Nest’s New ‘Learning Thermostat’ …
… Comes With Enhanced WiFi And Bluetooth Radio
Nest — the biggest name in the nascent smart home industry and a division of Alphabet, Google’s new corporate structure — is finally upgrading the hardware for its “Learning Thermostat.” On Tuesday, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based business announced the third generation version of its Internet-connected thermostat, which markets itself as being able to learn a user’s temperature preferences and living patterns in order to keep them comfortable while also saving them money on their energy bill.
There’s no huge upgrades in the new hardware from the second generation — just lots of slight tweaks and minor improvements. On the surface, the new $250 hardware sports a brighter, larger, high-resolution display (229 pixels per inch). It’s also thinner.
Nest is trumpeting some additional software features in the new thermostat. With the improved display, for example, Nest is introducing what it calls “Farsight” that will make the screen wake up when a user is up to 25 feet away from the thermostat. The screen shows the target temperature or a clock. The new Farsight feature uses the sensors on the front of the thermostat to pick up motion. Not the most exciting update.
But some of the more important updates are all happening inside the device. The WiFi radio is getting an upgrade. The new thermostat runs beefier WiFi on the 5GHz spectrum instead of the 2.4 GHz spectrum used in previous versions of the device. That should improve the connectivity performance of the hardware on increasingly crowded home WiFi networks.
The thermostat also gets the addition of a Bluetooth Low Energy radio, an increasingly popular radio standard found in every smartphone. At first, though, the Bluetooth radio will not be activated in the new thermostat. Instead, Nest is “future proofing” the device. “We believe Bluetooth low energy has some great advantages and we’d love to do something with it in the future,” said Maxime Veron, head of hardware product marketing at Nest.
A Zigbee chip running Thread communication protocol, which Nest created, is also sticking around in the third generation hardware, but still remains unactivated in the thermostats.
There are also now 10 temperature sensors in the new thermostat versus only three in previous version. These additional sensors are all inside the thermostat to pick up the temperature in the product. Nest can correct for the temperature inside the device to more accurately pick up the temperature in the area surrounding the thermostat. It makes the thermostat much much accurate over previous versions, said Veron. Veron claimed the new thermostat can detect the accurate temperature 99% of the time — he wouldn’t say what kind of accuracy previous versions of the thermostat got.
In terms of upgrades, that’s mostly it for the third-generation hardware as far as I can tell. As with many of these Internet-connected products invading the market, many of the functions and additional features will appear later through software upgrades.
It had been a while since the last hardware update of the thermostat – the second generation version of the thermostat came out in 2012. It’s strange Nest didn’t launch this new thermostat in June when it announced a refresh of two of its other hardware products: the Nest Cam, a WiFi-connected security camera, and the second generation Nest Protect, its smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. Veron said the company had been working on the new thermostat for the past year.
Available on Tuesday, the new hardware doesn’t look like it will being sold in the Apple Store, where previous versions of the thermostat were sold until recently, as I was the first to report last month. So far, the third generation thermostat hardware will be sold online and at some physical retail: Best Buy, Google Store, Lowe’s, The Home Depot HD -1.50%, Sam’s Club, Target and Verizon stores. Nest will also be getting the thermostat out through partnerships with various utilities, energy companies and other enterprises: Southern Company, Direct Energy, SunEdison, Infinite Energy, Reliant and ADT ADT -3.23%. Through these partnerships, some people will either be getting a free Nest thermostat or a discounted thermostat.
Nest is facing a number of strong competitors in the Internet-connected thermostat category, including the ecobee3, which took its place in the Apple Store and is a certified HomeKit product, Apple’s recent smart home communication protocol for syncing up devices in iOS.
Since Nest was acquired by Google in January 2014 for $3.2 billion in cash, the company has been relatively quiet outside of a half a billion dollar acquisition of the WiFi-based security camera company, Dropcam. Still, the company does seem to be more open about touting some of its success. In Nest’s marketing materials, it’s starting to reference that the number of homes out there with Nest devices to be in the ”millions.”