Applying Apple's Design Sense To Other Items… Like The Thermostat

from the just-as-long-as-it-doesn't-crash-so-often dept

There’s no denying that Apple has been amazing at industrial design for years. Tons of companies strive (and usually fail) to reach the bar that Apple regularly crosses. But what if you took a bunch of ex-Apple designers, and they started building other stuff? Apparently that’s the question being answered by a company called “Nest” which is releasing a smart thermostat, that beyond looking awesome, also learns from you and your habits to become much more efficient. It also, conveniently, allows access via computers and mobile phones. My thermostat with a mobile app? Why not? And it is definitely nice looking.

And, yes, a bunch of people there, including the founder and CEO, came from Apple, and helped design the iPod and iPhone.

Nest claims that using the thermostat will help you save a ton of money by making your heating usage a lot more efficient — though it would be nice to see some real world testing on such claims before anyone buys into them. Also, while perhaps not nearly as pretty, we’ve seen similar home automation thermostats on the market for years, without making a huge dent. It’s just not that clear people that care enough to make even the initial outlay ($250 apparently).

Still, I’m intrigued by getting more products out on the market with exceptional design. We need more of that.

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Companies: apple, nest

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Comments on “Applying Apple's Design Sense To Other Items… Like The Thermostat”

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John Doe says:

Besides the whiz bang factor, what else does it do?

I have a programmable thermostat that can take 4 time zones per day for each day of the week. Since most peoples schedule is pretty set, that probably covers most peoples needs. It isn’t as pretty and doesn’t have an app, but at the risk of sounding like a Luddite, why would you need an app?

What we really need is a study to show how to program the thermostat. By that I mean, how far down or up should we turn the heat and A/C when we aren’t home? Can we drop it 2 degrees, 5 degrees, 10 degrees?

John Doe says:

Re: Re: Besides the whiz bang factor, what else does it do?

That would be fine and I am all for it. But the real savings is having it programmed properly which can be done with any programmable thermostat.

What I need to know is how much to drop the heat when I am at work during the day. Drop it a lot and the heat will run a lot to bring it back to temp. Anyone have a link to good info on this?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Besides the whiz bang factor, what else does it do?

If you happen to be on a “time of use” energy plan, perhaps this thermostat could help you heat/cool the house during the proper times of day to save money (in my case, these times of the day are seasonal and change ever few months).

Furthermore, with smart meters and what-not, power companies are starting to find new ways to alert home owners to stop using excessive power during high-usage times.

I’ve got a “programmable thermostat”, and frankly find it to be a royal PITA to program. So like the dreaded VCR clock, most people probably just give up and flip it on/off manually.

Anonymous Coward says:

The question is not

” It’s just not that clear people that care enough to make even the initial outlay ($250 apparently).”

Thats not the question, its whether there is room for TWO $300 thermostats. This one connects to your home network via Wifi, monitors performance of your furnace, has an iPhone and Android App, and can be accessed though its own tiny webserver. I know someone that got one of these about a month ago, he loves it, now to wait and see if it saves him anything on his bills this year.

bwp (profile) says:

It's a pretty thermostat but...

3M, and I’m sure others, already beat them with most of these ideas. Look at this thermostat:

It has an android app and can be controlled via the web.

The Nest engineers only seemed to have focused on the appearance of the thermostat, not the actual mechanics of the the thermostat because it still uses the same old, energy-inefficient method of turning off and on your furnace. Their “learning” thermostat won’t save you anymore money than any other programmable thermostat. It will just save you the programming time.

DavisPrime (profile) says:

Re: It's a pretty thermostat but...

I actually think that the “learning” part of the thermostat will save you money. Most people I know with programmable thermostats still use it manually and never bother trying to figure out how to schedule/adjust it. After using the learning thermostat for a few days, it starts anticipating your schedule and adjusts accordingly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: It's a pretty thermostat but...

You’re agreeing with the guy above you, you just don’t realize it. All it saves is on programming time. In your scenario, the people are refusing to actually program their thermostat. If they actually did program it, they’d save money and stop using it manually.

Personally, I’d like to be able to view the set of rules Nest is using at any time. If I come home early one day, i don’t want it think I’ll be coming home early that day every week, month, or year. I want to see what *it* thinks my habits are and I’d like to be able to strike any bad habits from the record. I don’t know if its capable of this or not, but if its not, it should be.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: It's a pretty thermostat but...

It does seem like an Apple device. It’s pretty, and it works great if you want to use it the way the designer wants you to use it. But it sounds like there’s no way to actually program it, you have to manually adjust it all the time until it learns your habits. Well to me, the point of having a smart thermostat is so I can program it once, and then I don’t have to remember to turn it down when I go to bed, and it can warm up the house before I get up. Maybe I’m wrong and you can program it through the app, I don’t know.

Jeremy7600 (profile) says:

I have a $30-40 5+2 day programmable thermostat. Its easy to program, easy to use, and the display is easy enough for me to read from the one room that it is in. I wouldn’t be spending $250 because I’m not sure it would pay for itself anytime soon over what I have. The heat comes on before my gf goes to work and goes off after I leave for work, it comes on when she comes home from work and goes off when I go to bed. The low during the day is 58, at night its 62.

THe only use I would have for wanting to turn it on or off remotely would be for my GF who doesn’t always come home at 1:30, but at the latest she comes home an hour later. Would the 2 or 3 days a week she isn’t coming home at 1:30 cover the cost of a $250 thermostat for her to be able to turn it down until she comes home?

