Feb 11, 2014

Google NEST – a case of déjà vu?

Almost 10 years ago, Amazon formed a team to work on a groundbreaking, highly integrated consumer product. Amazon began with a goal of improving the user experience surrounding physical books. The initiative was led by Gregg Zehr who brought considerable pedigree having previously been the VP of Hardware Engineering at Palm Computing.

The new team was set up outside of Amazon and its strategic objective was complementary to Amazon's mainstream activities. This was the genesis of Amazon’s Lab126, a start-up that focused on product innovation around a new generation of connected devices. Amazon's connected device road map has progressed from the connected eReader to tablets. Most recently, Amazon’s Kindle has been talked about as a point-of-sale device.

If we fast-forward to the present day, it is difficult to escape a sense of déjà vu when looking at Google’s acquisition of NEST. Here we have a separate entity with core competencies in creating highly aesthetic consumer products, led by executives with a strong Apple-design pedigree. And, according to Google’s CEO Larry Page, Google and NEST are “excited to bring great experiences to more homes in more countries”.

However, relative to Amazon's start-up costs ten years ago, it seems that the entry cost for a new category of innovation in the connected devices arena has gone up to the order of a few billions dollars!

So what did Amazon accomplish with Lab126? What might we expect from Google/NEST? And, what does this mean for companies that can’t afford billion dollar initiatives?