TIME Gadgets

5 Reasons To Install a Home Webcam

Nest Cam
Nest Nest Cam

Spying isn’t one of them, because that would be wrong

This digital age we’ve found ourselves in is sure a complex one. On one hand, people are increasingly anxious about their online privacy, to the point where all of Europe is blocking Facebook’s new facial recognition photo app. On the other hand, technology is giving us great tools to stay safe, like an app that’s helping people who were abducted in the Middle East alert the police.

Web security cameras are similarly divisive. Some people feel the devices’ cloud-connected features have the potential to spill their private moments all over the web. Meanwhile, countless others who’ve been victimized by burglars, stalkers, or abusive caretakers have found these to be lifesaving devices.

But you don’t need to record your every movement within your home to be safe. Here are five ways to use web security cameras around your property to keep your home and family members safe and sound:

1. Mind the door. Whether it’s a crook or your kid’s friends, if they’re coming in the house, they’re most likely entering through the front door. Positioning a camera so it catches the comings and goings is a good way to ensure everyone who is in your house belongs there.

The $149 Simplicam makes for a good greeter because it has facial recognition features that will send an alert to the camera owner’s smartphone if a stranger enters the house. Part of a monthly or annual subscription feature, the facial recognition service also lets you save video clips in the cloud (which is key in case someone makes off with your camera). And you can set the camera to stop recording when it recognizes specific faces, like yours, because there’s no need for this setting to be active when your watchful eyes are already in the room.

2. Watch those dark corners. Blind spots, dark corners, and out-of-sight areas — every old house has them, and some new houses do too. Putting a webcam in those troublesome places will give you the ability to look in those creepy crannies without actually having to go there.

Of course, the challenge is wiring, but Arlo by Netgear, starting at $199.99, will be your hero by operating anywhere your Wi-Fi reaches. Powered by four lithium-ion camera batteries that last up to six months, the web connected camera has night vision, is designed for outdoor use including in rain and snow, and provides motion alerts. But even better is its one free gigabyte of online storage for saving clips or the past seven days of footage. Most other cameras charge a subscription fee for this kind of service.

3. Keep an eye on your garage. One of the most vulnerable places in your home, garages store lots of valuable property (like your car, for starters) but they’re often overlooked when it comes to security. Whether it’s tripping the garage door’s emergency release lever with a coat hanger or roaming your neighborhood, channel surfing with garage door openers, burglars are masters at exploiting this space.

There are things you can do to stop them, but to catch them in the act, the $199 Sengled Snap will be a must buy when it comes out in September. A 1080p HD cloud-connected camera and LED lightbulb that fits perfectly into a flood light, this innovative invention connects to Wi-Fi while installation is as simple as screwing in a lightbulb. With motion and sound detection capability, it may even help you catch the crooks before they make it inside.

4. Help mom and dad sleep like a baby. Forget all the advice and home remedies. There’s nothing that will reassure new parents like the image (and audio) of their baby sleeping soundly. And while baby monitors are hardly new, using a Wi-Fi connected camera as one is a great way to get the best technological bang for your buck.

The $219 Nest Cam is not only perfectly named for watching over a young one, but it’s well suited for the task with a 1080p high definition resolution and a great mounting system to keep the camera (and cord) out of your kid’s curious hands. But the best part of using a camera like this instead of a dedicated baby cam is that when your little one gets bigger, you can reuse the Nest Cam elsewhere on your property.

5. Cancel the house-sitter. Whether you travel for business or to satisfy wanderlust, leaving all your belongings behind can be equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. Eliminate the latter by using a web security camera as a house-sitter, keeping you connected to your home, no matter where you go.

Capturing 180 degrees of video while connecting to smart home devices, the $199 and up Piper is part camera, part security guard. Able to detect indoor and outdoor temperature, humidity, light, sound, and motion, the device can link with window and door sensors to keep track of your home as if you never even left.

TIME Gadgets

Meet the Home Security Camera That Burglars Totally Ignore

Canary
Canary

The $249 Canary has already helped cops find a suspected robber

For the past eight years, Melanie, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, shared her Chandler, Ariz. home with several roommates. But when she finally got the place to herself this past spring, she felt her newfound privacy came at the cost of security. So, she decided buy a Canary all-in-one home security device, placing it in the bedroom of her 2,000-square-foot house.

“You don’t think you’re actually going to use it for home security,” says the 43-year-old. “I called it my puppy cam.”

You can indeed see Melanie’s dogs in a video her Canary recorded on May 4. But the device captured something else, too. On that day, a man later identified by police as Brian Pantoja appears to break Melanie’s window, climb inside her home, and rifle through her belongings. According to local news reports, thousands of dollars worth of jewelry went missing from Melanie’s home that day; the investigation remains open as of May. But before apparently pilfering Melanie’s home, Pantoja appears to grab a bottle of water from right in front of the camera that was recording him.

