On Google’s Acquisition of Nest

Tony Fadell, in an interview today with Om Malik, on why Nest sold to Google:

I was spending nearly ninety percent of my time on building the infrastructure of the company and I wasn’t able to spend enough time and cycles on what I love doing: products and creating differentiated experiences for our customers. That is where my love is and Google offered to let us focus on that, but with scale that will help bring our horizon closer to us, faster. Google offers to bring that scale to us. For me, ultimately building great products is key.

Consider Fadell’s record with the iPod at Apple. Clearly, he knows how to do hardware: design, utility, software integration. But he also knows scale — creating devices that sell tens of millions of units. And he knows iteration: not just building and shipping an iPod, but building and shipping new iPods year after year, each better, in some way, than the last.

One of Alan Kay’s numerous oft-cited quotations is, “People who are really serious about software should partner with an OEM in Asia.” No, wait, that’s not what he said. What he said is, “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” That’s never been true of Google, putting aside Motorola (which they seemingly acquired more for its patent portfolio than for its phone hardware acumen) and the niche Google Search Appliance.

In a sense, Google has always followed Kay’s adage. The software that Google was most serious about — web search, Gmail, and so forth — ran in the cloud, and with the company’s legendary data centers, they effectively built their own hardware.

Google now has a division with a remarkable consumer hardware track record. Nest and Fadell now have the financial resources to work faster. Money doesn’t solve scaling problems, but the actual solutions to scaling problems always cost money. Google’s Nest acquisition has very little to do with selling thermostats and smoke detectors in particular. Instead, it’s about Google having the ability to do consumer hardware right, in general.