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Can Ex-Apple Execs Turn Up the Heat on Thermostats?

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Nest says its "learning thermostat" will program itself over a week.
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Nest says its Learning Thermostat will program itself over a week.

But two former Apple leaders, Matt Rogers and Tony Fadell, who worked on products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad, think they can change that with a retro-meets-modern-looking digital thermostat from their startup, Nest Labs.

But can a thermostat be an “object of desire”? That’s what Rogers calls the Learning Thermostat in a Forbes story. “It is an emotional purchase.”

That’s a lot different from the object of necessity that a thermostat has been traditionally. You can get one for as little as $50, although some eco-friendly programmable models range up to $200. The Nest version, which was announced Tuesday and will hit the market next month, is $249.

Here’s what it has going for it: It looks cool, and it does the programming work for you. After just a few days, it will figure out what you do and when you do it. Say you get up in the morning and turn the heat up to 72 degrees? It will recall what time you do that and set the temperature for you. Do you turn it down to 68 before bed? This thermostat will figure that out, too. And you don’t have to go digging for the instruction manual to do it.

It comes equipped with a motion sensor, and will change the temperature when no one is in the room – making it a warmer if the AC is cranking in that room and no one is there, for example.

“You can, but you don’t have to program it, because it learns,” Fadell told The New York Times.

But how much money – and energy – can a thermostat save?

Just changing the temperature in your home by a degree can create a 5 percent energy savings, reports the Times. The paper says that shifting your consumption by four degrees could lead to a savings of 20 percent, or an average of $200 to $300 per year. And theoretically, if every household did that, we would need fewer power plants and would have lower carbon emissions.

Fadell argues that with the savings in energy costs, the device will pay for itself in a year, the Times reports.

Heating and cooling of homes makes up 54 percent of home energy consumption, according to Forbes. Much of that is wasted when your home is being heated or cooled while you’re away.

“There are no great consumer products in this area,” Rogers told CNET. “There’s an entire generation of folks used to beautiful, intuitive products that are easy to use and you don’t have to go out of your way to work with.”

Will there be a line out the door at Best Buy, Apple-style? We’ll see.

“We’re bringing design, great technology, and artificial intelligence learning to the most unsexy industry possible,” Rogers told CNET.