Here’s the footage from Melanie’s Canary, provided by the company and posted here with Melanie’s permission:

“It’s so sleek,” says Melanie. “[Pantoja] had no idea — he looked at it a couple of times . . . he just had no clue.”

In fairness to the burglar, coming in black, white, or silver and about the size of a large soup can, the Canary looks nothing like most webcams. With air vents at the top and no obvious camera lens, it’s not the kind of device you’d expect to find standing vigil over a home. And Pantoja was hardly the first person to be busted by one. Since the device launched in late March, it has caught at least 30 serious incidents on video, the company claims, from alleged burglaries to caretaker abuse and arson.

Other than Canary’s discrete appearance, its 1080p HD camera with a 147-degree viewing angle is the killer feature. Besting the specs of the newly-announced and much ballyhooed Nest Cam, Canary’s video feed looks great on its mobile app, and that was key in solving Melanie’s burglary. Amidst a roomful of police officers, she pulled up the video and zoomed in on the burglar’s face. The authorities recognized him immediately.

“Everybody was just saying they’ve never seen a video that was such good quality,” she says.

Able to detect motion, light, temperature, and humidity, the $249 Canary is more than just a camera. Through the app, Canary can notify users of movement, loud sounds, and changes in air quality when they’re away from home. A built-in microphone lets users talk to the room when they’re away, and an embedded 90-plus decibel siren can scare off intruders at the push of a button.

But as useful as all this sounds, the Canary isn’t for everyone. Digital privacy has become an increasing concern, and gadget makers face an uphill battle in convincing people their private moments are safe from peering eyes online. Melanie never disclosed any trepidation about having a web-connected camera in her bedroom, but my wife shooed my review unit out of our living room like it was one of the neighbor’s cats.

In my wife’s defense — and she is employed as a crime prevention expert — I promised her I would never review a webcam in our home without her permission. But as I set it up in my office instead, she reminded me of an excellent point: devices like Canary will not prevent crimes from occurring. In fact, once a person has broken into your house, that’s already breaking and entering. But, as the Chandler Police Department might attest, it’s clear that cameras like these can help catch the bad guys after the deed is done.

Once I installed the Canary, I also started thinking of it as my puppy cam, watching as my dog pace back and forth while I was out running errands. Though it was nice to know she doesn’t get nervous in my absence, I discovered the Canary itself was on high alert. Via the Canary app and your phone’s GPS, the device knows when you’re home and when you’re away, automatically arming itself when you step out. This is good because you won’t get overwhelmed with sound and motion notifications when you’re walking around your house. That’s also a very robust way of arming the device — by tracking the owner’s (or owners’, as multiple phone-toting users can be detected) location, Canary doesn’t rely on a spotty Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection with your smartphone to know that you’re home.

But personally, I found this feature a little creepy, as it kept tracking me even after I unplugged the camera. That’s has more to do with how geo-location works than with the Canary itself, but most smartphone users don’t understand that when you allow an app to track your location, it will do that until you tell it to stop.

Still, there’s no way my paranoia would sway Melanie and the dozens of other users who have found the Canary and similar devices to be tremendously helpful home security tools. In her case, even if the culprit hadn’t been caught, she’d find some sort of relief by seeing the crime in action.

“The best part about it for me is that I know exactly what he did,” says Melanie. “There’s no question of, did he hurt my dogs? Did he do something to my bed? I know exactly where he was; I know everything he touched; I know everything he took.” And as a result, the suspected burglar wasn’t able to steal her sense of security.

TIME smart home

A Drop Dead Easy Way to Make Your Air Conditioner Smarter and Greener

central-air-thermostat
Getty Images

A smarter air conditioning unit doesn't have to be fancy. Just ask German startup Tado

German startup Tado has spent the last three years trying to make heating and cooling systems smarter and more efficient in countries across Europe. But on Thursday, the company debuted a device for the rest of the world including the United States.

Tados’ device lets homeowners automatically control the temperature in their house. Based on a cell phone app, it detects when the home owner leaves and returns, and adjusts the air conditioning accordingly. Tado says by turning off the air conditioning when the person leaves the house, energy use can be cut by 40%, helping to lower energy bills. Tado also pitches its device as a convenience and a way to make homes more comfortable.

The product works by wirelessly connecting the control gadget to a home’s air conditioning unit using the air conditioning unit’s remote control. The company is targeting one-room air conditioners like the ones used in windows, mounted on walls, or portable ones — these make up 85% of the world’s air conditioning.

Tado’s smart air conditioner is part of a broader push by companies to make the entire home digitally connected with sensors, wireless networks and smarter devices. Big and small companies alike are connecting fridges, ovens, entertainment systems, and lighting systems, and looking to sell consumers on the dream of an ultra convenient, sleek and techie home. The upside of some of these devices is that they can be more energy efficient.

Tado, which introduced the new product at an event in New York, voiced big goals for its new territory. Within the next year, it hopes that its device will be used in at least 100,000 air conditioning units in New York City alone.

