Developer program makes Nest a focal point for the smart home

Nest's promised developer program is now live, bringing together connected features from Mercedes-Benz, Whirlpool, and Logitech to the company's smart thermostats and smoke detectors.

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Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
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Lindsey Turrentine/CNET

Nine months after announcing a plan to let third-party products integrate with its line of popular Learning Thermostats and connected smoke detectors , Nest Labs' Developer Program has announced an impressive first set of partnerships.

The inaugural group of supported third party products will all come bearing a "Works with Nest" indicator. The roster includes well-known firms like Mercedes-Benz, Whirlpool, and Nest's parent, Google, as well as less established companies such as smart LED bulb-maker LIFX, and IFTTT, makers of the self-named connectivity software that can automate behavior between various Internet services and devices.

According to Nest Labs senior product manager Greg Hu, the company's goal is to keep the interactions between his company's products and those in the Works with Nest program simple. Rather than exposing the full breadth of options to program your Nest Learning Thermostat, a supporting Mercedes will only trigger home and away behavior in your thermostat based on the car's proximity to your home.

The Nest Protect connected smoke detector Lindsey Turrentine/CNET

To minimize user fiddling, Hu says you only need to authorize the devices to communicate once. From that point on, the two will interact with minimal to no direct input from a user.

Befitting Nest Labs' recent acquisition by Google, the search engine giant is also an approved Works with Nest partner. As of the second half of 2014, the thermostats will support voice commands and detect your home and away state via the Google Now virtual assistant software.

The company will also share "limited user data" from consumers who opt-in to using the device integrations with developer partners, including Google, Nest co-founder Matt Rogers told the Wall Street Journal.

For Whirlpool, if you use an electric utility that's a member of Nest Labs' Rush Hour Rewards program, your laundry machines will automatically enter special eco-friendly washing and drying modes depending on local energy demand (and only if your Whirlpool washer or dryer happens to be running when demand ramps up).

Of course, inviting third-party products to interact with your Nest products adds another layer of security concerns. As one example, IFTTT's ability to automate behavior in physical devices from virtual triggers could overload your Nest-connected HVAC system by repeatedly sending you a tweet if the interaction between the two had no safeguards. Hu acknowledged these concerns, and cited a number of protections intended to prevent malicious (or careless) activity.

The LIFX color-changing LED light bulb will turn red and flash when your Nest Protect detects smoke. Colin West McDonald/CNET

To protect both your HVAC and electrical systems, Hu says the company has enacted rate-limiting restrictions that throttle the frequency of on/off activity on an electrical circuit. Certain products like the LIFX smart LED bulbs are also read-only devices that they can interpret signals from the Nest Protect smoke detector (the bulbs will blink and change color to red when the Protect detects smoke). They can't send commands to it, preventing the bulbs from somehow interfering with the smoke detector's core functions.

In addition to those protections, Hu says Nest has the ability to remotely monitor activity with its devices, and it can deauthorize any Developer Program device that's behaving in a way the company doesn't like. Users can also deauthorize devices themselves via the Nest control app. Nest Labs will also require third parties to inform you of all the information their devices will access before you grant them authorization, and to purge all user data from their servers after 10 days.

The Nest thermostat will turn your heat up when your Jawbone UP24 wristband detects that you're awake. Josh Miller/CNET

Along with the companies above, Nest has announced Developer Program support for Chamberlain's MyQ smart garage door opener, Logitech's Harmony Universal Remote , and the Jawbone UP24 connected wristband. Chamberlain and Google's Nest functions come online this fall, the others are available today.

Nest would not comment on bringing recent IP security camera acquisition Dropcam into the Works with Nest program, although Nest co-founder Rogers noted that "we'll incorporate Dropcam into how we do business at Nest." Read from that what you will. For more third-party products, Nest says it will expand the Works with Nest program via the Developer Program application process, as well as a development fund co-sponsored by Google Ventures and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.