Leon Tan is head of Works with Nest partnerships at Nest, an Alphabet company that builds smart thermostats, smoke/co detectors, cameras and, most recently, security systems. The Works with Nest developer program (developers.nest.com) helps partner companies to connect their products, such as light bulbs or washing machines – with Nest’s system. An interview on the future of homes.
Looking at your job – let me ask you: What does your house look like? Is it a fully connected crazy sci-fi house in which even the toaster is connected to the internet? As part of my job I do get to try a lot of our developer and partner products when we go through the review of their systems. It's a lot of fun! There are a lot of things that we have installed hidden in our house, and what I would say is that not only do I use the technology myself, more importantly, my wife uses it to. She loves it! And when you're able to convince your partner or other family members in your home who may not be as technology savvy as you are, then you know that it is technology that's actually serving a meaningful purpose. It's not technology for technology's sake.
What exactly do you and your wife enjoy about your connected home? So, my wife especially loves how our home actually tries to protect itself from our own carelessness. So, for example, Nest has the ability to know when the home is occupied or not occupied. And when Nest notices our home is vacated, and no one's at home anymore, our garage door will prompt us to close it, because often times my wife would forget doing that, and that obviously poses a security risk. And then there're a bunch of appliances like lights, water heaters, a home-connect refrigerator. These products can turn off or change into an eco-friendly mode to help you save energy. We have blinds and shades that we're able to automatically close to keep the house at an optimal temperature, as well as when the shades are down, it's just a way to protect your home from a security standpoint, because intruders can't look inside and see that no one is home at that point in time.
A connected home basically allows you to be a little more careless than before. You can leave the home to itself, because it will take care of things on its own? Yeah, and that's really our mantra and our vision. We believe that the home needs to be more than just connected. Just because a product is connected to the internet, what does it really mean? Most people believe that a connected home today is just basic remote controlling of a device from a physical remote control or your iPad or panel on the wall or even via voice. We believe that the home should be able to take care of the people inside it and the world around it by helping you save energy as well as making you feel more safe and secure. And all this while being able to conveniently and autonomously think for itself and by itself.
Sounds great, but at least looking at my family and friends, almost no one has installed connected devices in their homes yet. The breakthrough has not come yet. Why do you think that is? I think there needs to be very, very specific experiences that a person can identify with, and then that person will go off and potentially acquire a product to serve that particular experience.
For example? Recently I went out to buy and install a bunch of connected light switches before I left on vacation. Leading up to the vacation, I was reading up on Nextdoor. Nextdoor is a pretty popular neighborhood community app in the US where you can post things about the neighborhood. Just before I left on vacation, there was a lot of activity around people noticing some suspicious characters around as well as break-ins, and so I installed connected switches, and that gave me that peace of mind to go to Lake Tahoe. Because when Nest notices that we've left for vacation, it's able to connect with these switches to turn on and off my lights randomly in the evening. It will make it look like I'm home.
In order to chase away burglars? Exactly, we call that mimicking occupancy, so it makes it feel like I'm home. Furthermore, Nest Cams today are also able to detect a person, so it's able to differentiate between random motions of branches moving from the wind to actually seeing a person in the camera view. And so when Nest Cam sees a person, the lights are able to also turn on to make it seem like someone is at home and noticed that there was some noise or somebody kind of lurking around. That is very helpful. And when you tell your neighbors about how this is really giving you peace of mind and an added level of protection, by word of mouth of specific experiences, people understand that value.
Do you think potential customers might be a little worried about connecting their home because they don´t know where the data is going and what is being done with it? Especially in Germany people can be very sensitive about their privacy. Yes, and of course we need to be very responsible about that. We're invited into people's homes and we take that very seriously. So what we to do at Nest is try to be as transparent as possible. Let’s say a new Bosch or Siemens oven connects to Nest in order to be able to make your home safer by turning itself off when the Nest Protect senses smoke or too much carbon monoxide. That is great of course. But it is also important that whenever a new device connects we make that very clear and notify the customer: First off, the connection is at the request of the user. And the user can decide anytime to remove the connection. BSH and Nest then very clearly articulate what information is being shared, and more importantly, why. So the consumer always knows exactly what is happening. Note that the information shared is never personal data, but rather device statuses.
The refrigerator knows what it has inside and suggests matching recipes; the washing machine informs you when your laundry is done – the smart home appliances from BSH have long been networked and communicated with their users and each other. After all, this BSH Group – which includes Bosch, Siemens, Neff and Gaggenau – has always been representative of innovation, reliability and quality. And with our new digital solutions we keep improving the quality of our consumers’ lives.
Let’s look a little bit into the future. Where is all this going. What are new projects you are working on? While I can’t speak about unannounced projects, we just recently announced a home security solution that includes an alarm system, a video doorbell, indoor and outdoor cameras, and software and services to complement them. Talk about peace of mind! Even with all these new products from Nest, there are still a lot of other things in the home that can further expand and enhance the security of our homes. That’s where our Works with Nest partners come in. I mentioned earlier how lights can be the first line of security by simply making our homes look like they are occupied. That façade delivers powerful deterrence that can ward off potential intruders. Our Works with Nest partners’ products can also strengthen the entry points in our home. That’s why we also have a door lock in partnership with Yale, who has over 175 years of experience in locks. Another major entry point of homes in the US is the garage. But life often gets so busy that we forget to close them. But because Chamberlain garage door openers work with Nest, when Nest notices no one’s home, Chamberlain will send you a notification if the garage door was left opened so you can close it from wherever you are with a tap on your phone.
What is it going to be like in the future? It's wonderful how voice control is so complementary to the connected home. It's brought a level of awareness to more mainstream folks. It's brought a whole level of convenience and simplicity, so you don't have to go back to yours or your spouse’s phone to get all of the apps that you need to control your things. You can just talk to Google Assistant via speakers, TVs, watches, or even Android or iOS phones. But the next step is to then bring even more context to all these very effective controls and interactions. So soon, your Nest Hello video doorbell will be able to recognize who’s at the door, and Google Home can tell you if it’s your neighbor or the mailman. That’s a great example of how it’s more than just a bunch of connected products, but rather how they work better together to give us a connected home, a thoughtful home.
Interview: Lars Gaede
Top photo: ©Siemens Corporate Archives – Siemens Home Connect