When The Financial Times reported that Apple was planning to unveil a home automation platform during June's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), the company characterized the move as coming in the wake of Google's January purchase of Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. While technically accurate, the first thing that I thought was that Google's move was actually a defensive play.
The Purchase of Nest Was about Apple, Not Ads
Here's what reporter Tim Bradshaw wrote in his excellent FT piece, "Apple plans to take on rivals Google and Samsung and make a 'big play' in the world of smart home technology," and that, "Apple’s coming move follows Google’s $3.2bn acquisition in January of Nest Labs."
The question is which came first, Google buying Nest or Apple planning a big play in home automation. We have one example of Apple turning on a dime and bringing an incredible product to market—the original iPod—in less than a year, but the rest of Apple's track record shows that it spends years developing a product or service to get it right before releasing it.
I think it would take just that, many years, to develop a major home automation platform. Not only would Apple need time to develop the tools and infrastructure to ensure that it works, Apple will also have had to put a lot of time and attention into ensuring the platform is as secure as it can be. If malicious hackers hijack someone's home automation, there would be hell to pay, both in the marketplace and in the courts.
With that in mind, one would think such a platform has been in development for some time, probably years. That's my take, at the very least. If so, and if Google found out about it, that company's seemingly-out-of-nowhere purchase of Nest Labs makes a lot more sense.
When the Nest purchase took place, there was a lot of commentary about why Google wanted the company. Did it want a new revenue stream? Did it want Tony Fadell and the other talented engineers and designers at Nest? Does Google have delusions that people will tolerate ads on their thermostat? (Note that Google denied that it planned to deliver ads on Nest devices after a regulatory filing said exactly the opposite.)
All of those things may be true to one degree or another, but I think Google may have wanted to position itself against a move by Apple into that space, and that it snapped up Nest before anyone else could.
Next: Other Possibilities