• 10.26.11

After Steve Jobs: What We Can Learn From The Nest Thermostat

Founded by former Apple employees, a new company and its flawlessly designed (and marketed) thermostat point to a bright future for Apple.

After Steve Jobs: What We Can Learn From The Nest Thermostat

The central question about Apple these days is what it will become without Steve Jobs’s passionate conviction and daily direction in the design of the company’s products and services. Tuesday night, at an invitation-only party in Palo Alto, I got a peek at the answer. The Silicon Valley startup Nest launched its product–nay, company–at the new and trendy Reposado restaurant. Never has there been so much fanfare about the introduction of a thermostat.


What does this nascent company have to do with Steve Jobs? Led by a former client of mine, tech wunderkind and former iPod/iPhone leader Tony Fadell, and his partner, Matt Rogers, Nest is an ambitious venture composed of former Apple employees, as well as a mix of very strong leadership from other origins. Erik Charlton, who consulted at Philips when Tony ran the marketing team there, and David Sloo, who worked with Tony at General Magic, an Apple spinoff, developed Nest’s simple yet powerful user interface. The party was peppered with lots of current Apple employees, too.

The promise of Nest seems to be that it will bring simplicity and control to home automation, starting with an attack on the outdated thermostat. Nest’s thermostat learns your life patterns and preferences over time and then predicts a temperature set point. It integrates information from a range of sensors, and even the weather in your area, to inform its decisions. And of course, there’s an app for that: You can control Nest from a web browser or an iPhone app. It’s a perfect product surrounded by an ecosystem of service and smarts. Sound familiar?

And here’s the amazing thing: The Nest product, marketing, and launch are all fantastic. The product is duh-simple, even though it’s achieving a pretty complex function. It has a straightforward interface that melds seamlessly with its form, which is beautifully executed. The company’s website is compelling, and in fact, on the day of the launch, it had already secured rave reviews from all the top media outlets you’d want to endorse your product, from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times. And while Nest has a commitment to green ideals–the smart thermostat helps save energy–it hasn’t positioned sustainability as the central value proposition. Which I think this is pretty smart. In the near future, the best products will attract us because they are great, including because they’re mindful of the environment.

In a side conversation I had with Tony a few weeks ago, he confessed that when he started at Apple he didn’t think that the intense attention to detail was all that important in producing successful products. He now sings a different tune, and the near perfection of the Nest launch is a testament to that. Based on what we saw Tuesday night, Nest is using creativity and focused intuition to build a company that will rival Apple in the excellence of products, services, and experiences.

And this bodes well for Apple. If its DNA can strike out on its own and produce a company like Nest, I’m becoming more convinced that Apple has a good chance of continuing to make the most compelling products in the world, even without Steve Jobs’s guiding hand.

About the author

John Edson is president of LUNAR, a global design and development firm in its 30th year of creating stand out physical and digital products and experiences for clients including Apple, HP, Oral-B, Abbott, Illumina, Siemens, Philips and Bosch. He is the author of Design Like Apple, (Wiley, 2012), and Lecturer in design at Stanford University.