On the weekends its up from 10am to 11pm, and we sometimes leave but not always. It might find its best use case for us on the weekends, when we sometimes leave, would like to have the heat down when we are gone and be able to bring it up before we get home.

Jeremy7600 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Oh and with the cover on it only has two buttons, up and down, and it only took 2 attempts for my girlfriend to learn it. With the cover off, it only has 2 more switches, heat/ac/off and the programming switch.

We only use the manual mode when she’s colder than me. Guess it might learn that but she doesn’t do it every day.

John Doe says:

Re: Re: Re:

My and my wife’s routine is very similar to yours. It is very easy to manually bump the heat or A/C if one of us gets home early. Then when the next scheduled time for change hits, it goes right back on schedule. I don’t want a learning thermostat to get any ideas about the occasional change to the schedule either.

I applaud the effort but not sure it is really the best device. I am sure Apple fanboys will like it. 🙂

New Mexico Mark says:

Re: How far do they take Apple's design sense?

Will announce to you how in mellifluous tones how wonderful it is several times a day (then offer to sell you new thermostat gadgets and apps).

Will collect and forward tons of information in order to market more stuff to you (and sell to advertisers).

Will graciously allow you buy updated programming every few months.

Will, for no extra charge, monitor the premises for anything that remotely resembles an apple and immediately begin legal action against you (while keeping the temperature at a balmy 99 degrees).

Will claim to be 100 percent secure while ignoring the fact that oil companies and your local utilities mysteriously appear on the display every now and then.

Will fight you every step of the way if you actually think you know what you want and try to override the thermostat’s way of doing things.

Will require an expensive in-home service call in order to change the battery. After all, changing a battery is way beyond the ken of mere mortals like you.

Will require replacement every three years. But that’s OK because the new thermostat model will have a GREEN display, a different font, and will be ten percent smaller (or larger).

Anonymous Coward says:

Apple design mold, good to know I won’t buy it. It’s great business to let people know where the creative force came from, like movies that advertise “By the producers of…” but I also now know to stear clear of the thing.

Just plain and simple don’t like their design philosophy or use philosophy with tech, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Apple design mold, good to know I won’t buy it. It’s great business to let people know where the creative force came from, like movies that advertise “By the producers of…” but I also now know to stear clear of the thing.

Just plain and simple don’t like their design philosophy or use philosophy with tech, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Empty Symbolism.

The thermal mass of a building’s structure is huge compared to the thermal mass of the air inside the building. The contact area between the air and the walls, etc. is also massive. Add to this that the building has fairly good insulation on the outside. It takes hours for the temperature of the building itself to change significantly. If the temperature of the building fabric is, say, fifty degrees, then the air will be subject to cooling at the same time that the heater is trying to heat the air, and the heater will just have to work that much harder. The situation is rather like trying to drag a large wood block with a rubber band. Fine control is illusory.

Now, of course there are special cases. For example, if you use a building only once a week, it may be economical to let the temperature float freely within the range of 50-90 degrees when unoccupied, and automatically bring the temperature to within 68-72 when you come within twenty miles of the place. You might save some energy doing that. Mind you, temperature swings are not good for information storage media, such as DVD disks, so you will need to build special heater-refrigerator cabinets for them to keep them within narrower limits. But unless you own multiple houses, this is not relevant to you.

Incidentally, if you live in an apartment, your apartment is likely to be much more closely thermally connected to the neighboring apartments than to the outside. Work out the respective areas of interior walls, floors, and ceilings, versus exterior walls, and make some allowance for the intentional insulation of exterior walls. A building of, say, 10,000-20,000 square feet usually has a fairly small ratio of exterior surface area to floor area and interior volume.

A general rule of thumb is that, barring extreme temperatures, ie. fire temperatures, fluid flow (convection) is the most effective means of heat transfer. Water is a much denser fluid than air. Your house probably takes in hundreds of gallons of water every day, generally at the outdoor temperature, and discharges them down the sewer, more or less at room temperature. This typically represents a significant amount of heat transfer. Your water heater has to work harder in winter, because it is receiving colder water. What you can do, practically speaking, is to add a solar water heater, and a sufficiently large tank to store the hot water.

Of course the Apple ubergeeks already have the things which an upscale California architect designs in as a matter of course, that is, geothermal heat pumps and solar water heaters, and probably photovoltaic cells as well. They are just playing around the edges to be “more green than thou.” In most of the United States, the average temperature, the ground-water temperature, is significantly below the comfort level, so the temperature-regulation problem, once you have a geothermal heat pump installed, is primarily a heating problem, which can be dealt with by circulating hot water from the tank supplied by the solar collector. A solar water heater is basically a metal sheet with pipes welded to it, inside a glass enclosure. It is fairly cheap to make. People have developed “vacuum-bottle solar heaters which eliminate losses due to convection, and therefore work even in extreme conditions, eg. under clouds, or in extreme cold.

There are sensible things you can do with electronics. For example, you can make a cheap little infrared imager that people can use to spot heat leaks in old buildings and plug them up up with caulk guns. Maybe a slight gap has developed between the window frame and the window assembly, and cold air is coming in. Squirt some goop in, and that solves the problem.

The problem about Ubergeeks is that they try to find examples of national problems in their own comfortable lifestyles, rather than addressing the actual problems of people who have much more modest incomes.

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