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In the clearest sign yet that technology giants are serious about connecting our homes Google recently purchased automation start-up Nest Labs for $3.2 Billion.  Nest, for those that don’t know, is a company that launched a smart thermostat in 2010.  This Apple-esque styled device allowed home owners in North America to control and monitor their heating from a well-designed software experience whilst simultaneously using clever algorithms to reduce their home heating costs.  The Apple-esque similarity of Nest was no coincidence; it was the brainchild of Tony Fadell (a previous senior Apple executive who led a team that worked towards the first eighteen iterations of the iPod and the first three iterations of the iPhone).  When Fadell set about building his own home in 2005 he was shown the range of thermostats available and was underwhelmed by the low tech on offer.  At that time the thermostat industry had been almost completely untouched by advances from Silicon Valley – even the most advanced thermostat makers were still relying on outdated technology rather than utilising low-cost computer chips and the power of well-written software, to create the type of intuitive, Internet-connected, smart device Tony was familiar with from his work at Apple.  Since launching the Nest thermostat the company have gone on to unveil a connected smoke detector called Nest Protect.  In an interview with The New York Times, Tony claimed that he could name ten other devices in the home that hadn’t been innovated in years and could benefit from the same smart treatment.  With increased capital Nest Labs has the potential to push ahead with other products at a much more accelerated rate and backed by Google’s infrastructure, to do so globally.  Something which will undoubtedly affect us all.

The story of Nest’s success represents the inevitable impact of convergence on the home automation industry.  When Ideaworks started trading over 25 years ago we did so under the name of Sound Ideas.  As a pioneer of multi-room audio in the UK this was a truly great name for a company that chiefly provided audio integration consultancy.  Over time our industry has changed and as a company that has constantly evolved to meet the latest demands, our knowledge base and skill-set has grown too.  When I started at the company in 2001 only a small portion of our systems racks were used to house IT devices – now almost every component we install is network connected.  All our systems are now designed and commissioned by Cisco-Certified staff.  IT should no longer be considered as a secondary element by systems installers and their clients.  With the rapid growth of connected devices, the expected demand for Internet streaming video at ultra-high-definition quality and the desirability of high speed Internet services, considered network design is now the key element affecting the reliability and lifespan of any well-installed system.  Like Nest, we’re keen on leveraging low-cost hardware and combining it with our own intuitive software to create a new range of devices where none are available – or where incumbent products aren’t as smart or as reliable as they should be.  In line with this, we’ve grown to include an industry-first team of specialist IT software programmers which supplement our highly regarded in-house Crestron team to write custom software code as needed.  In an app-driven future, where hardware is replaced by clever software, systems integrators will be called upon to integrate different software solutions into a single and intuitive control platform.  Even lighting design used to call on our creative design talents rather than our technical expertise.  That was until advances in lamp and dimming technology meant that this has become a much more technologically complex arena and if the gadgety-but-inspiring Philips hue is an indicator of the future, one that will progressively become much more IT-centric too.  It was the evolution to meet all these challenges and an active recruitment strategy of employing the best talents in a variety of fields that meant that the Sound Ideas brand, as strong as it was, had become outgrown.  Our successful change of name last year illustrated our change in nature into a genuine knowledge factory for any discipline related to integrated systems and the ever more complex industries this intersects.

For a deeper insight into the technology that will affect the homes of the future, and the challenges that face systems integrators and home designers to best serve their clients, contact us to attend our highly-praised RIBA accredited CPD ‘Glimpse of the Future 2.0’.  We frequently host presentations at our London Experience Centre where we have numerous purpose-built demonstrations (including a Nest thermostat!) on display.


Johanna Fright
Brand Guardian at Ideaworks