From Apple to appliances: how Nest is making everyday items relevant again
3rd Nov 2013 | 13:01
The creator of Nest Protect speaks to TechRadar
"The Internet of Things? I hate that phrase. It is horrible."
You would think that the creator of a smart smoke alarm and connected thermostat would be the poster boy for the so-called Internet of Things but Tony Faddell, the CEO of Nest, wants nothing to do with the surge in everyday objects connecting to the internet.
"Just because you can connect something doesn't mean that you should," he tells TechRadar when we met up with him in London.
"Connection is another technology that can dramatically change a product and an experience but people are just connecting anything. Why are there fridges with tablets on the front of them? They just bashed two things together without really understanding."
It is this understanding that is seemingly permeates through Nest's product lineup, which have been met with huge popularity in the US and are now heading to the UK with the imminent launch of Nest Protect.
Nest Protect is a smart smoke alarm that can be monitored through an app. It is constantly connected to other Nest Protects that may be in your home and offers an intuitiveness that has been missing from the smoke alarm market.
A market that has, up until now, been focused on functionality and not desirability – something Fadell hopes to change.
"Nest is all about getting those unloved things in your home, reinventing them and making you reawakened to them and make you embrace them in a whole new way," he says.
If this sounds like a familiar way to attack a market, then it is – it's how Apple approaches things. Fadell is ex-Apple, having been senior vice president of the iPod division, and the ethos of his old company has definitely rubbed off on him.
"We are all about taking those things everyday that are important to you and should be important to you and casting them in a whole new light with new technology, solving the problems that have been around for decades," he explains, with words that wouldn't be out of place coming from the mouth of Jony Ive.
For Fadell, his Apple links have elevated his company above being a mere startup with a decent idea to his products being used in over 90 countries.
The numbers are impressive. According to Fadell, 1 billion kWh of energy has been saved to date because of Nest's Learning Thermostat. And in the US, over 50 million Nest Protects have been sold.
But it's not just numbers, according to Fadell, that drives Nest but the knowing that its products can make a serious difference.
"72% of fire-related deaths happen because people had a smoke alarm and the ripped it from the wall, or the batteries died," notes Fadell.
"This makes no sense. And it got me thinking, 'why can't we have something that we can't ignore and enjoy?'
"The government mandates that you have these things in your house. So there is government intrusion in your home but with a ridiculous product that you have to have. We should have them because they keep us safe, but why are they so painful?"
This was the hook that helped Fadell create Nest Protect, where the smoke alarm does the hard work for you and it being Wi-Fi connected is a big part of this.
"The reason they are connected within your home is that you will be able to see where the smoke comes from. So, if it is in the kitchen, you may think 'that's the quiche burning, I need to go get it'. If it is somewhere else, you may not have any idea why there is smoke so you will want to get out," Fadell explains.
The alarm works in unison with an app, so if you aren't in the house you have an 'at a glance' look to see if your home is smoke and fire free and it will also constantly check itself to see if there are any problems with the alarm.
"If there has been smoke then this can block sensors, so Nest makes sure that everything is in working order.
"The gritty oily smoke can damage the sensors, so Nest Protect tests itself every 10 minutes. Nothing you can hear but it will let you know if any of the internals aren't working."
As for what happens when there is an actual issue, Nest Protect will let you know with a conventional alarm but also a voice command.
"The warning has to be right. We can't tell people to get out of the house as that may not be the right thing, that would be like a smoke alarm beeping at you when you have burned the toast – it is unnecessary. We are giving you enough information for you to take action," says Fadell.
Vital information will also appear on the accompanying app, something Fadell thinks is essential to helping Nest Protect users if there is an emergency.
"Today's alarms go beep. But you are discombobulated when you get the beep so we will also give you the steps you need to do in every type of emergency and the phone number for emergency services. This is all within the app so you know exactly what to do if there is some sort of emergency."
One of the hangovers from Apple that is also apparent is the price of Nest Protect. It is coming to the UK for £109, and is $129 in the US.
Fadell is understandably unfazed by the price, believing the technology warrants the price tag and the places it is being sold proves it is a device for all.
"We are the first smoke alarm in the Apple Store and it is the first device that hardware stores carry that can also be found in the Apple Store. The stores like this association," he says.
"And it just shows who is buying Nest - it is everyone."
Fadell is adamant that Nest Protect, despite its premium, is not technology for technology's sake and it is using connectivity to "solve a real pain point".
And this is what he sees as his issue with more and more household appliances taking advantage of a Wi-Fi signal – he believes that for the most part it is needless.
"When I think of the Internet of Things, I see it as almost internet 1.0. Back in '95 and '96, everyone rushed to the internet and put books and other things online and did the same things that they normally do but virtually. The experience didn't change," explains Fadell.
"It took web 2.0 to change the experience. To understand the apps and the models and the experience was changed. That's when the big things happen. At the moment people aren't buying into the internet of things."
"People are like, I am going to bash Wi-Fi with a toaster, or with a kettle. The other day I saw that someone was doing it with a water bottle. It doesn't make sense.
"You have to think about the entire experience of the product. Once you rethink the entire product, then connectivity is right.
"There are some products that can be rethought with connectivity. We are showing this at Nest but not everything needs to have the full smartphone experience."
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