Did Feud With Jony Ive Keep Tony Fadell From Returning To Apple?

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Google's acquisition of Nest will allow the company to monitor you in your home, some say. Image: http://mlkshk.com/p/8PY6
Google's acquisition of Nest will allow the company to monitor you in your home, some say.

The big intrigue in the tech world today is why Google bought Nest Labs for $3.2 billion and Apple didn’t.

A lot of the speculation is paranoid: Google wants to track everyone offline as well as online, and Nest’s thermostat and smoke alarms give the Googleplex motion sensors right in peoples’ homes.

But wouldn’t Apple be a more natural fit for the home-automation startup? Nest was co-founded by two former Apple staffers, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers. Fadell was one the fathers of the iPod — a key hardware engineer who led the music player’s development over 17 generations. Rogers was one of Fadell’s top lieutenants.

With great design and easy interfaces, Nest’s combination of hardware and internet software services makes its products very Apple-like. And as home automation is poised to take off (thanks largely to the iPhone and iPad), Apple is surely interested in this potentially huge market.

So why didn’t Apple didn’t pick up the company? Maybe it’s because Jony Ive, Apple’s head designer, was responsible for getting Tony Fadell pushed out of Cupertino.

L to R: Tony Fadell, Jon Rubenstein, Jony Ive, Steve Jobs, Phil Schiller
Left to right: Tony Fadell, Jon Rubinstein, Jony Ive, Steve Jobs, Phil Schiller.

Reports say Apple wasn’t interested in buying Nest, and Fadell says his former employer was never part of the conversation. One intriguing reason may be that there’s lingering bad blood between Fadell and Ive, who was instrumental in getting Fadell removed from Apple in November 2008. As I reported in my recent book Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products:

“Tony got canned…. He was paid off with his salary for a number of years plus so many millions to leave. Tony was canned because he was battling with Jony. He went to Steve so many times bitching about Jony, but Steve had such a tremendous amount of respect for Jony and their relationship that he sided with Jony not Tony.”

Ive was also responsible for getting Steve Jobs to remove Jon Rubinstein, Apple’s longtime head of hardware and his former boss. I’m pretty sure he got former iOS head Scott Forstall removed too, but I never really nailed it in my reporting. One designer told me Ive did, but then everyone else stonewalled the question, so I wasn’t able to pin it down.

Ive is now Apple’s overall creative lead, responsible for both hardware and software — a job previously held by Jobs. If he got Fadell fired, it’s extremely unlikely he’d want him back.

When I was working on the book, Fadell declined to comment on the record. Rubinstein gave me a very diplomatic statement about the “difficulties” of his relationship with Ive.

I’m inclined to take Fadell’s explanation of the Google aquisition at face value. In various interviews and a blog post about the deal, Fadell has explained that Google wants a toehold in this space and will give Nest huge resources but leave the company alone (for now).

In his blog post, Fadell says Google has been involved since the start. Fadell personally showed a prototype thermostat to Google honcho Sergey Brin before Nest launched. Google led the initial investment and backed Nest again in a subsequent round.

Google itself hasn’t really explained its interest in Nest, but from Fadell’s point of view, it’s about using Google’s huge resources to build out his vision of what he calls the “conscious home.”

“Google will help us fully realize our vision of the conscious home and allow us to change the world faster than we ever could if we continued to go it alone,” he says in his blog post. “We’ve had great momentum, but this is a rocket ship.”

Fadell says he isn’t selling out — he doesn’t want the money and doesn’t want to retire. He wants to build that connected home, one innovative product at a time.

Image: Britt Parrott