The real differentiator with Tado is that it’s a pretty smart device for a decent price: $200. Nest, a smart home device maker owned by Google, sells its rival thermostat for $250.

Tado, sometimes referred to as the European Nest, has raised funding from Target Partners and Shortcut Ventures as well as a Kickstarter campaign.

TIME Gadgets

Are Smart Thermostats Worth Buying?

Google To Buy Smart Thermostat Maker Nest For 3.2 Billion
George Frey—Getty Images In this photo illustration, a Nest thermostat is being adjusted in a home on January 16, 2014 in Provo, Utah.

And 4 of the best on the market

For the most part, I’m an early adopter. In my opinion, Launch Day should be a holiday, right up there with May the Fourth and St. Patrick’s Day. But when it comes to smart home technology — at least, home electronics that are expensive or require complex installation — I tend to move at the reluctant pace of a dedicated laggard. That’s because today’s tech is as much about the ecosystem as it is the product. Gadget makers aren’t necessarily trying to peddle you a gadget; they’re selling an upgrade cycle.

Homeowners don’t want this — not even tech-laden kings of the castle like myself. So, when smart thermostats started hitting the shelves years ago, rather than being the first on my block to install one, I sat back and watched. Last year, Nest co-founder Matt Rogers told me the company isn’t worried about getting people to upgrade yet.

“When we get to 50 million U.S. households, then we’ll start worrying about turnover,” Rogers said. In the meantime, the company has continually improved its product, currently in its second generation, with dozens of free software updates. “We’ve been able to update even to the first generation unit,” he says.

From the sidelines, I confess that I’m late to the game. The fundamental technologies in these devices (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, light sensors, thermometers) are not only refined, but they’re also timeless, or at least backwards compatible. I’m convinced the smart thermostat of yesterday will still be an ample energy-saving gadget tomorrow. So, on the eve of getting a heat pump installed at my home — I’m switching from a gas furnace to a year-round, climate-controlled utopia — I’m faced with the question of how to best manage my HVAC system.

These four options are the best contenders.

Allure Eversense

You might not have heard of the Allure Eversense, but it’s quite possible you’ve listened to it. Part smart heating controller, part media center, this clever $249 device takes advantage of the thermostat’s central location in your home to do double-duty as a small speaker system. With just a 1.0 gigahertz processor and eight gigabytes of storage, this unit is ripe for obsolescence, but it really doesn’t take much computing power to kick out some tunes. And with Wi-Fi connectivity, it can stream directly from your Android or iOS device, anyhow.

Its 4.3-inch touchscreen is able to display the weather (including an animated radar) or your photos with its Picture Frame app. But the big deal is the the smarts in this unit, with its ability to track your location, both inside and out of the house, turning off the heat or air conditioning when you’re away, and starting it when you’re on your way home. Since I work from home, this isn’t very helpful for me, not to mention the privacy concerns I have over being monitored like that. But it’s probably no worse than the location tracking that Find My iPhone already does.

Ecobee3

Every home is different. With that in mind, Ecobee3 offers a versatile solution to temperature control by connecting to remote sensors all over the house, detecting the conditions where you actually want your heat or cool air to reach. Detecting movement and temperature, these sensors feed data to the main thermostat, a Wi-Fi-connected fixture that packs motion, proximity and humidity sensors itself. Basing its smarts on what kind of HVAC equipment you have (conventional, heat pump, gas, or dual fuel) and the weather, the $249 smart device ($313, for a package that comes with a pair of extra sensors) can sense if you are home and control the climate accordingly.

On the plus side, Ecobee3’s ability to heat and cool far-flung rooms makes this a good option for my home (and my attic workspace). But by catering to the far corners of my house, it will probably over-heat or over-cool the main living area — as well as wipe out any savings I might get from being more energy conscious.

Honeywell Lyric

A longtime giant of the HVAC industry, Honeywell isn’t giving up control of the world’s heat to anyone, especially not these digital upstarts. And in pairing up with Apple (and its upcoming HomeKit smart home initiative), Honeywell has a great opportunity to continue on as a force in this space. But the Lyric — at least this version of it — might not be the device to do that. Using geofencing to know when to turn your system on, the $249 thermostat monitors your location like the Eversense. But it also takes into account the relative humidity in your home to make sure 72 degrees actually feels like 72 degrees (and not like 80 degrees, which is how it feels when the air is humid). Lyric’s Android and iOS app let you create shortcuts to change your temperature settings to particular preferences as well as to schedule them to come on and off, automatically.

This is a fresh change from learning thermostats because it offers the homeowner more granular control. But the reason to hold off is this product’s unclear HomeKit compatibility. As far as I’ve been told, HomeKit-compatible products will require a special chip that has not yet become available. So, if Lyric is to be HomeKit compatible, it probably won’t be the model currently on store shelves.

