Nest's smart thermostat chills out with new A/C feature

With back orders of its smart thermostats cleared, Nest Labs releases new software with more detailed data and an energy-saving air conditioning setting.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
3 min read
The Nest software now has a tab for energy history and a more graphical display to indicate what affected heating and cooling.
The Nest software now has a tab for energy history and a more graphical display to indicate what affected heating and cooling. Nest Labs

The gadgets in your smart home now come with software updates.

Nest Labs today released the equivalent of version 2.0 software for its smart thermostat on the Web, iOS or Android. The software tweaks for the $249 Learning Thermostat are designed to help people better understand how thermostat changes affect energy usage.

The update presents energy history data over 10 days, a longer period than before and indicates when heating and cooling systems turned on. It can also show what caused setting changes -- the weather, a manual adjustment, or an auto-away setting.

A new air conditioning feature, called Airwave, could reduce electricity usage up to 30 percent for people who live in dry climates. The setting keeps an air conditioner fan running, rather than both the fan and compressor, to keep cool air blowing and reduce power.

First Look
Watch this: Nest Learning Thermostat hands-on video

The Nest software also generates reports to compare monthly usage and show how often a person used the auto-away feature. A leaf icon appears when a person chooses a more efficient setting. Each degree change can lower electricity by 5 percent, said Maxime Veron, head of product marketing at Nest Labs.

Founded by former Apple engineers, Nest Labs set out to make an attractive programmable thermostat that people actually use. An EPA study found that only about 10 percent of people program their thermostats. When they are used, programmable thermostats can significantly cut energy, on the order of 20 percent to 30 percent.

In a survey of its customers, Nest found nearly all the people use the automatic set-back features, such as turning down the heating temperature when no one's home or changing settings when people are out of town. Rather than manually setting temperatures for different times of the day, people use the Nest thermostat for a few days and the device itself creates a schedule.

To ease installation, Nest redesigned its back plate to make it easier to connect wires to the heating and cooling system. Through partners, Nest offers an installation service but found a majority of people did it themselves in less than half hour, according to a representative.

Apart from information, one of the most coveted features of smart thermostats is remote control, allowing people to make adjustments from a computer or smartphone.

Being connected to the Internet also means automatic software updates for the device. Nest has already done a number of firmware updates on the thermostat, Veron said.

Reception of the Learning Thermostat has been positive and the company quickly sold out when it started sales in October. Last week, its back orders were cleared and it started sales again.

Although the company has been lauded for innovating in home energy, it faces a lawsuit by thermostat heavyweight Honeywell, which alleges Nest infringed a number of Honeywell's seemingly broad patents. Nest said it will fight the charges in court and is expected to respond next week.

See CNET's review of the Nest thermostat here.

With Nest, the father of the iPod tackles home energy (photos)

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