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Nest can now use your phone to tell when you've left the house

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Nest

Nest's products are about to get better at telling when you're out of the house and when you're about to come back home. An update to Nest's iOS and Android app today will allow it to start monitoring your phone's location. When it sees you leaving the house, it'll be able to set Nest's Thermostat to its "away" mode, and when it sees you coming back, it'll be able to start warming things up for you. The feature can be disabled by declining to grant Nest the necessary permissions (or by turning off its out-of-home automation entirely), but enabling it should let Nest's products do a better job of knowing how and when to get to work.

Location data is meant to make Nest's scheduling "more accurate and efficient"

The new feature is called Home/Away Assist, and it's being launched in conjunction with another new part of the Nest app: accounts for family members. Until now, homeowners with Nest products have had to share a single account (and password) with everyone who they wanted to have control over the products, be it a thermostat, smoke detector, or camera. With this update, several people can have control over the same products. It's still just meant for the primary homeowners, however — at this point, there are no parental controls. Not that you'd really want to give a kid much control over the thermostat, anyway.

The real reason for family accounts is to bolster what Home/Away Assist is doing with location data. By tracking multiple phones in the same household, Nest can get a better sense of how people come and go. Greg Hu, a senior product manager at Nest, says that observing patterns is a key part of home Nest decides when people are actually home. "This is an input that's going to make it more accurate and efficient," he says of the location tracking. Though Nest needs to see your location, the company says it won't "track where you go;" all information it collects will be encrypted.

Plenty of other smart home platforms already use location tracking as a home/away mechanism, so Nest's update isn't exactly groundbreaking. Nest argues that it has a better implementation, however, because it isn't relying solely on a single phone. It may be relying on multiple phones from the same household, and after all of that, it still has the data that the thermostat gathers on its own — the core information it's been using to set home and away states until today.

Home and away states help products connected to Nest, too

Improving Nest's awareness of whether someone's at home — and when they might arrive back home — helps with more than just adjusting the thermostat. There's an entire ecosystem of products that integrate with Nest; many are set up to activate once the house is empty, so Nest thinks this update should help with automating the entire home.

Nest's smart home ecosystem is pretty basic compared to what other companies are attempting. Products that integrate with Nest can largely just be used to tell the thermostat to turn on and off or to use the thermostat's on and off setting to decide whether they should activate. That's compared to other companies, which might use a hub to let all smart products across a household talk to each other. But Hu says that simplicity is intentional, rather than a lack of functionality. "What's really important to us is that what's happening in your home is understandable and intuitive to the customer," he says. "The more cumbersome, the more complicated it gets, the more frustrating to customers."