Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

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. 

Be there when AI pioneers take center stage at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to MIT Technology Review.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

    The MIT Technology Review App

  • All Access Digital {! insider.prices.digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The digital magazine, plus unlimited site access, our online archive, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    Digital magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

  • Print Subscription {! insider.prices.print_only !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six print issues per year plus The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Print magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.