Nest is coming under fire following an announcement that Revolv, a smart home startup it acquired two years ago, would be permanently shutting off its product starting May 15th. The decision, announced in a quiet note on Revolv's website in February, has gone largely unnoticed and is expected to impact a very small number of consumers. However, it does raise serious questions about the longevity of smart home gadgets. The devices are often costly pieces of hardware made by small startups that may drop support at any point after being scooped up by a larger technology company.
Revolv stopped selling its smart home hub, which lets you control various appliances and home automation systems with a central app, back in October 2014 when Nest acquired the company. Yet the Revolv team has maintained its product since and kept its mobile app online. Starting May 15th, Revolv's $300 hub will cease functioning entirely. "The Revolv app won’t open and the hub won’t work," reads an FAQ on Revolv's website. The company did not disclose its eventual plans to shut the service down when it was acquired.
Revolv's $300 smart home hub will cease functioning on May 15th
Revolv joined Nest, which similar to Google operates as a subsidiary of Alphabet, to help build out the "Works With Nest" platform. That service lets third-party products communicate with Nest's thermostats, smoke detectors, and security cameras. Revolv's smart hub is apparently not one of those products. "Revolv was a great first step toward the connected home, but we believe that Works with Nest is a better solution and are allocating resources toward that program," a Nest spokesperson told The Verge. Revolv's founders noted on their website that pouring energy into the Works With Nest program means "we can’t allocate resources to Revolv anymore and we have to shut down the service."
Some Revolv users, like entrepreneur Arlo Gilbert, are incensed. "On May 15th, my house will stop working. My landscape lighting will stop turning on and off, my security lights will stop reacting to motion, and my home made vacation burglar deterrent will stop working. This is a conscious intentional decision by Google/Nest," Gilbert wrote in a scathing Medium post published yesterday. "To be clear, they are not simply ceasing to support the product, rather they are advising customers that on May 15th a container of hummus will actually be infinitely more useful than the Revolv hub." Gilbert notes how Samsung's SmartThings, a competing smart home hub, is now his only real viable replacement.
"Are we just buying intentionally temporary hardware?"
The number of Revolv users who've stuck with the service is likely very small. But Gilbert makes a strong point: Nest is not concerned with customers who paid for expensive hardware under the impression that it would work for years to come. The move also raises complex questions about the future of smart appliances. "Is the era of IoT [Internet of Things] bringing an end to the concept of ownership? Are we just buying intentionally temporary hardware?" Gilbert added.
The situation with Revolv comes at a sensitive time for Nest. The company was the subject of a damning report from The Information last week detailing an exodus in talent and CEO Tony Fadell's struggle to continue building the company and managing its various ambitions. In the story, Fadell placed blame on members of camera maker Dropcam, which Nest acquired for $555 million in 2014, for their failure to perform as expected within his company. Dropcam founder Greg Duffy, who left the company in January 2015, fired back on Medium, saying selling his company to Fadell was a mistake and publicly calling into question Fadell's leadership and Nest's ability to make money.
It's been a rough week for Nest, and it's only going to get harder going forward. As Recode reported on Friday, Google created a vesting schedule for the company to prevent key talent from leaving early on. The day that vesting period ends could be as soon as this year, Recode says, and may lead to an even larger exit of high-profile executives. Just last Friday, two Nest veterans left the company.
Update at 5:07PM ET on Monday, April 4th: Added comment from Nest.