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19 June 2015

Nest forsakes new Brillo IoT OS with Nest Cam, will it avoid Thread too?

At its I/O conference, Google unveiled its new Brillo operating system; a stripped down version of Android aimed at devices that don’t need the full Android stack or are too hardware constrained to run full-fat Android. Alongside the new Weave API framework, intended to standardize communication between devices, it seemed that Nest’s portfolio of smart home devices would be a flagship launchpad for the new software.

But this week, Nest simply unveiled a rebranded Dropcam, called the Nest Cam, with no mention of either Brillo or Weave, and definitely no mention of the soon-to-be-released 802.15.4-based Thread protocol that could presumably link the ecosystem together. While we thought the Thread launch might coincide with Nest’s press conference, it turns out that both Google and Apple (after avoiding HomeKit at its WWDC) have not wowed the crowds with smart home news … yet.

The Nest news itself saw Google’s $3.2bn purchase unveil a redesigned WiFi security camera (the $200 Nest Cam, built using the experience it bought from Dropcam for $555m), a redesigned $99 Nest Protect smoke alarm (probably to counter the fault that caused Nest to recall some 400,000 alarms due to a deactivation issue), a software update for the thermostat, and a single Nest app to tie all these devices together.

An interesting move, and possibly an indicator of future smart-home-as-a-service ambitions, is Google’s offer for Google Fiber customers to buy up to three Nests for $200 each, $50 less than retail, and have them installed at no additional cost.

Nest Cam security and home monitoring camera:

The Nest Cam offers 1080p video, with motion and noise alerts and improved infra-red night vision, which should boost its chances at spotting and recording intruders. These WiFi cameras, as a product family, are actually mostly used by families to check in on the status of their homes, rather than monitored via smartphone for burglars.

The video can be stored in the cloud, as well as live-streamed, and different tiers of subscription will allow users to look at between 10 or 30 days of recorded video history – allowing them to look back on the happenings in their homes.

The video is tagged in the Nest Aware system, so that highlights or unusual activity can be jumped to in the feed. It looks like live viewing is a free service, but users will have to pay to have that video stored – for use in the time-lapse application features, or simply as a security backup requirement.

Similarly, activity zones can be set up, so that the camera can pay more attention to or ignore a particular area (a cat-flap for instance), and Nest says that it is using “the power of the cloud” to provide better alerts – allowing it to avoid overwhelming its users, by learning to ignore false stimuli.

Up to three hours of this footage can be used to create short clips and time-lapses, should users wish, and Google is also piloting an integration with YouTube to allow YouTube personalities to give their fans a live-streamed behind-the-scenes experience. Whether this leads to DIY versions of the infamous Big Brother TV show or not, the feature seems destined to have a niche appeal if its integrated into the main product offering.

Nest Protect smoke alarms:

Next up, the new Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm is leading its marketing charge with the claim that the National Fire Protection Agency attributes 60% of US fire deaths to properties that don’t have a working smoke alarm. The second-generation Protect will be able to speak to users and alert them to a low battery or sensor fault, as well as verbally sound the alarm.

The new hardware is 11% smaller than the old design, and can sit more flush with ceilings or walls. Aesthetics aside, the new Protect contains a split-spectrum light sensor, which can apparently look for both slow and fast burning fires. The unit can also test its speaker and horn automatically, thanks to an integrated microphone, but a new range of features have been added thanks to the new Nest app.

The app, for mobile devices, will let the Protect devices alert owners to their battery levels, to silence an alarm once it is no longer needed, remotely test the alarms, and hopefully enable easier device pairing, thanks to the addition of Bluetooth Low Energy to the unit.

In addition, Nest is expanding on the scope of its partner programs with utilities, which saw cheaper rates given to fuel customers using Nest thermostats or Nests bundled with the deal to cut fuel usage and (in the near future) allow the utility to dynamically reduce in-home usage to more efficiently manage grid-load and total usage. With the smoke alarms, Nest is working with home insurance providers, to secure lower premiums or bundle free units – a mutual benefit for both parties, and so far supported by American Family and Liberty Mutual.

The Learning Thermostat gets a software update:

Version 4.5 of the Nest Thermostat’s software will add a few quality of life features to all existing units, including a safety alert if the home gets dangerously hot or cold – at temperatures where a pet could overheat or pipes could freeze, for example.

Additionally, alerts generated from the Protect smoke alarms will show up on the thermostat’s screen, and those alerts can also trigger the thermostat to shut down the home’s HVAC systems, in case they are the cause of the fire, or are responsible for leaking harmful gases.

The final update allows users to control up to 20 (yes, twenty) thermostats for each home, with the devices coordinating themselves more efficiently when the user is away from home. This also allows users to create more climate zones, although you’d hope that Nest can finalize an approach to create those zones without having to rely on simply adding more thermostats.

The Nest App 5.0:

With the latest iteration of the app, users will now be able to control all of their Nest products from one place. In particular, the app seems more geared towards Nest Cam owners, with video previews and intercom features. Older Dropcams are also supported in the new app, and Protect-generated alerts will appear in the notifications, where they can take a user straight to a live view of that particular room.