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The Nest Founding Story - MIT Technology Review

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Tom Simonite writes:

“I said, ‘How do I design this home when the primary interface to my world is the thing in my pocket?’ ” says Fadell. He baffled architects with demands that the home’s every feature, from the TV to the electricity supply, be ready for a world in which the Internet and mobile apps made many services more responsive. When it came to choosing a programmable thermostat for his expensive eco-friendly heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, Fadell blew a gasket: “They were 500 bucks a pop, and they were horrible and doing nothing and brain-dead. And I was like, ‘Wait a second, I’ll design my own.’ ”

Fadell, who soon left Apple at the age of 40, became convinced that his thermostat needed to be built like a smartphone and controlled from one. He wanted it to be smart enough to learn his routine and to program its own schedule accordingly, or to switch off automatically if he went out. A thermostat, he thought, could do that if it was really a small computer connected to the Internet. As he planned the features and design in his head, Fadell began to believe that his vision would appeal to other people too, even if their homes were more ordinary. With about 10 million thermostats sold in the United States every year, it could be a lucrative business. And because thermostats typically control half the energy used in U.S. homes, a better-designed one could significantly reduce power consumption. He sought out Matt Rogers, a precocious 27-year-old who at the time led iPhone software development, and got him to leave Apple to cofound Nest.

Cool founding story: great market opportunity, great team, great product.

Made me wonder why they couldn't build Nest at Apple.

Thank you Adam (and Tom) for sharing "nest" which I find thoroughly fascinating and over-due. The design-centered folks must love it as well as other non-geeks with me who are impressed that it saves energy, is elegant and apparently not expensive... am signed up to learn more. BTW, synchronistically I've met the Nestivity start-up team that has a beta app for creating "nests" aka communities around our Twitter followers... sounds valuable and  yet this other "nest' for homes sounds cozy and convenient too.

Kare, the question Nest teaches us to ask is: "Why didn't this exist before?"

A device that saves energy, is elegant, and not expensive. Why wasn't it always this way?

And what other devices would benefit from taking this design approach?

I agree and rather than consider what other devices, I'd focus on 1. Continued simplification in the steps to use the existing devices, 2. Further ways they could be consolidated, and 3. Getting the word out + distribution so that more people could know of them and benefit from using them... yet all these things are more in your bailiwick of network + tech savvy to make happen methinks :-)... I'd be delighted to think of the messaging and the methods for reaching out to existing/natural communities to make some of that happen... would learn alot from doing that with others and strongly believe in the benefits / greater good of it happening

This is all kinds of awesome:

For half a century, the state of the art in home energy controls has been the programmable thermostat. The theory is that if people can schedule when their heating and cooling systems will kick in, they don’t have to waste energy by running the system at all times to be assured of comfortable temperatures when they wake up or return from work. But the HVAC industry has made programmable thermostats difficult to use, with unintuitive dials and sliders and cramped displays. Citing such “user interface issues,” the Environmental Protection Agency removed programmable thermostats from its Energy Star certification program in 2009. Studies showed that they didn’t reliably save energy; in fact, because many people end up switching their system on and off manually, programmable thermostats might cause most people to use more energy, says Kamin Whitehouse, a computer science professor at the University of Virginia. “People have a really hard time setting accurate schedules for their lives,” he says.

When faced with a problem like this, many technologists would seek technical solutions. Fadell and Rogers thought instead about simplifying the device. “We started with the basic principle that 99.9 percent of the time, the only thing that you do is turn it up or down,” Fadell says. “So what’s the simplest form? A knob or a dial.” More complex functions, such as setting a schedule, could be executed more easily through a mobile app. That freed his designers from having to accommodate the many buttons that appear on other programmable thermostats. The Nest became nothing more than a compact stainless-­steel cylinder that you can turn once it’s fixed to the wall.

Fadell and Rogers have made sure that at every stage of installing and operating a Nest thermostat, you discover that potential problems have been solved for you. When you attach the device to a wall, there’s no need to drill holes or use plastic anchors to hold any screws. Nest’s engineers reviewed every screw on the market and then invented their own, with wide-spaced threads that can bite wood or powdery drywall without making it crumble. The device powers itself by leeching electricity from the control wires that connect it to your HVAC system, a feat that makes Rogers chuckle at his engineers’ audacity. Short- and long-range infrared sensors allow the device to light up when you approach and dim when you walk away—and to figure out that it was you, not the cat, who just went out, meaning it’s time to turn down the heat. Perhaps the biggest reminder of the thermostat’s intelligence comes a few days after installation, when you reach out to adjust the temperature and find that it has preëmpted you by learning from your earlier changes. “Think of a normal thermostat. Everyone turns it up, turns it down, a couple of times a day—that’s a pattern we can infer from,” says Fadell. “Instead of changing it fifteen hundred times a year, do it 10 or 20 times and the Nest thermostat can learn from that.”

It's worth reading the whole article.

Meanwhile, there's a new GoPro competitor/killer, StealthHD, formed by a team of ex-Applers.. including the lead on the iPhone optics and someone from BizDev. I met the former...

Neat. Will watch for it.

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