smart devices, Web 2.0

The smart thermostat is hot

“Of all possible devices”, remarks a friend, “a thermostat is a curious choice for the first mass-marketed smart device”.

His analysis is about¬†Nest, recently acquired by Google and now widely advertised on billboards everywhere, including in the Tube.¬†“This is not the kind of object you use every day; it’s also too simple – you just switch it on when it’s cold and off when it’s warm. People know how to programme a thermostat, my grandma does it.”

One cannot but agree with observation of simplicity, except I think this is exactly what makes a thermostat a great choice for a smart device.

First of all, it’s obvious that a thermostat makes your life better by allowing you to pre-heat your home at given times of the day. A standard home thermostat is not particularly flexible, though. Some thermostat allow a different programming for week days and week-ends, but any such complication is seen as clunky and requires the user to adoperate a somewhat tricky interface. Curiously, the mechanical thermostats (those in which you just pull a little lever up and down) are amazingly simple to use, but have you ever had to programme one of those digital thermostat? I still find it difficult to do it without a couple of missed attempts.

Nest does just one further step: it simplifies, in what is after all a short time, the need to programme a thermostat. It learns its users’ preferences. By doing this, it has further streamlined an already simple process. That’s what makes it a winner: it makes your life better and easier.

Another simple observation is also that Nest is not a dangerous device. It replaces a well understood process. It’s hard to operate it in a way that it can cause real damage. Compare it with the other possible “smart” devices and it’s pretty obvious that the balance between danger and functionality is another winner for Nest. The fact that it learns, also, means it will correct any statistically non-normal configuration pretty quickly. (Now, please, don’t use it to kill your great-grand-mother by overheating her room).

Needless to say, using a smart thermostat can also have a big impact on your heating bills. I think this will be a positive impact for most users, resulting in savings. Other smart devices cannot make a similar claim, and this is another reason why Nest makes sense as the first smart device to go mass-market.

A smart thermostat is not a curious choice because it is all about simplification, improving life, and allowing savings. Not many other smart devices could do the same, and I reckon that Nest is the trojan horse that will make the general public finally appreciate the need for smart devices.