Nest Learning Thermostat

The smart thermostat that started it all ends this list. Gorgeous to look at, and making your home energy bill pretty too, this $249 game-changer has stood up well since it was first released in 2011, due to continual updates (as mentioned above) and timeless good looks.

But Nest is also popular because it doesn’t take any programming whatsoever. Just put it on the wall while you go about your business. Nest’s auto-scheduling feature takes over from there, turning up when you typically like it warmer, down when you tend to want it cooler, and off when you head off to work. But if you can’t keep your hands off the brushed metal device, turning it below a certain point will prompt a leaf to pop up on the screen, a sign that you’re saving energy. The most cost-saving feature of Nest it its ability to detect when you’re home or away, but since I’m here more often than I’m not, that’s not likely to help me much. And, since my thermostat sits right next to the stairs to my office, it may just be a constant reminder of a bad decision. Perhaps I should continue to hold out on this purchase, after all.

TIME Silicon Valley

How Google Perfected the Silicon Valley Acquisition

Signage outside the Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California on Oct. 13, 2010.
Tony Avelar—Bloomberg/Getty Images Signage outside the Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California on Oct. 13, 2010.

As tech's largest firms grow in scope and age, acquisitions have become an increasingly important maneuver

Correction appended, April 21

In late October John Hanke and several of his co-workers met for a reunion of sorts at Fiesta Del Mar, a Mexican restaurant near Google’s Mountain View headquarters. Hanke, a 10-year Google employee who led initial development of Maps, was once the founder of a small geodata startup called Keyhole that Google acquired in 2004. The fact that the one-time entrepreneur has stayed with the search giant for more than a decade makes him and his colleagues oddities in Silicon Valley. “There are quite a large number of [us] who are still at Google, and I have to say I don’t think anyone expected that when we first came in,” he says.

Google has used acquisitions to expand its workforce and launch new products since before it was a household name. Recently that strategy has become the modus operandi for technology firms in Silicon Valley. Facebook is using its fast-growing cash hoard to take control over sectors both adjacent to its core product (WhatsApp for $22 billion) and far-flung from social networking (Oculus VR for $2 billion). Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon are doing the same, making big-ticket bets by buying Minecraft developer Mojang ($2.5 billion), Tumblr ($1.1 billion) and video game streaming site Twitch ($970 million), respectively. Even Apple, which long eschewed splashy acquisitions in favor of much smaller, less public buys, says it bought at least 30 companies during the last fiscal year, including the $3 billion purchase of Beats.

Overall spending on tech acquisitions topped $170 billion in 2014, up 54% from the previous year and more than double the amount spent in 2010, according to PrivCo, a research firm that tracks investments in private businesses. As the core of dominant technology companies get larger, they have come to depend on acquisitions not only to broaden their businesses but also to sustain the pace of innovation. “Companies are buying innovation,” explains Peter Levine, a general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. “As large companies need to be competitive and want to increase their footprints in a variety of different areas, one of the best ways to do that is through acquisition.”

The deals are a boon for startups as well. Venture capital is abundant, and companies can rely on investment rather than revenue to keep growing. If it’s not clear how a startup will eventually convert users into revenue, a buyout from a large firm can render that problem irrelevant—or at least less urgent. While investors and founders insist that launching a thriving self-supporting company is still the end-goal in Silicon Valley, “exiting” via a sale rather than an initial public offering can still net a lucrative payout. “It’s almost a goal for some of these companies as they start, to have that exit event,” says George Geis, a business professor at UCLA whose upcoming book, Semi-Organic Growth, analyzes Google’s acquisition strategy over the years.

But while snapping up a startup is now easy, holding onto its key employees is more difficult. Startup founders, who often think of themselves as entrepreneurs before engineers, are notoriously difficult to keep at large firms long. Partly, this is cultural: striking out on one’s own, idea in hand, is a fundamental part of the Silicon Valley ethos. The widespread availability of funding doesn’t hurt, either. That has left firms struggling to keep the expertise they may have spent millions acquiring. “When a firm is making a tech acquisition, they’re buying the talent as much as they’re buying the technology,” says Brian JM Quinn, a law professor specializing in mergers and acquisitions at Boston College.

A TIME analysis of startup founders’ LinkedIn profiles found that about two-thirds of the startup founders that accepted jobs at Google between 2006 and 2014 are still with the company. Amazon has retained about 55% of its founders over that time period, while Microsoft’s rate is below 45%. Facebook, with a 75% retention rate for founders, is beating its older competitors, but the company only began acquiring companies in significant numbers around 2010 or so. Yahoo and Apple, which have both gone on acquisition sprees under new CEOs Marissa Mayer and Tim Cook in the last two years, now have a similar retention rate to Google.

