Like the boxy mp3-players everybody hated a decade ago, the digital thermostat has long been low-hanging fruit in terms of redesign potential. Tony Fadell, the former Apple senior vice president in charge of the iPod and iPhone division, decided to snatch that fruit with the launch of his new learning thermostat, Nest. It looks and works, unsurprisingly, kind of like an iPod with a click wheel-like ring that serves as the main controller. Inside, smartphone-like guts power a set of algorithms that learn about your preferences, optimizing your home's heating and cooling performance to save energy (and the environment, Fadell hopes). You can even communicate with Nest using your smartphone, tablet or laptop as the thermostat is WiFi-equipped. For now the thermostats are pretty pricey: they cost $249 each (plus another $119 to install) and the Nest's website says they'll start shipping on Nov. 14.
Upon his departure from Apple, The New York Times called Fadell "the Godfather of the iPod," and he's clearly trying to repeat his success taking a clunky, almost unusable device and making the public lust after the new version. "We wanted to make it a cherished object in the home," Fadell told TechCrunch's Sarah Lacy in an interview, "Something you'd be proud to put on your wall."
The redesign has a similarly nostalgic element to it. The design of the original iPod--largely, the product of Apple's industrial design guru, Jonathan Ive--actually borrows many basic conventions from the Braun T3 pocket radio from the 1960s. (Ive fairly famously borrowed many of his design ideas from Braun's legendary industrial designer, Dieter Rams.) The failed mp3 design in between show how welcome the return to basics was.
Fadell's thermostat redesign goes through a similar pattern. The once iconic Honeywell round and simple thermostat design has been replaced by a clunky, button-heavy design that Fadell throws out the window with the Nest. Like Ives did with the iPod under his management, Fadell goes back to basics.
Check out Nest in action: