Your cooker might have a clever digital timer, and your fridge its own nifty little screen, but when the man who invented the iPod and the iPhone came to build himself a house, nothing in the appliance shop was smart enough.
"It was all just so dumb," says
It was 2005, and Fadell was leading the development of the iPhone at Apple, while planning a dream holiday house for his young family in
Almost 10 years later, Fadell, 48, presides over a company that is pioneering what he calls the "conscious home", turning something that sounds straight out of
While designing his house, Fadell scoured every room to determine which part of the home had seen the least amount of innovation. And he hit upon the thermostat. "It wasn't about the panel on the wall, but about what it controls. In the US, heating and cooling accounts for half of all home energy bills, and in the
Leaving Apple in 2010, he spent time travelling in
"It's a bit like a diet coach," says Fadell, who speaks with the motivational Ted-talk sales patter of every Apple exec. "We help you to do things you want to do. We know what you've done in your home and can give you suggestions: 'Hey, here's a better way to save,' or 'You're doing really well today,' or, 'Compared to your neighbours, you maybe wanna improve.'"
He says neighbours, because Nest's users are part of a bigger network - or "community" - who are able to track their energy usage in line with the local and regional average, and time their use according to peaks and troughs in the national grid. "You might forget a diet after a couple of months," he says, "but we do it for you. We allow you to participate as a community to solve some of the world's bigger problems."
It might sound like a utopian dream for eco-tech enthusiasts, confined to the manicured streets of Palo Alto, home to Nest's HQ - if it wasn't for the fact that the company now sells 50,000 such devices a month, which have together saved over 2bn kilowatt hours of electricity to date, enough to power the entire US for half an hour.
Nest's engineers have since turned their humanising hand to the smoke detector, developing a device that substitutes the usual ear-splitting alarm for a gentle voice message, which alerts you to where in your house the incident has been detected. "Over 70% of fire-related deaths are caused because people had smoke alarms, but they ripped out the batteries to stop that maddening beeping," says Fadell. By contrast, Nest's detector simply throbs with a yellow light when you walk past to let you know the power is running low. "If you've left a pie in the oven, a voice says: 'Heads up, there's smoke in the kitchen!'" (The
While product sales continue to soar, the idea of bringing the benevolent, omniscient Nest into your home has taken on somewhat more alarming tones since the company's acquisition by the biggest data-gathering machine of all time bar the NSA. Fadell describes his relationship with
Fadell is adamant that "there is absolutely no co-mingling of personal data with
Extending to an area
"We're really not about that futuristic idea of the smart home," says Fadell. "It's not predicting everything you want, pressing one button and the lights go on, the shades come down and the kettle starts boiling."
If that's not Nest's vision of the future, then it is one that others are taking into their own hands - and will be able to do so more easily now that Nest has opened up its API (application programming interface) to everyone "from global corporations and small companies to startups and tinkerers".
"The house now knows my behaviours," he says, looking up from behind his Google Glass headset, a lapel-cam tracking his chest's-eye-view and assorted rubbery straps protruding from beneath his cuffs. "If I get really stressed out and don't sleep well, when I wake up the light is a certain colour, the room a particular temperature, and certain music plays. My entire life is preconditioned based on all this information that I collect in real time."
He says his regime of "data-assisted living", which he has been pursuing for the past four years, has revolutionised his life, helping him to lose 100 pounds in 18 months. He can now live in a state of zen-like calm, safe in the knowledge that every aspect of his home has been personally optimised.
It is a form of "life-logging" that techno-sceptic
But that's no deterrent for those in the race for ever more quantified living, where the bathroom is set to be the next smart frontier. "For the first time, we have data on how we brush our teeth, where we brush our teeth and where we need to improve," says
We might soon be monitoring the other end of things too, with advances in at-home molecular analysis. "You might laugh," says
So where might it end? "It is a very alarming situation," says Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, curator of this year's Venice Biennale, in which the Nest thermostat features on a gallery wall, as a cautionary tale as much as a heroic symbol. "Our houses now know so much about us - and very soon they will begin to betray us."
Former iPhone designer and Nest CEO
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