The departure from the Google group of former Apple heavyweight and Nest CEO Tony Fadell comes as a profound paradigm shift in the way people use automated devices in their homes is getting underway.
Tony Fadell is definitely one of the stars of the digital world. An engineer who created Apple’s iPod digital music player, then became Senior Vice President of the iPod division, he has more than 300 patents to his name. In 2010 he set up Nest – a home automation specialist that developed the connected thermostat of the same name – which Google acquired in 2014 for over $3 billion.
After the partial failure of its connected glasses product, Google Glass, the Mountain View-based Internet giant was looking for new impetus. Cue the arrival of Tony Fadell, who was kept on at huge cost when Google bought Nest. However, that relationship came to an end in early June, when his departure from Nest was widely announced in the media.
Tony Fadell, founder and ex-CEO of Nest Labs / Photo by @kmeron for LeWeb12 Conference, Paris
Some commentators have concluded that Fadell’s departure is due to Nest’s disappointing results and that Google parent company Alphabet pushed him out. The failure of a Nest thermostat update last December, which left Nest users in the cold with no response from their heating systems, lends credence to this hypothesis. Others simply suggest that the compensation fund Alphabet created to retain Fadell and the Nest engineering team is now virtually depleted.
The reasons for Fadell’s departure may not be fully clear, but rumour has it that over the past few years he has quietly invested in as many as a hundred or so startups. And since he is credited as a visionary who can turn anything he touches into gold, curiosity as to the companies that have attracted his interest is now sky-high.
Paradigm shift in our habits already underway
Leaving aside all speculation about Fadell’s widely discussed departure from Nest, we should underline one simple fact. The Nest connected thermostat has already become an everyday tool for many people in the United States and elsewhere. In 2015 the market for smart thermostats shared by Nest and Honeywell represented no less than $1 billion in turnover, with 5 million thermostats sold, 40% of them in the United States.
The Nest connected thermostat alongside its competitor, Honeywell’s connected thermostat
This is a substantial share of what for years we used to call the ‘home automation’ market, i.e. computerised systems governing home appliances. In fact, connected objects – also known as the Internet of Things (IoT) – are not of tomorrow’s world. They are already firmly with us today. An example of a company in France capitalising on this burgeoning trend is Somfy, which is now automating and connecting the shutters and roller blinds for which the firm is traditionally known.
If you take a look at the devices people have in their homes today, you will generally find at least one smartphone, probably a tablet, and no doubt a TV programme recorder. In addition, many people also have connected alarms and, more recently, connected thermostats. In the very near future our water, electricity and gas meters will all be ‘connected’, our refrigerators as well and, judging by what French company SEB is currently doing, probably our cookers and saucepans as well.
In the early days of the IoT, our connected objects did not communicate among themselves very much as they were all connected to different platforms – offered by Apple, Orange, Samsung, Securitas and others. The real innovation is that from now on, with a view to optimal functionality, they are increasingly set to be connected via the same platform. When Mr or Ms Average goes home, s/he will find the evening meal cooked, the wine sitting there at the right temperature, a cool drink waiting and the selected film just about to start. The world we are describing here is not ten years off, it is happening right now. When the iPod came out, Tony Fadell and the Apple team had been working on it for a number of years. The same goes for connected objects. We have been talking about them for a number of years and now they are being launched and getting ready to talk to each other.
When it comes to connected objects, France is another country with sophisticated hardware and software specialist firms and a few Tony Fadells of its own – clued-up people such as Ludovic Le Moan, the CEO of Sigfox, a company that builds wireless networks designed to connect low-energy objects, and former Apple executive Pierre Cesarini, who is now getting Avanquest Software – a world leader in the development and publication of software applications – back on its feet. Avanquest has just signed a contract with French multinational retailer Carrefour to partner on Los Angeles-based myDevices. This platform, developed by an Avanquest division of the same name, is designed to enable customers to manage all their connected devices securely.