The Google vs Amazon battle over your smart home intensifies
Google and Amazon continue to fire shots at each other in hopes of winning control over your smart home, from controversial product de-listings to funding rounds. Here’s a roundup of the latest happenings with Google, Amazon, Nest, and ecobee.
Nest products no longer available on Amazon.com
Many of us noticed something was amiss when the Nest Thermostat E disappeared from Amazon just in time for the Christmas shopping season. Now, it’s official – new Nest products will not be sold on Amazon.com, and the existing stock will not be replenished once it sells out.
It makes sense, in a way – Amazon wants control of your home via its own products, and every Nest product sold interferes with that goal. But to many of us tech enthusiasts who want to see this burgeoning category of products grow, mature, and enjoy widespread adoption, the ongoing spat over who-sells-what and which-walled-garden-gets-what looks petty. This is the same pettiness that was displayed when Amazon stopped selling the ChromeCast 2 years ago and when Google ceased YouTube support for Kindle devices in late 2017. The decision to stop carrying Nest products is just the next step in this ongoing feud.
However, the biggest loss when Amazon ceases to sell a product is the loss of user reviews. At the time of this writing, the 3rd Gen. Nest Learning Thermostat has over 17,000 user reviews. Maybe Nest decided those reviews weren’t doing their products any favors in the first place, but combined with a high star rating, these 17,000 reviews lend a legitimacy to the product that cannot currently be achieved outside of Amazon.
As a frequent buyer of new technologies, I personally wouldn’t buy something like a smart smoke detector for my home without first looking at Amazon’s crowd-sourced reviews. I know there are more people like me, too – I see them every time I go to Best Buy or Sears. They’re considering a product, but not before they check the Amazon rating and skim some reviews. The loss of Amazon’s informal “review community” seems like it will only hurt Nest, and consumers, in the long run.
Nest is back at Google
Nest has been a part of Google since Google purchased it in 2014, but it operated largely independently. In the meantime, Google’s own hardware department has grown considerably. Early this year, Nest was rolled into Google’s hardware department, bringing more engineering and technical know-how into the same department. Generally, when a tech company brings teams like this together, the goal is to make it easier to share internal knowledge, tools, and staff across projects. Hopefully, for the average consumer this means higher quality products, shorter update cycles, and a greater variety of products overall.
ecobee continues to insert Amazon’s Alexa into new devices, gets ready to launch Alexa-enabled light switch
If there are sides in the Google vs. Amazon battle for your smart home, then one side is Google/Nest and the other side is Amazon/ecobee.
Toronto-based Ecobee made waves when it built Alexa into its new flagship smart thermostat model, the ecobee4. The company is about to take its first steps into other aspects of home automation with the Alexa-infused ecobee switch+, predicted to launch “soon” (as of March 2018).
ecobee scores a huge round of funding, with help from the Amazon Alexa Fund
Further cementing the relationship between Amazon and Ecobee, Ecobee just announced a $61 million round of funding from a collection of investors, including a contribution from Amazon’s Alexa Fund. This fund, announced in November 2017, represents a pool of $100 million to be partitioned and awarded to startups and established companies alike to support the integration of Alexa into third-party devices.
2018 and beyond
Even though the sides seem to be shaping up as Google/Nest vs. Amazon/Ecobee, ecobee’s VP of product assured the community that Ecobee has no plans to drop support for Google Assistant. Anyone who remembers the PC vs. Mac format wars of the 90s has seen first-hand what happens when two ecosystems get severely silo’d, and most of us hope that we don’t see the same thing happen with smart home technologies.
Nest, which got its start with a thermostat, has since expanded into many home security and home surveillance categories. Nest launched the Nest Secure, a home security system, in late 2017 and is preparing to ship the Nest Hello, a smart doorbell, in March 2018. And, since Nest has been brought closer to Google’s own hardware teams, we might also see some improved integration between Nest and Google smart home devices.
It’s an exciting time for home automation, but the risk of siloing seems greater than ever. For now, the effects aren’t too bad – Nest doesn’t support Apple’s HomeKit, Nest products aren’t sold on Amazon, ecobee is the only one with Alexa built in. These are small things, but taken in aggregate they hint at a larger war brewing over control of your smart home. On the bright side, Alexa and Google Assistant both work with everything – and we hope it stays that way this year and in the years to come.
Featured image credit: Brian Babb