Nest’s Dropcam acquisition shows why the platform is key to Google’s smart home strategy

One of the early criticisms of the smart home has been that many connected-device applications, like an indicator that lets you know when your mail has arrived, are novel but don’t likely justify adding more complexity to one’s life.

So it wasn’t surprising to learn that when Nest wanted to acquire another company to add to its smart home vision the first stop was Dropcam. A connected thermostat offers a very clear ROI — reduced energy consumption and a lower power bill. Security has long been discussed as the second point application with the clearest utility for the smart home.

Dropcam allows security monitoring of one’s home or small business with cloud recording. Additionally I think it will continue to find a strong market among parents who want to monitor their baby or make sure that the fence around the pool is shut (I have one friend who likes to periodically see her baby playing at his daycare center during her workday via a live stream).

The question for the smart home now is how to integrate the larger connected home as hundreds of connected devices from washing machines to lighting enter the home. The strategy from the hub makers like Revolv and SmartThings is to create a device with multiple radio protocols that can communicate with a large majority of home devices, controllable from one governing app. Those strategies are evolutionary steps that will make it easier to control what is likely to become a highly fragmented user experience.

As I work on an upcoming five-year technology roadmap for the smart home for a report for Gigaom Research, I often return to the reality that there will be value in controlling the platform through which consumers access home devices. Nest has rolled out an API so that developers can enable Android devices to control Nest hardware and to link Nest hardware with other home devices like a washing machine or a garage door system. Both Nest and Apple’s HomeKit offer methods for bringing more and more devices under control of two dominant consumer mobile operating systems.

If there’s one takeaway from the early proliferation of hubs and APIs for the smart home, it’s that closed, proprietary ecosystems are unlikely to be a hit for consumers because the intrinsic value of the smart home exists in its interoperability. And in the long term vision of a physical graph, developers will be able to access the hardware resources of multiple devices in order to find new and creative software applications for the home. The physical world will truly be networked.

But until that holy grail materializes, we’ll have competition to build the software and hardware that can absorb lots of different connected devices and produce a compelling user experience that’s easy to operate and produces a clear point application value. Which explains Nest acquiring Dropcam and then offering an API to slowly pull in the home devices that offer incremental value to consumers.

One step at a time.

Adam Lesser is the Cleantech curator for Gigaom Research. He focuses on emerging trends in technology as well as the relationship between hardware development and energy usage.