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Martin LaMonica

A View from Martin LaMonica

New Nest Thermostat: The Bigger Deal is the Software

Nest Labs’ smart thermostat reveals the potential of remote software updates for home appliances.

  • October 2, 2012

The latest version of Nest Labs high-tech thermostat shows how the software model of consumer electronics industry is coming to home energy.

The Learning Thermostat: Sleek on the outside, high-tech inside. Credit: Nest Labs.

The company today introduced the second edition of its smart thermostat, which is thinner than the original and works with more types of heating systems. It’s also designed to be more attractive by replacing a “sensor grill” at the bottom with a lens that blends into the black plastic of the round device. (For full details, see the company blog.)

It’s a fair question to ask whether it’s worth spending $249 on a thermostat, when WiFi-enabled thermostats at less than half that price are available. But this product, conceived by former Apple engineers, reveals one of the benefits of consumer electronics design thinking: remote software updates.

Owners of the original Nest thermostat can tap all the features of the latest Nest software. In this case, that means consumers can benefit, for instance, from an improved “Auto Away” feature that adjusts the temperature based on occupancy and schedule. Nest also updated the algorithms to identify the type of HVAC system, such as radiant heating versus forced air, so the thermostat can optimize its settings for comfort and efficiency.

People have talked about an Internet of Things concept for many years but WiFi thermostats are a case which affects consumers directly. In addition to software updates, people can remotely control their thermostats by, for example, turning on the heat while returning from a weekend away. Remote control via smart phone, PC, or tablet is said to be one of the most favored features of smart thermostats.

At least some utilities see the potential in using smart thermostats. Nest Labs signed a deal with Reliant where the Texas-based retail energy provider will provide consumers with a smart thermostat to participate in their peak energy-shaving programs. (See, Smart Thermostat Maker Nest Cozies Up with Utility.)

Beyond the technical potential, what’s most significant about the Nest Learning Thermostat is the buzz it’s created in what has traditionally been a dull product category. It’s captured the imagination of the tech media and made it reasonable to expect a thermostat that’s attractive and easy to program. Thanks to software updates, we’ll see how quickly Nest Labs can evolve this hardware platform in the years ahead. 

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