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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Nest paralysis

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

It’s been a tough stretch for Nest, the Alphabet-owned company run by former Apple executive Tony Fadell. Stories of internal strife and conflict with Greater Google abound.

I’ve been a user of the Nest thermostat since the very earliest days, and I like it a lot. A year and a half ago, I also reviewed smart thermostats for The Sweethome1. What I found was a bit surprising: Nest’s thermostat hadn’t really advanced much since its original product release, while competitors such as Ecobee and Honeywell were closing the gap quickly.

In the intervening time, Nest has released a third generation of its thermostat, but other than getting a bit thinner it’s yet another boring update. The Nest software has gotten a little bit better, but only marginally. And in the meantime, the company has released a smoke alarm not a lot of people like and… not really much else.

I don’t have any inside knowledge about Nest, so I can’t speculate on why it’s happening, but as an observer, it’s baffling to see how a company could create such an interesting, attractive product like the original Nest thermostat and then fail to substantially update it for five years.

One of Nest’s big issues originally was a lack of good connectivity to other smart devices, and that’s been improved over the years. I can control my Nest thermostat with my Amazon Echo now, which is good.

But one of Nest’s biggest missing features has gone unaddressed over the years, and I’m baffled: There’s no official remote temperature sensor. This is a huge deal if your thermostat doesn’t live in the place where you spend most of your time. The Ecobee3 thermostat, in addition to supporting Apple’s HomeKit, comes with a tiny battery-powered remote sensor and supports additional sensors that you can buy for an extra fee. There are some expensive third-party sensors that will integrate with Nest, but nothing from the company itself.

Not everyone needs a remote sensor, but for a lot of homes it could make the Nest work a lot better. (I know there are many mornings when the temperature in my bedroom is far more important than in my hallway.) And yet five years in, Nest appears to be uninterested in (or incapable of) making its product better.

Instead, Nest seems to be focused on buying other companies—leading to some products being killed. Nest’s acquisition of Dropcam sort of made sense, but the new Nest Cam software actually removed features that were a part of Dropcam, generating customer ire.

I don’t know what’s happening over there. And I still enjoy my Nest thermostat, including how great it looks on my wall. But after five years of imagining where an innovative company like Nest could go in reimagining formerly boring and dumb home appliances, it appears to have done very little. And I’m starting to think that the Ecobee is looking more attractive by the day.

  1. I won’t be updating that review; my house is a single climate zone and doesn’t do air conditioning, so I’m not the best choice for testing more complex heating or cooling scenarios. 

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