is it horizontal? Is there going to be an Android of the Internet of Everything [where] there’s this base software and then lots of people innovate around it. Or is it going to be vertical so companies like Nest [and Tony Fadell] … build exactly what you would expect an Apple alumni to build around thermostats: beautiful, engaging, completely hermetically sealed. It’s not a platform to run other people’s software. And that is really fundamentally the biggest question, which is where is the value going to emerge?”

One thing is a safe bet: While Buchanan’s New Yorker readers might be more comfortable with a decade-long rollout, Techonomy readers will be running their households from mobile devices long before 2023.

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