Exclusive: Next for Nest: A Smoke Detector

by Jessica E. Lessin

Smart thermostat-maker Nest Labs has been developing a smoke detector that could go on sale as soon as later this year, we have learned from people close to the startup.

Why are we telling you about a potential new smoke detector? Good question.

The device will be the technology company’s latest trojan horse into your home, which it wants to make as easy to control as a computer or smartphone. Think of it as the next node in the home network Nest is building device by device with the original thermostat as the hub.

We don’t know what the smoke detector will be called, when it will go on sale or what it will cost. But we hear that it could have a lot of neat features that will make it far more exciting than a traditional smoke detector.

Those possible features include a subscription monitoring service that would alert you if smoke or fire is detected. One person said the device could communicate with the Nest thermostat, giving it a longer battery life by eliminating the need for it to have its own battery-draining wi-fi chip. We also hear that Nest has discussed features like the ability to silence the alarm by waving a hand in front of it and the ability to detect carbon monoxide.

The contemplated subscription service is a very interesting move. Going ahead with it would open up a new revenue stream for the company. But it would also create an ongoing relationship between Nest and its customers that Nest could use to upsell buyers to future products.

The “connected home” gets quite a lot of buzz these days. Microsoft, Google, and Apple want to help us better connect video and audio throughout our homes. Nest, and others including Crestron, are focusing on the unsexy stuff like heating and cooling systems, shades and lights.

Nest launched its $249 thermostat almost two years ago and has long brainstormed other things to build, including the smoke detector and potentially a door lock. The company has also tried to hire some engineers with audio experience, according to people in Silicon Valley, fueling some speculation in hardware circles that it may eventually build an audio device. (Founders Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers helped create the iPod at Apple.)

Investors, including Kleiner Perkins and Google Ventures, have poured tens of millions of dollars into Nest. It’s nabbed some of the area’s best hardware engineers, and companies in Silicon Valley and beyond are watching its roadmap very closely.

For Nest, a smoke detector is an obvious next step and one it has been hinting at. This month Rogers told TechCrunch that Nest wants to redesign “all the other unloved white plastic crap in your home” and that a new device was coming “at some point soon.”

It is hard to say how well Nest’s business is doing. Its thermostat, which tweaks the temperature automatically based how users have adjusted it in the past, is well-liked by techies for its sleek finish and the fact it saves energy. (It can also be controlled with a smartphone.) But Nest hasn’t released overall sales figures.