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Tony Fadell feathers his 'nest' with thermostat for the digital age

October 25, 2011 |  1:22 pm


Tony Fadell wants to bring the home thermostat into the digital age.

The former Apple exec who created the iPod and worked on the iPhone has been toiling for the last year and a half in near-total secrecy on making thermostats as cool as the iconic gadgets from Apple.

The $250 sleek circular thermostat called Nest is simple to use and smart enough to study homeowners' schedules and adjust to save energy. It goes on sale in mid-November and can be pre-ordered on the Web. It's compatible with about 90% of home heating and cooling systems.

Fair warning: It's supposed to take 20 minutes to install but apparently isn't as simple for the average homeowner as for a Silicon Valley engineer. You can judge on the degree of difficulty and decide to pony up for professional installation which will run you $119 for the first unit and $25 for each additional unit.

After reading my article about Nest, one L.A. Times reader was sold. David P. said he pre-ordered one on Tuesday.

Around my house, air conditioning and the thermostat are talked about a lot more than any of us would like. Allergies keep us from just throwing the windows open, so we run the A/C a lot. My wife and I separately learned how to program it several times, but we soon forgot the complex keypad combinations, and the thermostat would often forget our programmed schedules.

I've spent some time with Google looking for alternatives, but they are too expensive, not much smarter, or even easier to use. The Nest changes all of that, and if Tony got it right, then it will be a huge hit. And I'll be watching to see if he builds a better lawn irrigation controller too.

NestHere are some take outs from an interview with Fadell.

ON HIS TIME AT APPLE: "My wife [Danielle Lambert, former vice president of human Resources at Apple] and I were at Apple for eight or nine years working for Steve [Jobs]. It had been a great, great ride doing great stuff, the iPod and the iPhone. My wife hired Ron Johnson (who created Apple's retail stores). But we had a newborn and a 1½-year-old and we needed to spend more time with them."



MOTIVATION FOR BUILDING PRODUCTS THAT GET PEOPLE TO SAVE ENERGY: "Having kids makes you think about the world differently."

FIRST IMPRESSION OF THE 350 THERMOSTATS HE LOOKED AT: "They looked like computers from the '90s. They were horrible looking."

HIS SECOND IMPRESSION: "This is crazy. It can't be that difficult to build a great thermostat. So I decided to figure out: What would the thermostat for the iPhone generation look like? I got this bug. It really infected my brain. I kept thinking about it. This could be a cool product that matters and a cool product that has a great business. I couldn’t shake it."

BUILDING THERMOSTATS COULD BE A BIG BUSINESS: "Everybody needs one." He says 10 million home thermostats are installed each year.

ON HOW HE CAME UP WITH THE NAME NEST: In the MTV age, everyone began saying they were hanging out at their "cribs," so Fadell decided to hang out at his "nest." It was the working name for the product and just stuck, he said.

ON WHAT'S NEXT: "We think that the device itself is great and we are really putting all of our wood behind that through a lot of software updates, new features and functionality. This is a great first step. Hopefully people will be energized and want to buy it."


Former Apple exec markets a thermostat for the iPhone generation

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Silicon Valley status symbols emphasize mind over material

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: The $250 Nest thermostat programs itself based on the temperatures that homeowners set and automatically turns down the heating or cooling systems when they are away. Photo credit: Nest Labs