This post originally appeared Nov. 30, 2011 and is being resurrected in honor of Apple becoming the largest U.S. company ever, surpassing Microsoft, according to this morning’s Wall Street Journal.
In my favorite ‘zine, Fast Company, in its “Next” series, and within that there’s a story about a cool, coming-soon new thermostat inspired by the iPod’s first developer Tony Fadell. Tony used to work at Apple; made 17 versions of the iPod, then departed and is now all creative with a thermostat.
This story is a great next segment in my creativity series–about how you take a product every single house has one or two of and turn it into something innovative, interesting, worthy of notice, and trendy.
Fadell’s Nest–Learning Thermostat costs $250, and it’s differentiator is that it learns your preferences as you dial your temperature up or down. After about 10 or 20 twists of the shiny, artsy dial, the thermostat regulates your home’s temperature on its own. No more adjustments or forgets; automatic temperature control.
>>Attraction #1: I’ve tried to program my thermostat for morning, day and night, but it was too complex and was never reliable. I resort to manual programming about three times daily.
In the article, these interesting tidbits corroborate what I just said:
>>10 million thermostats are sold annually; only 11% of users actively program them.
>>Thermostats are “treated like a light switch, with people manually adjusting them 1,500 times per year,” said Fadell.
Fadell has plans to add his thermostat to other devices networked throughout the home, but he learned at Apple to build slowly, let people learn about the device, get excited, and then introduce new concepts.
Attraction #2: If my thermostat could tell me the weather in the morning at school bus time, that would be incredible. If the potential is there at some point, that’s cool. With the knowledge we have about Apple products and devices speaking to each other wirelessly, it’s not too far fetched for a thermostat to be included in the mix. And, it’s not a device I ever expected to think about; at all.
Fadell designed his product with one function — a dial that turns the temperature up or down. He took this from the iPod which has a scrolling dial to allow music logs to move up and down the screen.
Attraction #3: Not too many dials, controls, instructions, or complexity. Keep it simple for the masses.
Here’s where creativity really comes into play — in the packaging. Fadell’s iPod was packaged neatly and really cool. (I still have the acrylic boxes mine all came in.) He put his thermostat within packaging that includes a custom-manufactured screwdriver and a level indicator at back so people know if it hangs level on the wall. While this isn’t cheap, Fadell says the “unboxing experience” contributes to ease of installation.
Attraction #4: When I bought my house, I installed my own digital thermostat with help from dad. I read the complicated instructions and told dad what to do with the color-coded wires. It was an ordeal and made me nervous because I’d never done that before. In fact, how many of you have? If I know Nest is plug and play for real, then I a) want one and b) become an automatic grassroots champion. (Ooh, just read that Nest offers a professional concierge service for installation!!)
Lastly, design. Like most things Apple that are techy, modern and cool, the Nest is also one neat device to look at. Silver edge, black inner circle with ocean blue inner circle and bold white, large numerals; not overly large. Fadell says he wanted a “symbol of hipness intended to be shown off like a badge and a jewel on the wall.”
Attraction #5: Take a look at your thermostat; is it a design element or eye sore in your home? When I remodeled my living room, I wished I had a more contemporary thermostat instead of the beige box I have now.
How is all this creative?
Look at all the steps Fadell and his team needed to strategize how to sell something no one replaces that often (albeit 10 million are sold annually). They really thought, creatively, about how to take a mundane product and turn it into something trendy, hip, green, and eco.
Those are a few reasons why you gotta appreciate Apple and all its offshoots who continue to bring us innovation in really creative ways.