Leaving the Nest: What's Microsoft doing in home automation?

Microsoft execs have said little about the company's home-automation strategy, but Xbox may be its centerpiece.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

With Google's $3.2 billion (not a typo!) purchase of thermostat and smoke-detector-maker Nest, it's a good time to revist what Microsoft has cooking in the home-automation space.


According to at least one report, Google was the only serious bidder for Nest. That's not too surprising on the Microsoft side of the house, given the company's home-automation strategy seems to be centering on the server and/or console side of things.

Almost exactly a year ago, Microsoft quietly bought id8 Group R2 Studios to boost its Xbox business. R2 Studios was the brainchild of the creator of the Slingbox. But before the Softies bought R2, the company was working on mobile apps designed to tap into home-automation systems.

"Given Microsoft's mission to morph the Xbox from just a gaming console to the center of users' living rooms, the Xbox-home-automation tie-in makes sense," I blogged last January. It's not so far-fetched to envision a device running Microsoft's SmartGlass Xbox companion app controlling users' home appliances, HVAC systems and even a fridgetoaster. Add in a Kinect sensor, and, as some have found, you can control lights, open garage doors and do more with voice and gestures.

At the same time, Microsoft Research has been working on a project called "HomeOS" since at least 2010. Rather than controlling heating, air-conditioning and other home systems, HomeOS seems to be more about simplifying the connections and management of the many electronic gadgets and systems typically found in homes.

I don't know if any of Microsoft's Windows Embedded partners has created home-automation client devices running some flavor of Windows Embedded. Nor do I know if Microsoft or any of its developer partners has done work on a Windows 8 or Windows Phone app for controlling devices like Nest's.

As CITEworld's Mary Branscombe recently noted, Microsoft's Windows 8 is at risk for being shut out as a client in the whole "Internet of Things" realm. Many of the newest consumer-electronics include support for Android and iOS as clients, but not Windows 8. I'd wager that with Google now the owner of Nest, we're probably pretty unlikely to see an official Google-developed Nest app for any of Microsoft's platforms.

Update: There are a couple of just-released third-party Windows Phone apps for controlling Nest thermometers that are available for download from the Windows Phone Store. WellNEZted is .99, and Roost is $1.29.

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