Google and Samsung want to work together on smart home compatibility. The two companies released dueling press releases today saying that Google Nest devices would work better with Samsung SmartThings, ending a war between the SmartThings community and Nest/Google/Alphabet that has been going on for years. Samsung says that “Google Nest devices, including thermostats, cameras and doorbells, will be “Works With SmartThings” (WWST) certified, allowing users to seamlessly control their smart homes through SmartThings.” Nest has long been the most isolated smart home company, and now it sounds like Nest devices are finally starting to play nice with your other smart home devices.
Before Samsung bought it, SmartThings started life as a Kickstarter for a smart home hub. It’s designed to be a great unifier of your smart home, and that thought process largely survives to this day, even under Samsung. Instead of taking sides in the smart home standards war (Zwave vs. Zigbee), SmartThings just packed in both radios along with Wi-Fi, aiming to work with anything.
In addition to supporting all radios, SmartThings is also very open on the software front. Samsung provides users with an IDE that can run custom code on the hub itself or in the SmartThings cloud infrastructure. Anyone can write a “SmartApp” — a package that provides custom logic and even a custom user interface within the SmartThings app — or a “device handler,” which allows anyone to kick-start support for new hardware. Users can load up the SmartThings Web dashboard and install whatever they want and even sync their installations to GitHub repositories for updates. You can also access your SmartThings devices outside of the official SmartThings clients via OAuth, leading to great third-party interfaces like the ActionTiles dashboard.
SmartThings is very open and with a huge community you really have to do your best as a manufacturer of devices stop SmartThings compatibility will be dropped. How powerful is the SmartThings developer ecosystem? Well, Nest support has been possible on SmartThings before, thanks to the hard work of the SmartThings community. The app was called NST Manager (a censored version of its previous name, Nest Manager), and it would pull the Nest thermostat, camera, and smoke detectors into SmartThings, enabling centralized control and coordination with your other smart home devices.
Nest has been the opposite of open compared to SmartThings. As a company founded by former Apple employees, Nest never really cared about cross-compatibility and was more focused on building a walled garden. Nest built the “Works with Nest” ecosystem, but it’s never been a complete smart home solution, and it’s never resulted in easy, open use of Nest hardware. Going back to the NST Manager battle, even under Google, Nest would break NST Manager all the time, seemingly on purpose. While the “Works with Nest” ecosystem allowed some companies to sign up for Nest integration, the rules for developers were so restrictive that NST Manager’s only solution for getting data out of Nest hardware was to let users register individually to be their own “Nest developers”, meaning they had to fill out a lengthy web form, select the appropriate permission, and generate a token, all so they could remotely control the hardware they purchased.
Google killed Works with Nest in 2019, eventually killing NST Manager for good, along with many other beloved Nest apps and integrations. Now, after years of acting this way, Google says it wants to play nice. “You can access and control your Nest devices, such as Nest cameras, thermostats and doorbells, using the SmartThings app,” the company says. “And even Samsung smart home devices, such as smart TVs and refrigerators.” The latter sounds like Google is also going to make a Tizen app for Samsung smart devices.
Google, Apple, Amazon and Samsung are also teaming up for a future smart home ecosystem that may one day be real, called CHIP.
As a user of the Google and SmartThings ecosystem, there are a few things missing from the announcement that I’d like to see. SmartThings supports Nest and Google, but I don’t see anything about Google answering this and supporting SmartThings better. As I lamented in the Android 11 review (which includes a Google Assistant-powered smart home control panel), Google’s smart home support is exclusive to devices that compete with Nest products. Google supports controlling SmartThings-enabled lights (and basically any light imaginable), because Nest doesn’t make a lightbulb or switch, but it doesn’t work with door locks, because Nest makes a door lock (Google and Samsung both seem to have put the Yale x Nest Lock in the today’s announcement). Google’s “Nest Hub” smart display can display camera feeds,
but only Nest camera feeds. The Nest exclusivity here doesn’t do Google any favors, and more open hardware support would really improve the appeal of the Nest Hub’s smart display.
This is definitely a departure from Google’s past behavior, but the company has been doing a lot of damage to its smart home users lately. Killing Works with Nest removed a lot of functionality that users relied on (and bought hardware for it), and the outcry was so loud that the company issued a half-hearted apology to users (but ended the service anyway). Google is also busting Nest Secure, its $500 home security system, and it has already blown up the primary music ecosystem for its smart speakers and replaced it with an inferior service after weeks of downtime. Since many smart home products need to be physically installed in your home, they’re expected to be up and running much longer than most tech products, and Google has been really bad at keeping services up and running lately. Perhaps this will make a small contribution to restoring Google’s smart home reputation.