The Nest Learning Thermostat
Steve Jobs may have transformed a bunch of industries, but his great skill wasn’t really inventing. Instead, he was the world’s greatest makeover wizard. He’d look at some industry, identify what had been wrong with it for years, and then figure out how to make it beautiful and simple and joyous.
Now that Steve’s gone, who will look around for worlds that need changing?
He’s got that spot-what’s-wrong-with-it gene.
With his new company, Nest, he has decided to reinvent a tech item that hasn’t seen much innovation in decades: the thermostat.
Don’t snicker. This isn’t trivial. According to Nest, there are a quarter of a billion thermostats in this country alone; 10 million more are bought each year.
Half of your home’s energy is controlled by this ugly, beige tool. Most people never even bother to program their programmable thermostats. As a result, their houses actually use more energy than homes without them. Two years ago, the federal government eliminated the entire programmable thermostat category from its Energy Star program.
The Nest Learning Thermostat ($250) doesn’t introduce just one radical rethinking of the thermostat; it introduces four of them.
RADICAL CHANGE 1 The look. The Nest is gorgeous. It’s round. Its screen is slightly domed glass; its barrel has a mirror finish that reflects your wall. Its color screen glows orange when it’s heating, blue when it’s cooling; it turns on when you approach it, and discreetly goes dark when nobody’s nearby.
Sweating over attractiveness makes sense; after all, this is an object you mount on your wall at eye level. A thermostat should be one of the most beautiful items on your wall, not the ugliest.
RADICAL CHANGE 2 The Nest has Wi-Fi, so it’s online. It can download software updates. You can program it on a Web site.
You can also use a free iPhone or Android app, from anywhere you happen to be, to see the current temperature and change it — to warm up the house before you arrive, for example. (At this moment, vacation-home owners all over the world are wiping drool off their keyboards.)
RADICAL CHANGE 3 Learning. The Nest is supposed to program itself — and save you energy in the process. When you first install the Nest, you turn its ring to change the temperature as you would a normal thermostat — at bedtime, when you leave for work, and so on. A big, beautiful readout shows you the new setting and lets you know how long it will take your house to reach that temperature. That information, Nest says, is intended to discourage people from setting their thermostats to 90 degrees, for example, thinking that the temperature will rise to 70 faster. (It doesn’t.)
Over the course of a week or so, the thermostat learns from your manual adjustments. It notes when that happened, and what the temperature and humidity were, and so on. And it begins to set its own schedule based on your living patterns.
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