Google stands out among this cohort in large part because of the massive number of acquisitions it’s conducted. Overall at least 221 startup founders joined Google’s ranks between 2006 and 2014. Yahoo, the next closest competitor, added at least 110 founders to its employee roster in that time. Google’s internal calculation of its overall retention rate for startup founders through its history is similar to TIME’s, according to data provided by the company. Apple, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft declined to share any information on the retention of founders; Amazon did not respond to a request for data.

An examination of the ways Google tries to retain employees provides a window into the increasingly ferocious battle among the tech sector’s giants to expand through conquest. “Google,” says Geis, “has done a pretty good job—among the best in Silicon Valley.”

‘The toothbrush test’

Even when Google was small, it wasn’t shy about spending. The company’s first startup acquisition, the 2003 purchase of Pyra Labs, forms the backbone of what is today Blogger, an online publishing platform. Since then, many of Google’s most well-known products, including Android, YouTube, Maps, Docs and Analytics, have originated from acquisitions. “M&A has obviously been a huge part of Google—and, I think, Google’s success—for a long time,” says Don Harrison, Google’s vice president for corporate development, who oversees the company’s acquisitions.

Before any deal is finalized, it has to pass what CEO Larry Page calls “the toothbrush test”: is the product something you use daily and would make your life better? “If anything matches the toothbrush test and relates to technology, then Larry has an interest in it,” explains Harrison.

Typically, Google buys occur in sectors where the company has already been experimenting itself. Harrison points to YouTube as a prime example. Google already had a video sharing service called Google Video in the mid-2000’s, but YouTube’s fast-growing user base convinced the firm to offer a then-eye-popping $1.65 billion for the startup, even though it was barely a year old and earned no revenue. Today, YouTube brings in billions of dollars of revenue per year and is the third most-visited website in the world, according to Web analytics firm Alexa.

But the return on investment on an acquisition isn’t only measured monetarily. It’s important to Google and other tech giants that the founders behind ideas worth paying for stick around as well. Harrison says founder retention is one of the significant factors Google measures as part of the “scorecarding” it does to evaluate its purchases. “We hold ourselves accountable to make sure that the founders are able to be successful within Google,” Harrison says. “It’s something that we’re not only working on at the time we buy the company but we work on for years after as well.”

Cash alone can’t convince the top startup founders to join Google. 2014 was the most active year for IPOs in the U.S. since the year 2000, according to IPO tracker Renaissance Capital, and Chinese online retailer Alibaba had the biggest public debut in world history, raising $25 billion in September. “As aggressive as we’re willing to be, we probably can’t match public company premiums right now,” Harrison admits.

So Google tries to find other ways to lure key talent.

‘A True CEO’

For Tony Fadell, the CEO of smart home company Nest, the decision of whether or not be acquired by Google was really a question of how he wanted to spend his time.

Google had begun courting Nest almost from the company’s inception, ever since Fadell showed Google founder Sergey Brin a prototype of the Nest Thermostat at a TED conference in 2011. At the time, Fadell wasn’t interested in a buyout. “I wanted to keep it as a startup as long as possible,” he says.

But as Nest grew, so did Fadell’s logistical headaches. By 2013, he says he was spending 90% of his time on what he calls “back-of-house stuff”: managing finances, talking to investors, wrestling with taxes and fending off patent lawsuits. “There was a lot of selling to multiple entities that we were doing the right thing,” he says.

When Google came knocking again, offering a big payday and the chance to keep Nest’s name brand intact—a key requirement for Fadell—an acquisition seemed more appealing. Now Fadell says he spends 95% of his time focused on product development and key relationships. Nest, meanwhile, has gotten access to resources that would have taken much longer to accrue independently. The company launched in five new countries in 2014, but Fadell thinks they would have only reached two without Google’s help.

In many ways, the Nest acquisition is the ideal scenario startup founders envision when they agree to be swallowed by a larger company. Harrison, Google’s M&A head, calls Fadell a “true CEO” and says Google execs serve more as a board of directors for Nest instead of supervisors. Fadell says he hasn’t had to get formal approval for anything from Google, though he reports directly to Larry Page and meets with the Google CEO a few times per month. “He’s like, ‘Call me when you need me, but this is for you to run,’” Fadell says of his relationship with Page. “He gives us the freedom, so I run with that. Only when it’s really major decisions do I really touch base with him.”

Some founders who don’t quite have Fadell’s free rein are still granted a certain level of autonomy. Skybox Imaging, a satellite manufacturer that Google acquired for $500 million last summer, reports to the company’s vice president of engineering for geo products but maintains separate offices from Google in Mountain View. “We kind of get a little bit of the best of both worlds,” says Ching-Yu Hu, one of the four Skybox founders that now works at Google. “We’re all Googlers now so we have access to all the infrastructure there, but at the same time we’re semi-autonomous.”

The company has experimented with more direct incentives to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit. For a few years in the mid-2000’s Google handed out Founders Awards valued at as much as $12 million in stock to teams that developed successful new products like Gmail and Google Maps. Today awards are a little less explicit, in the form of more traditional of raises or promotions. Google works closely with founders in their first 90 days on the job to insure they’re getting acclimated well, but check-ins on founders’ progress can continue for years, depending on the acquisition.

