Google Buying Nest, The Apple Of Thermostat Makers


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For a cool $3.2 billion, Google is buying Nest Labs, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup that carved a name for itself in the most unlikely of ways – by making a really cool, really smart and really expensive thermostat, a device with flare that could only be called Applesque.

Google’s substantial outlay for Nest is evidence that at least some aspects of cleantech are as red-hot as ever – no matter what 60 Minutes said in its recent “Cleantech Crash” piece. Mere days ago, reports emerged that Nest had closed a $150 million venture round that valued the company at $2 billion or so, so Google paid a pretty premium here.

Screen grab from Nest Youtube video

Screen grab from Nest Youtube video

Google gets more than a thermostat company for its big wad of cash. Nest late last year added a sexy smoke/carbon-monoxide alarm called Protect to its portfolio, causing the digerati to swoon. The company said on Monday that with Google’s help, it can now “fully realize our vision of the conscious home and allow us to change the world faster than we ever could if we continued to go it alone.”

If that sounds like something that an Apple chieftain might say, well, Nest is and will continue to be run by Tony Fadell. Before starting Nest, Fadell was at Apple, where he was “instrumental in the development of the iPod.”

Further on the Nest-Apple topic: Nest VP of engineering Matt Rogers said in a statement that being in the Google fold doesn’t mean that Nest users who like to fiddle with their home environment using their iPhone or iPad won’t be left out in the cold; the company promised to “continue supporting iOS, Android and modern web browsers so you can check in on your home and control the temperature from wherever you are.”

Rogers also hit, a bit obliquely, on the widely circulated idea that Google’s real interest in Nest was in extending its data reach beyond what it can get through your smartphone or tablet or computer to what’s going on with your home energy use. To the question, “Will Nest customer data be shared with Google?” Rogers said:  “Our privacy policy clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest’s products and services. We’ve always taken privacy seriously and this will not change.”

The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal had an alternate theory: that Google was after Nest’s robotics expertise. On the possibility of new products coming from the Google hookup, Rogers said: “Nest’s product line obviously caught the attention of Google and I’m betting that there’s a lot of cool stuff we could do together, but nothing to share today.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.