iPod Hardware Designer Tony Fadell Now Building A Thermostat

Posted Oct 25, 2011

Tony Fadell designed the hardware for the iPod and he was the head of the iPod and iPhone division before he left his VP post to spend more time with his wife and kids. His family spent a year in Paris and then moved back to the U.S. While in Paris, Fadell decided what he wanted to do next: build a new high-tech thermostat.

Fadell said that there are tons of carbon being pumped into the air and people are losing billions of dollars in energy costs. There is no easy way to control the temperature as of right now. Fadell’s new thermostat company is called Nest Labs. The Nest Learning Thermostat is now available for pre-order at Best Buy and Nest.com for $250. It will start shipping this November.

The Nest Learning Thermostat uses artificial intelligence to report when to turn down the heat and when to increase the air conditioner so that you don’t waste money. You can also communicate with the Nest Learning Thermostat using your mobile device.

Fadell thought of the the thermostat idea when he was building a green home in Tahoe. He was very involved in the design of the house and wanted it to be as beautiful as the products he worked on at Apple. When the architects showed him the option for thermostats, Fadell thought all of them were ugly.

?What was wrong with them?? said Fadell in an interview with Wired. ?They were ugly. They were confusing. They were incredibly expensive. They didn?t have half the features you would expect for a modern thing. None of them were connected, so they didn?t talk to each other. I wasn?t able to remotely control them. In Tahoe, you want to be able check on the temperature of the house or turn it on before you get there. Because it?s really cold in the winter. I couldn?t do any of that, and I was like, Why is this??

Thermostats had not changed much in many decades and the most popular thermostat was the Honeywell Round. The Round was designed by Henry Dreyfus in 1953.

?Thermostats are made by very large companies with no incentive to innovate,? said Fadell. ?Their customers are contractors or HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] wholesalers, not consumers. So why spend to make them better? It?s a good business.? Fadell estimated there are about 100 million homes in the U.S. and each one has between one and two thermostats, which means that there is about 150 million thermostats in homes out there. In commercial spaces, there is about another 100 million thermostats. And every year 10 million thermostats are sold in residential spaces.

One of the first engineers that Nest Labs hired was a cell phone engineer named Shige Honjo, a program manager for the iPhone. “Think of all the air conditioning that runs in empty houses ? it wastes hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and that?s Alabama alone!? said Fadell when he was pitching another early employee named David Sloo.

Some of the investors in Nest includes Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Lightspeed Ventures, Shasta Ventures, Intertrust, and Generation Investment Management. Through Generation Investment, Al Gore is an investor in Nest Labs. Gore was inspired by a demo that Fadell gave at TED.