On August 30, while I otherwise concerned myself with whether or not I would be blown off the face of the earth by an oncoming hurricane -- I received an email from Big Ass Fans, the company that makes a more modest wind producing device -- the Haiku ceiling fans.
I currently have two of these devices installed in my home — one in my living room, and one in my bedroom. In addition to being "smart" fans because they can sense movement in their immediate proximity -- allowing them to turn on and off by themselves, they are app-controlled IoT devices.
Also: How Big Ass Fans went from cooling cows to a multinational tech powerhouse TechRepublic
When I originally purchased them, they were also notable for being part of Works With Nest -- a developer program that allowed partner companies with their own home automation devices (such as Big Ass Fans) to integrate with Nest's thermostat using a public cloud API.
In the case of the Haiku ceiling fans, it enabled them to automatically change their speed in concert with the house thermostatic controls so that the cooling settings for a room can be optimized. It also meant I could control the Nest itself from the Haiku app, which was handy because then I only needed a single app for environmental settings.
The email I received from Big Ass Fans was a notification that Google would shortly be ending the Works With Nest program, in favor of a new Google Nest program, as a result of Nest being rolled into Google's hardware business last year. Google initially announced that Works With Nest would be sunset back in May and a massive uproar by its customers ensued.
The end result of this? If I decide to accept Google's offer to migrate my Nest account to Google Assistant, the part of the Haiku app which integrates the fan and the Nest controls will stop working. The fans themselves will also stop communicating with the Works With Nest APIs and the Smart Cooling mode will cease functioning.
There seems to be some uncertainty as to when products that were designed to integrate with Works With Nest will permanently lose that functionality. For the time being, Google is stating that anything that was designed to integrate with Works With Nest will continue to function, but no new functionality can be added, nor can new devices access the old Works With Nest (WWN) cloud APIs.
There are quite a few products out there that were designed for Works With Nest, which includes Philips Hue smart lights, Chamberlain smart garage doors, and Wemo smart plugs -- all of which I currently have in my house.
That also includes Amazon Alexa -- which seems to be given special dispensation, at least for now. But yes, Google could decide to pull the plug on it at any time, since it has its intelligent speaker product, Google Home, instead.
You know what? This stinks. Loss of interoperability is not exactly what I bargained for when I bought all this Internet of Things (IoT) crap for my house.
IoT was supposed to bring about this wonderful new era of integrated devices in the smart home. Instead, we now have walled gardens of stuff running in their own isolated ecosystems because the hyper-scale cloud vendors, such as Google and Amazon have decided they'd prefer you to have devices that run in their own fiefdoms entirely.
I have no real concerns about my Haiku fans and wall controllers not working. Their integrated sensors work fine, and the apps work fine. And Alexa can still control all my lights, regardless of whether Wemo, Lutron, or Philips make the devices.
But that Google can suddenly decide to sunset a cloud API that hundreds of IoT devices have been talking to for less than five years is a bit disturbing. It means that the idea of mixing and matching products for home automation -- the very premise of what IoT and the smart home was supposed to be -- is a farce. It is a bald-faced lie, and Google's pants are on fire.
In my opinion, Google should be held responsible -- as in, subject to enormous fines for making customers waste their money like this and for misleading their partners for all this time. Yes, I think a class-action lawsuit, as well as antitrust proceedings, should be under consideration if it isn't already being filed as I write this. And it isn't the first time Google (and Nest) has pulled this sort of thing with breaking IoT promises, either. They are proven pathological liars when it comes to IoT.
Could all of these partner firms update the device firmware on their products so they can now function with Google Assistant instead of the legacy Nest APIs instead? Possibly, but there is no guarantee the devices can accommodate them. There's also all the device and back-end software development that every single one of these companies would have to consider undertaking, as well as the level of effort it would need to make them work, which is no small feat.
All of this will result in a loss of trust in Google's IoT ecosystem. It means that if we want home automation, we now have to plan things out as to which families of products we want and the cloud vendor affinity we want them to have.
Do I want to be an Alexa-enabled home, a Google-enabled Home, or an Apple-enabled home? Until recently, it didn't seem to matter, because I could have all three if I wanted. That's not the case now.
Just as we have to think about being locked into Apple's ecosystem when we buy apps that run on their platforms or buy products like Apple Watch, which has iPhone dependencies -- we now have to choose which IoT walled garden we want to belong to. Or perhaps now we should think much more seriously about products that have their IoT code in open source. Ultimately, we have to come to the realization that all our IoT stuff is doomed.
Me? I'm putting my devices in the Alexa camp and going forward am only going to consider Amazon-based devices and accessories such as smart plugs and integrated light switches. That company is a lot of things, but I'm not expecting Amazon to throw all their customers under the bus like Google just did.
Are your IoT devices affected by the Works with Nest API sunsetting? Talk Back and Let Me Know.