I’m pretty good with technology, and I’m not 100 percent sure if I programmed my thermostat properly.
Admit it, you kind of feel the same way. Yes, I went through the entire process of setting a schedule for each day of the week, but on that tiny screen with weird buttons, I can’t say for sure that I did what I set out to do. Frankly, it’s clear that the user interface was the last thing that anyone at the company that made my thermostat compared about.
It seems I’m not alone. Nest Labs, the creator of the Learning Thermostat, says that 89 percent of owners rarely or never set a program with their so-called programmable thermostats. Programmable themrostats were supposed to save people money, help ease pressure on our power grids and help protect our planet. In reality, they are some of the worst designed electronics that most people will ever encounter.
Tony Fadell, the former senior vice president of the iPod division at Apple, set out to make a thermostat that worked for people. Really worked:
What’s it like for a guy who worked at Apple to start making thermostats? A lot like this:
“So what are you working on lately?” a friend asks over lunch.
“I started a new company. We make thermostats.”
They chuckle, take a bite of their salad, “No, seriously. What are you doing?”
“I’m serious. Thermostats.”
They put down their fork, look concerned.
“Think about it,” I say. “I bet your thermostat is ugly and impossible to program. And I bet it drives you crazy.”
“I do mess with it a lot. Then I give up. Then I regret it when I get my energy bill.”
“Exactly. Turns out you change the temperature in your house 1500 times a year. 1500! Our thermostat learns what temperatures you like so it can program itself. It senses when you’re out and turns itself down. And we started from scratch with design, so it’s beautiful. Gorgeous hardware, easy install, fully integrated software, remote control from your smartphone.”
“That… sounds awesome, actually.”
How can an iPad, something infinitely more complex and powerful, be so much easier to use than a programmable thermostat?
These are the kinds of products that we’ll see as long as Apple is the dominant technology and design force in the world. We’re seeing Apple-like products all over the place. Shouldn’t design and usable be a major factor in all technology?
This is the first thermostat that I’ve ever been excited about. Look at it. It’s striking. It looks so easy to use. It learns from what I do.
Heck, this might be the first thermostat that people directly seek out to buy. I imagine most people don’t care that much when choosing between one ugly and usable thermostat or another.
This is what the marriage of technology and the humanities can give us. Technology is not enough on its own. We need people who understand how to make electronics enjoyable to use.
Check out the video below. I hope we see a lot more boring, infuriating technology become useable and enjoyable — and beautiful.