Google, which has been on a fascinating and to some extent disconcerting shopping spree, has agreed to acquire Nest, a vendor of connected home thermostat and smoke/carbon monoxide detector technology. Here is Bloomberg’s take on the $3.2 billion Nest deal:
While Google dominates Web search and has grabbed the lead in smartphone software with its Android operating system, it’s a latecomer to hardware, which requires different skills related to design and manufacturing. The Nest purchase brings new devices and talent to Google, following the $12.4 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility in 2012 and the company’s jump into connected products like Google Glass eyewear.
Something deeper is going on, however. Nest is a small step forward in a trend that has been apparent for a long time: the transition from a world in which the emphasis is on discrete computing devices to one in which computing is seamlessly melded into our lives via garments and wearable gadgets.
Wired’s Marcus Wohlsen puts it well in his story on the latest Google deal, which occurred just after the CES Show in Las Vegas:
Instead, the excitement at the show was around wearables and the so-called Internet of Things. The future of hardware isn’t better versions of the same standalone tech. It’s what you can create when you take all the smarts of the smartphone and build them into everything else.
The reality is that it is possible to connect homes, cars and everything else, up to and including sensors on the ocean floor and in space. The interfaces are different, but they are rooted in the same core technology. They can be reconciled. The technology does not stop at the boundary between the outside world and us: Tiny sensors, for instance, can be dispatched to kidneys, livers and hearts to see what is going on and in essence, text a warning if something is amiss.
If CES was the coming out party for the Internet of Things (IoTs), a couple of important discussions must be had. Some of the questions:
Is there any way to keep tabs on this burgeoning landscape? In five years, will anyone really even know what is going on? Will we look back on Google Glass as the first quaint foray into a totally connected world that operates largely outside the control of humans? Will various sci-fi scenarios really come to pass? Is this future simply unavoidable?
This is an esoteric topic. It feels a bit strange dealing with it at a site mainly dedicated to tracking the day-to-day ins and outs of the IT and telecommunications sector. The reality is, however, that the progress is breathtaking. Once a concept is understood, the technicians, marketers and lawyers take over. Progress becomes more a matter of integration, manufacturing processes and other steps than pure genius. These smart but less-than-breakthrough steps can be accomplished by throwing money, lots of money, at the challenge. In other words, the distance from Google Glass to talking kidneys is not too far.
The temptation is to see the Nest deal within the context of the battle between Apple and Google and other top-of-mind issues. That is entirely appropriate, of course. But a point exists at which observers of the business landscape must understand that the terrain is fundamentally shifting. The Nest acquisition, which continues to expose Google’s roadmap, is a good time to do that.