At the core of Google’s pitch to founders is the opportunity for bountiful resources. Sure, those can be scratched and clawed for independently, but going it alone requires a lot more time, money and luck than hitching your wagon to one of the richest companies on Earth. “It was a pretty compelling pitch,” Hanke recalls of his own deliberations about whether to sell Keyhole to Google. “We could achieve a lot more standing on the shoulders of all that was going on at Google versus trying to do it on our own as startup.”

When Founders Leave

Still, even Harrison admits that not every acquisition goes smoothly. Because California is an at-will employment state, workers can generally be fired or choose to leave at any time. Tech companies try to ensure founders stick around for a while by offering a stay bonus or using “golden handcuffs,” which often meter out the payday for a big acquisition in company shares that vest over several years. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, for instance, includes $3 billion in restricted stock for WhatsApp employees, but they can’t fully tap into those funds unless they stay at the company for four years.

In some cases, golden handcuffs aren’t enough to keep founders on board. Kosta Eleftheriou joined Google in October 2010 through the acquisition of his keyboard app BlindType, but life at the massive company wasn’t what he envisioned. Eleftheriou says he was relegated to maintaining Google’s stock Android keyboard rather than envisioning ways to improve the product. He left after one month, leaving half of his compensation package for the acquisition on the table (he says the total acquisition price was in the seven figures). Now he’s a founder again, with a new keyboard app called Fleksy that has been downloaded 4 million times.

“It was a mismatch between what I was expecting and what happened,” Eleftheriou says. “I think that was partly due to maybe some unrealistic expectations on my side on how much creative freedom I would have. I was hoping to be part of a bigger picture than just some engineer working on something by themselves.”

As the founder of a small company that didn’t make huge headlines when it was acquired, Eleftheriou’s experience isn’t uncommon in the Valley. “Unless they’re sufficiently large, very few acquisitions continue to run independently,” says Justin Kan, a partner at the venture capital firm Y Combinator and cofounder of Twitch. “Oftentimes founders are rolled up inside another group inside of the company. They can’t make decisions as freely as when they were entrepreneurs. That affects people’s willingness to stick around.”

Sometimes founders simply crave the excitement of starting something new. Uri Levine was the only one of Waze’s three founders who chose not to join Google when the traffic app was acquired for $1 billion in June 2013. Instead he launched a new startup—his sixth—called FeeX, which aims to help people reduce investment fees in their retirement accounts. “Entrepreneurs, they are driven by a passion for change,” Levine says. “As soon as you become part of a large organization, you cannot change anymore.”

Google’s also had some more high-profile misfires. When it made its largest acquisition ever, the $12.5 billion purchase of handset maker Motorola Mobility, Page hailed it as an opportunity to “supercharge the Android ecosystem.” But Motorola’s phones failed to gain traction, the subsidiary racked up $1.4 billion in losses for Google, and the company offloaded the handset division to Lenovo for $2.9 billion in 2014. Harrison defends the deal as a smart acquisition because of the patent portfolio that Google acquired, helping the company defend itself from lawsuits by Apple and Microsoft (Geis, who has studied the transaction closely, called it “a wash” for Google).

The Spree Continues

At Google, at least, there are opportunities for change for some founders who join the company. Hanke, the former Keyhole CEO, spent several years heading up Google’s geo services, but now he’s in charge of Niantic Labs, a separately branded unit that Google bills as an “internal startup.” Hanke’s team develops apps that increase the opportunity for digital interaction in real-world environments, like InGress, a mobile game that requires players to visit physical locations to gain power ups. Android founder Andy Rubin also took on a role far removed from smartphones when he became the head of Google’s robotics division in 2013. (Rubin eventually left Google in October after nine years at the company).

Google is constantly making these kinds of bets on the future, and it needs new blood with fresh ideas to sustain them. The company is currently wrestling with multiple threats to its core business, search, including a declining share of desktop searches and a mobile market where Amazon is stealing product search queries and Facebook is taking ad dollars. If Google is to maintain its steady growth, it will eventually have to tap into a new revenue source somewhere, and that may well stem from an acquisition. The company may view Nest as the key purchase that ensures its future dominance, given Fadell’s perch. “Founders and everyone else at these startups, they want to be businesspeople,” he explains.

And the big businesses themselves? They want to ensure they don’t miss out on the next big thing. “The ability to move quickly in rapidly changing markets is one of the major drivers,” says Geis of the acquisition spree. “If you want to effectively compete and innovate continually, it can’t all be from within.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described George Geis. He is a business professor at UCLA.

