Last fall, a Paris-based startup called Netatmo launched its first product. The personal weather station--two miniature silver towers that sync with an app--uses air quality sensors to create a micro-climate report for the home. Now the company is debuting its sophomore product: a thermostat that lets users not only measure their environment, but control it, too.
The Netatmo Thermostat, designed by Philippe Starck, is essentially the more glamorous, European cousin of the Nest Thermostat, the buzzy connected home gadget (from two ex-Apple designers) that reduces home energy waste by learning user's habits. As with Nest, a piece of minimalist hardware hangs on the wall, and syncs to an iOS or Android app that lets users control heat and air conditioning, from anywhere.
Looks aside, the two devices offer very similar experiences. The main difference, according to Netatmo’s product manager, is how Netatmo decided to execute the hardware. The Starck-designed version is a “completely different approach--not just because we choose a square and they choose round. [The hardware] is really minimalist,” says Romain Paoli.
"Minimalist" is a fancy term for something that looks and feels a lot like digital thermostats from the past (you know, before thermostats were sexy pieces of technology). It has a screen with two digits--one for the actual temperature, and one for the newly set temperature--and simple "plus" and "minus" buttons. The Nest hardware has an even simpler numeric code, but it also comes with an array of colors, icons like a green leaf (to tell you if you're hitting your energy goals), and a scale (to represent the range of possible temperatures). Netatmo shoves all that stuff--the assorted colors and codes and energy scores--over to the app. “It’s way more economical to put all the intelligence in the app,” Paoli says.
In the app, users navigate through an interface that imitates the hardware’s appearance, and then access calendars and graphs that visualize the home’s energy activity. The system learns as it goes, adjusting for the daily routines and preferences in each home, trimming energy expenses along the way. It just does so from a device that's not a huge departure from old digital thermostats, but is still sleek and pared down, in trademark Starck fashion.
Whether that speaks to consumers or not remains to be seen. Homeowners across the pond can’t install a Nest for the same reason Americans need power plug adapters when we travel: our wiring and our grids aren’t compatible. That leaves the market wide open for other up-and-coming smart thermostat makers. Last year, a German company called Tado began testing a model--a white square, like Netatmo, but with virtually no interface at all--which is now available in the United Kingdom. And Nest itself is looking to expand east; in June they announced a new office in England designed to help them expand into the continent.
The Netatmo goes on sale this month in Europe, for 179€ ($240).