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Are You Serious CEDIA? The Nest CEO as Your EXPO Keynote?

Like many of you, I received a postcard from CEDIA the other day getting me pumped for the 2013 EXPO. Honestly, not much pumping is required. I love the EXPO. And by “love” I mean I frickin’ love the EXPO.

Like many of you, I received a postcard from CEDIA the other day getting me pumped for the 2013 EXPO. Honestly, not much pumping is required. I love the EXPO. And by “love” I mean I frickin’ love the EXPO.

Also, the EXPO is moving back to Denver this year, which I think sent a chorus of collective “Praise be!” throughout the entire CEDIA membership and press corps. CEDIA in Denver is just awesome. The weather is great, the city is clean, it’s easy to walk and get around, and there is a beautiful baseball stadium right downtown. (Note to manufacturers: If you are hosting any events that involve seeing the Rockies play, I am totally in. Consider this a firm Sciacca + 1.)

So here’s the front of the postcard, all robot-ey and Transformer-ey like, and I’m all, “Yeah! Sweet! Save the date? Damn straight I’m gonna save the date!”

So, I’m perusing through the postcard and I get to this section:

My first thought was, “What…the…HELL?!” followed immediately by, “Seriously?! CEDIA picked the Nest guy to be the keynote speaker?! Are you kidding me?!”

Since then, I’ve spoken with other people who said, “Oh, my God! That is exactly what I said when I saw that! What’s up with that?!”

In case you aren’t aware, here’s a little background on Nest…

In late 2011, Nest revolutionized the HVAC control market with a thermostat that was actually incredibly cool and sexy. The CEO of the company, Tony Fadell—the selected keynote speaker—had an integral role at Apple, leading “the team that created the first 18 generations of the iPod and the first three generation of the iPhone,” and this was a thermostat that looked as Apple-cool as any thermostat had a right to look. I mean, how often in your life have you read “sexy as hell” and “thermostat” in the same sentence? It also was very smart, being incredibly simple to program, using motion sensors to learn your living habits, and being controlled whether at home or away by a cool app. Nearly every custom integrator the world over was salivating to not only get their hands on one, but to start spec’ing them in by the arm loads on every project.

But then, it became obvious that Nest wasn’t exactly a friend of the custom installer channel. First, the product is basically unavailable for sale through custom installers or their typical distribution channel. (Much like Apple products; I guess this shouldn’t be a real surprise considering Mr. Fadell’s background with Apple…) But even more damning, the product is impossible to integrate with, living in a very closed world that is much like other products–cough, Bose, cough–that installers don’t love or aren’t able to integrate with.

Nest has even gone on record via a company blog saying that its product is “a thermostat, just a thermostat,” writing: “We’ve been asked why the Nest Learning Thermostat doesn’t have features people have come to expect from their programmable thermostats. We’ve been asked why we don’t integrate with proprietary systems like Carrier Infinity or whole-home automation systems like Control4, AMX, Crestron, Lutron and Savant. The reason why Nest isn’t telling you the time, turning off the lights, adjusting your solar panels or showing pictures of your family is simple: Nest is a thermostat. And the thermostat’s problem isn’t controlling lighting; its goal shouldn’t be to serve as a clock. The biggest challenge, the core problem, is making a dent in 50 percent of home energy.

Nest has a lot of potential. It could do a thousand different things. But until we’ve achieved our goal and revolutionized home energy in this country, Nest is a thermostat, just a thermostat.”

“That’s fine,” thought third-party driver creator, House Logix, “if you guys don’t want to build a driver for your awesome new thermostat, we’ll go ahead and do it for you! Huzzah!”

So, House Logix did just that, creating a way for integrators to integrate their automation systems with Nest thermostats. Problem solved! Integrate away! Nests for everyone!

Except Nest didn’t like that idea either, sending out a cease and desist letter to House Logix making them remove the driver. And not content to just stop future sales of the driver, they chucked some more salt into the wounds by upgrading the firmware in their systems, so they wouldn’t work with any drivers that did exist. Ones that people had, you know, paid for.

So, yeah. When I saw that Mr. Fadell was going to be the keynote Speaker at the biggest annual event for custom integrators, an event called the Custom Electronics Design & Installation Association EXPO, I was surprised to say the least.

So I fired off an email to my contacts at CEDIA saying, “I’d love to get a comment from CEDIA on the choice of Mr. Fadell as speaker and his company’s seeming disinterest in our channel.”

This afternoon, I had the opportunity to chat it out with Dave Pedigo, CEDIA’s senior director of learning and emerging technologies, and one of the people responsible for selecting Mr. Fadell. Dave was a bit surprised at the negative feedback he had been hearing from some members and was quick to acknowledge that “there have been a few people that have asked about our selection of Tony.” He also stressed that this keynote isn’t about Nest, the company, but is really about Tony and his background and accomplishments.

“Tony is one of the world’s greatest industrial designers around, and this keynote is not so much about the product as it is the person,” Dave commented. Someone who has created or invented the product that has in some form or fashion altered mankind; everyone uses an iPod or MP3 in some form or fashion. He was a leading man, basically the number three man at Apple at one time, at the precipice of Apple when it was growing into a massive company.”

“We will get a chance to sit in front of a world-class designer that has been so influential in everything that we do,” Dave added. “To get an opportunity to hear his thoughts on the future will be interesting. To hear the importance and understanding of the design process and what it is like to truly design something. This is a chance to get into the mind of someone who has been heavily involved in that process.”

Further, even though the event is touted as a keynote, it is really going to be more of a moderated discussion. “This discussion will moderated by an ESC, but certainly we will be looking to answers for questions that our members have,” Dave explained. “We will be having an ESC asking Tony questions about his understanding of where the industry is going, and where is the future of this going. There will certainly be some discussions of dealing with a product that has a closed eco-system that makes it more difficult for an ESC to do their job.”

Dave also pointed out that Nest is showing interest in our industry. “Nest participated in the Future Technology Pavilion at EXPO last year and will have a booth at EXPO this year,” he said. “And what better way to make a manufacturer see the viability of a channel than to get them in front of 20,000 of our home technology professionals?”

Dave concluded our chat by saying, “At the end of the day, we value our member’s opinions, and that making sure when they come to the show they are getting the very best.”

He also invited me to share his email address and said that if anyone would like to discuss the choice of Mr. Fadell further, they are welcome to reach out to him directly. So, here you go: [email protected].

While the choice of Fadell is still a little surprising, I am mollified after my talk with Dave. I’m also actually intrigued by the prospect of a moderated discussion where we’ll get to hear Fadell answer direct questions from integrators, and might carve out time in my schedule to attend the Keynote.

For those interested in “saving the date” to see Mr. Fadell’s moderated Keynote, here’s what you need to know:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013, 5:30 PM – 6:30 PM
Four Season Ballroom 4, Colorado Convention Center
The Speaker: Tony Fadell is the founder and CEO of Nest, the company that developed the Nest Learning Thermostat. Prior to Nest, Fadell served as SVP of Apple’s iPod division and worked with Steve Jobs to create the first 18 generations of the iPod digital music player and the first three generations of the iPhone. Before his time at Apple Fadell built the Mobile Computing Group at Philips Electronics. He has also authored more than 100 patents.