Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Making thermostats sexy

It's hard to imagine making thermostats sexy, but if anyone could do it, it would be the "father of the iPod."

In 2008, amid renewed concerns about Steve Jobs' health, Fortune ranked the probable candidates to someday replace the famed Apple CEO. The first choice? Then COO and eventual successor Tim Cook. The second? Tony Fadell, chief of the iPod division and the man credited with the ideas that resulted in the creation of the iPod and its marriage with the iTunes Music Store.

Around that time, Fadell left Apple, his next move unknown, and since then, he's been in stealth mode. But today, he re-emerged, announcing Nest, a 100-person startup that's applying the design and user-experience DNA of Apple and many other top Silicon Valley firms to a humdrum home appliance that just happens to govern the largest share of American households' energy spending: the thermostat.

With its Learning Thermostat, Nest is going all in and telling the world that a ubiquitous but hard-to-master device that hasn't had a major redesign in decades is due for a shot of iPod and iPhone design magic. Fadell and his team think they've come up with an alternative that's easy to use and that learns from what we do. Along the way, the company thinks it could cut 20 percent to 30 percent off the average household's $1,000 or so in annual energy bills.

The new device is small and round and has a bright and simple digital screen and you jog the outer case left or right or push-click the front to make selections. Sound familiar? Plus it works hand in hand with an iOS--and soon an Android--app that lets users control the system from afar.