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Commentary Smart Home

Nest CEO's exit could be just what the Google smart home needs

Commentary: Marwan Fawaz's departure from Nest leaves Google's smart home exposed, but it won't matter much.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Marwan Fawaz's departure as CEO of Nest is yet another shake-up in the Google-owned smart home company's short history. 

Nest co-founder and former CEO Tony Fadell left in 2016 after reports of strained relationships with Google and Alphabet executives. Fadell's exit was a tough time for the startup, but Nest today has a stronger lineup of top-selling DIY products and more support from Google. Basically, the Google brand is strong enough to weather this change. Here's why.

Some history

Nest was founded in 2011 by Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, two former Apple employees who worked on products like the iPad and the iPhone. Fadell, Nest's first CEO, transitioned to an advisory position at Google's parent company, Alphabet, in 2016 and later left the company entirely. Matt Rogers left Nest in 2018.

Under Fadell, only a couple of products were sold and occasionally updated with next-gen hardware and features. With Fawaz at the helm, Nest saw a massive expansion of its product line-up. 

What started out as a company that sold a single app-enabled thermostat and smoke detector blossomed into a well-established smart home company with products ranging from thermostats to door locks and smart home security systems.

All those products

It didn't happen quickly, but Nest now offers 10 distinct smart home products. That's significant. Nest was at one point the poster child for the entire smart home category, but with little diversity in its product line-up, the company rightly caught flack for failing to capitalize on its early momentum with more devices. 

My colleague Rich Nieva quoted a Nest insider as saying Marwan pushed for too many "on-time, mediocre products" rather than big bets, but I disagree. The company now has a diverse set of competitive smart home devices that work well and make it easy for consumers to incorporate smart home devices within a single, well-regarded ecosystem.

Here's a list of Nest's current products:

Nest might not have the same breadth of platforms like Apple's HomeKit or Samsung's SmartThings that work with gadgets from all kinds of third party device makers, but Nest has hit all the major smart home sub-categories with its current line-up, and they all work together more-or-less seamlessly via the Nest app. Apple and Samsung can't say the same.

nest-x-yale-2

The Nest x Yale lock was a joint collaboration between the two companies. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

They're also good products 

All those products wouldn't mean much if they weren't generally well reviewed -- and well designed. In fact, Nest's focus on thoughtful product design is one of the things that makes it stand out as a company. Because Fadell and Rogers came from Apple, they understood the importance of product design -- and brought that to previously under-appreciated everyday devices such as thermostats and doorbells. (I even wrote an opinion piece about the importance of Nest's emphasis on design.)

But it isn't only about style. Most of the Nest products I've reviewed perform well too. They're easy to install, they're simple to configure and manage in the Nest app and they typically work well. 

Google 

It isn't just that Google owns Nest, but that Google has made more of an effort, starting in 2018, to make its Google smart home products  work with its Nest smart home products. For example, the Nest Cam IQ Indoor has a built-in Google Assistant smart speaker. Not only does that mean that a Nest security camera can double as a Google smart speaker, but also that the camera and other Nest devices work with dedicated Google smart speakers to help automate your home with voice commands. That helps everyone think of Nest as less of a standalone smart home brand that Google happens to own and more of a Google smart home brand that's competitive alongside bigger names such as Amazon and Apple.

Where Nest is heading

 It's impossible to say definitively what a new CEO will bring -- or not bring -- to Nest. Regardless, Nest is stronger than it was when Tony Fadell left his position as CEO in 2016. Nest is now a well-established name in the smart home space with great products and excellent product design. It also doesn't hurt that the company is backed by tech giant Google, who is also investing heavily in the smart home under its own name with its line of smart speakers. Even if the Nest team wasn't happy about expanding the product line in favor of making the next truly breakthrough smart home gadget, the brand now has the product breadth to stay relevant in the market, and the organizational cover under new boss Rishi Chandra to hunker down in the lab and come up with the next big thing.

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