In 2009, engineer Tony Fadell was building his green dream vacation home near Lake Tahoe, in California. There were heat pumps, photovoltaic panels, expensive windows, and the best insulation money could buy. But when it came time to choose thermostats, Fadell was appalled at the options. The basic choice was the classic 1953 Honeywell Round thermostat, designed by Henry Dreyfuss, and its imitators. On the more contemporary end of the scale were digital thermostats that were expensive, comically difficult to program, and couldn’t be managed with a smartphone app.
This, at the Dawn of the Age of Phone Apps, struck Fadell as very odd. Why hadn’t anyone designed a simple-to-operate thermostat that could be remotely controlled with a smartphone? Home-automation systems and gadgets had been around for years, but most were aimed at people who could shell out thousands of dollars for almost entirely bespoke systems assembled and installed by specialists. There were window shades that would raise and lower at the touch of a button, lighting that would turn on or off based on some customized sensor setup, and maybe a multiroom audio installation that could be used and reconfigured with a remote control. For some reason, the quintessential automated-home owner at the time seemed to be a villain in a James Bond film.
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