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Smart Thermostat You Can Get

01thermostathead
Nest

The Nest Learning Thermostat is still the best smart thermostat

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Three years after the Nest Learning Thermostat’s debut, the second-gen Nest continues to offer the best combination of style and substance of any thermostat. Its software and apps are solid and elegant, it learns your routines and the particulars of your house, and it’s easy to change the temperature from your phone or computer so you won’t have to get up from your cozy spot on the couch. It’s (still) the best smart thermostat for most people, though the competition is catching up.

Why a smart thermostat?

If you upgrade to any smart thermostat after years with a basic one, the first and most life-changing difference will be the ability to control it from your phone. No more getting up in the middle of the night to turn up the A/C. No dashing back into the house to lower the heat before you go on errands (or vacation). No coming home to a sweltering apartment—you just fire up the A/C when your airplane touches down.

The fact is, a cheap plastic thermostat with basic time programming—the kind we’ve had for two decades—will do a pretty good job at keeping your house at the right temperature without wasting a lot of money, as long as you put in the effort to program it. But that’s the thing: Most people don’t.

Get a smart thermostat if you’re interested in saving more energy and exerting more control over your home environment. If you like the prospect of turning on your heater when you’re on your way home from work or having your home’s temperature adjust intelligently without having to spend time programming a schedule, these devices will do the job. And if your thermostat is placed in a prominent place in your home, well, these devices just look cooler than those beige plastic rectangles of old.

01thermostat

Our pick: the Nest Learning Thermostat

The $250 second-generation Nest Learning Thermostat (introduced in 2012) is the leader of this category for a reason. Its learning mode automatically programs the thermostat based on your home and usage, its industrial design is the best, and it works with many other smart-home devices. The Nest offers the best combination of style and substance, and its software and apps are solid and elegant. It’s expensive, but Nest Labs claims the Nest can pay for itself in energy savings in as little as two years.

The Nest is striking, featuring a metallic ring with a black front and a circular LCD screen in the middle. The on-device interface is elegant, with every setting controlled by either a push on the face or a spin of the ring. The display shows red when heating, blue when cooling.

The Nest’s learning mode puts it above its competitors. It keeps track of how you adjust your thermostat over time, and it has an occupancy sensor that can tell when nobody’s around (in theory). The Nest can learn from your patterns and create its own schedule without any work from you.

The excellent Nest app (for iOS or Android) lets you program specific times and temperatures with a few taps. And Nest’s green leaf icon provides motivation to dial the temperature down just a little bit more in order to save energy. Unfortunately, the Nest doesn’t offer any external sensors to measure temperature in other rooms, and if it’s installed in a part of your house that doesn’t get much traffic, the occupancy sensor won’t be very useful.

Finally, Nest is owned by Google and seems to be the centerpiece of Google’s push into the smart-home ecosystem. If you plan on adding more smart devices to your home, the Works with Nest program means the Nest can integrate with a growing number of smart-home devices. Most of the interactions are gimmicky right now, but that won’t always be the case.

The next best thing (for larger homes)

If you have a large home with a single HVAC system, or you want to be able to measure the temperature in rooms other than wherever your thermostat happens to be, consider the $250 ecobee 3. It comes with a wireless remote sensor that monitors both temperature and occupancy, so it adjusts its settings to keep occupied rooms comfortable. It’s not as easy to use as the Nest, and its apps aren’t as stable, but it’s a better choice for people who want to be able to monitor the temperature in multiple rooms.

Wrapping it up

Despite its age, the second-generation Nest is still the best smart thermostat for most people. The hardware is excellent, and the software behind it is elegant and smart. And it works with a growing number of other smart-home devices. Competitors are hot on its heels, but for now the product that created this category is still its leader.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation, please go to TheWirecutter.com.

MONEY Tech

3 Gadgets to Cut Your Electric Bill

Unlike the rest of your devices, these items will actually reduce your energy consumption—and keep a few extra bucks in your pocket at the end of the month.

  • Honeywell Lyric

    Honeywell Lyric
    Scott M. Lacey

    What it costs: $279

    What it is: One of the latest “smart” thermostats, which claims to save users an average of $127 per year.

    How it works: The Lyric competes with the Nest and other high-tech thermostats but has a unique feature: It taps into your phone’s GPS to keep tabs on your location. That allows you to set up your system to, for instance, begin heating the house when it senses that you’re on your way home from the office. The thermostat also factors in humidity when setting the temperature, displays the day’s weather forecast for easy planning, and alerts you if it senses an HVAC system failure.

  • GE Link Light Bulb

    GE Link Light Bulb
    Scott M. Lacey

    What it costs: $15

    What it is: A super-long-lasting light bulb that can be linked to an affordable home-automation system.

    How it works: The Link has impressive stats: It uses 80% less energy than a typical bulb and lasts up to 22 years. However, to get the most from your Link bulbs, you must connect them to the $50 Wink hub, a Wi-Fi-enabled device that lets you control the lights (as well as compatible items such as locks and blinds) remotely. Use the hub to schedule when the Links should dim, brighten, and turn on and off.

