How Tony Fadell’s Nest Is Becoming The iPhone of Thermostats

How Tony Fadell’s Nest Is Becoming The iPhone of Thermostats

Tony Fadell, one of the fathers of the iPod and founder of Nest, at GigaOm Roadmap in San Francisco.

GIGAOM ROADMAP, SAN FRANCISCO — Nest Lab’s smart and sexy thermostat is becoming the iPhone of home heating, says its designer, Tony “the Podfather” Fadell.

Speaking at the GigaOM Roadmap conference, Fadell described how a Texas utility called Reliant is using the Nest Learning Thermostat to attract customers.

“Nest is to Reliant what the iPhone was to AT&T,” said Fadell. It’s a killer piece of hardware that’s attracting customers to the utility in droves.

In Texas, the electricity market is deregulated. Customers can buy power from dozens of different utilites, the way cellphone customers can choose between several different mobile providers.

Here’s one of the utility’s new TV commercials, voiced by actor Matthew McConaughey (More here):

How Tony Fadell’s Nest Is Becoming The iPhone of Thermostats

The charming and charismatic Fadell was delighted by the ads, just one of several unpredictable developments in the ascent of the increasingly popular thermostat over the last year.

Fadell began his on-stage interview by noting he was on the same stage a year ago, right after Nest’s launch. At the time, he was nervous about its prospects. After all, as a former SVP at Apple, reporting directly to Steve Jobs, Fadell was better known for overseeing 18 generations of the iPod and the first three generations of the iPhone. (Although there is no one “Podfather,” Fadell can claim to be one of the gadget’s main architects, along with Jobs himself, Apple’s head designer Sir Jonathan Ive and the former head of hardware, Jon Rubinstein.)

A year ago, the first thing people remarked was: “A thermostat? Really?”

“I didn’t know if people would care about thermostats, like I did,” Fadell said. “But it turns out they do, like I thought.”

Fadell noted that the Nest has popped up in 63 countries, even though it is officially sold only in the US and Canada. Like the iPhone, there’s a grey market of exporters sending the device overseas.

Even though he declined to give out numbers, onstage Fadell gave the impression the Nest is going gangbusters.

He said the company is using the aggregated data from overseas customers to figure out its international rollout.

Afterwards, Nest spokeswoman Katie Brinks noted that Nest is Apple’s number 1 bestselling app accessory, and is being featured in more and more retail outlets, including 1,700 Lowes stores nationwide and 600 Best Buy stores.

But perhaps the biggest measure of success is Nest is being sued by the thermostat giant Honeywell for alleged patent infringement. The case is hold while the U.S. Patent Office examines the patents in question.

Indeed, the title of Fadell’s appearance was “Disrupting Dinosaurs With Design.”

About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney.

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