  • Belkin WeMo Insight Switch

    Belkin WeMo Insight Switch
    Scott M. Lacey

    What it costs: $60

    What it is: This switch instantly turns any plug into an app-controlled outlet.

    How it works: The WeMo uses your home Wi-Fi network to communicate with
    a free iOS or Android smartphone app. Say you plug in a lamp. Using your phone, the WeMo allows you to turn the light on and off, monitor how long it’s been on, and see how much energy the bulb is using. You can also use the app to program your device so that, for example, your space heater turns on every day before you wake up, and off when you leave for work.

    Doug Aamoth covers tech news, reviews, and how-tos for Time. To see more of his work, go to time.com/tech.

TIME Smarthome

Google’s Nest Is Coming After the Rest of Your Home

Nest Labs, maker of the “learning” thermostat, is opening its platform to outside developers in a bid to expand the range of Internet-connected home devices it can interact with. Through Nest, which search giant Google acquired for $3.2 billion in January, users will be able to communicate with Mercedes-Benz vehicles, Whirlpool appliances, Jawbone fitness trackers and other gadgets.

Google is among the partners announced as part of the program. Google Now, the company’s personal digital assistant, will be able to set the temperature on a Nest thermostat automatically when it detects that a user is coming home, for example, or through voice commands. Nest said it will share limited user information with Google and other partners. Nest co-founder Matt Rogers told the Wall Street Journal that users have to opt in for each new device.

The move allows partners to link their software and applications to Nest’s thermostat, which will act as a hub for devices in the home. For example, Jawbone’s UP24 band knows when its users are about to wake up in the morning. Now, a Nest thermostat can automatically raise or lower the temperature just before a user gets out of bed in the morning. Likewise, a connected Mercedes-Benz can tell Nest when a user will be home from work, timing the house’s temperature correctly.

Nest is independently operated from Google. But the device maker is leading Google’s charge into the connected home market. Earlier this month, Nest announced it was acquiring Dropcam, a maker of connected cameras, for $555 million. The company’s founders have also said they are looking for unloved or poorly designed devices to reinvent.

TIME Gadgets

After Recall, Nest Smoke Alarm Is Back and Discounted

Nest

Nest’s followup to its nicely designed smart thermostat was a smart smoke detector called Protect (see our original coverage here).

One of the features of Protect — aside from being Internet-connected and able to send alerts to your smartphone — was a trick that let you wave your hand underneath it to silence it.

The thought was that people have a tendency to accidentally set off their smoke alarms while cooking, and getting the alarms to pipe down is more cumbersome than it should be.

However, the company found that the feature might have been at risk of malfunctioning, which in certain cases could have silenced the alarm when it was supposed to be making noise. So in early April — a few months after Nest was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion — nearly half a million Nest smoke detectors were recalled; the wave-to-dismiss feature was able to be deactivated via a software update as well, making physically sending the smoke detector back to Nest unnecessary.

Now, the Nest Protect is back on the market, with the wave-to-dismiss feature disabled altogether. The company had originally alluded to trying to fix it via a future software update, so we’ll see if and when that comes to fruition. The price of the Nest Protect has also dropped from $130 down to $99 as well.

[New York Times]

TIME Gadgets

Smart Thermostats: Honeywell Takes On Google’s Nest

When it comes to the Smart Thermostat Wars (is that a thing yet?), there’s no love lost between Honeywell and Google-owned Nest. The high-profile Nest Learning Thermostat triggered a nasty patent scuffle back in 2012, when longtime thermostat behemoth Honeywell went after Nest over several claimed patent infringements.

Fast forward to today, and Honeywell is rolling out its own smart thermostat, the $279 Lyric. It’ll actually be part of a broader network of home automation devices, also fitting under the Lyric moniker, but the thermostat will be the first device in the line. It’ll be available now-ish from Honeywell’s home contractor partners, and in August from Lowe’s.

 

This isn’t the first of Honeywell’s connected thermostats: The company has a line of Wi-Fi-enabled, voice controlled models. But the new Lyric line will be smart in the sense that it recognizes when you’re home or away, and adjusts the temperature accordingly. Nest sports a similar feature that uses a sensor to detect whether you’re physically nearby; Honeywell’s system uses geofencing technology to detect whether your connected smartphone is nearby. That means it’ll be able to automatically tell when you’re on your way home from work, triggering the temperature to pop up a couple degrees once you get a few miles away, for instance.

Seeing that the Nest is a connected, smart thermostat, it seems like it’d be trivial to add geofencing capabilities in a future update. And certain Nest owners have already figured out how to enable geofencing features — see here and here — though to have such features built into the core of the product would do nothing but enhance the perceived value of Nest.

There’s also the price difference: Nest can be had for around $229, while the Lyric system will cost $50 more. It’ll be interesting to see if Nest answers Lyric by adding similar geofencing features, and if either system starts dropping their respective price tags in order to lure more customers.

[The Verge]

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