The Reimagination of Product Design

Having designed the first iPod, and subsequently led Apple's iPod and iPhone team, Tony Fadell's departure from Apple in 2009 was met with great intrigue. As one of the most sought-after talents in the technology industry, many eagerly assumed Mr. Fadell's knack for upending product lines would soon prompt his re-emergence as a new contender in the consumer electronics arena. Instead, Fadell has introduced his take on the thermostat.

The thermostat.

Journalists have broken out hyperbole typically reserved only for the glitzy launch of an Apple product, certainly not for something as mundane and ordinary as a thermostat. Traditional news outlets are at a loss for explanation of this phenomena. Why are writers -- traditionally restricted by the bounds of phones, computers, and tablets -- writing about a "beautiful" thermostat?

The explanation is, of course, simple.

Fadell has built a product using the tried-and-true Apple ideology of design, simplicity, and excellence. Fadell's thermostat uses a degree of artificial intelligence to smartly adjust temperatures, it learns your habits and preferences, it is attractive on a wall, and it has the principles of environmental preservation at heart.

While a thermostat may not inspire many, the long-term significance of the Nest product has far-reaching consequences for product design.

Consider the launch of the iPad.

In the days leading up to the launch, many pundits predicted some sort of OS X-esque user interface. You know, windows, task managers, and the like. When Apple showed off iOS 3.2 running on the iPad, the concept was almost immediately slated as being overly simplistic, or as meaning the iPad was just a huge iPod Touch. Today, the simplicity has become one of the most attractive features of the iOS platform. Users need not worry about renegade tasks or malware, for example. Obsessive simplicity and attention to detail is now expected by the average consumer. A product should not try to do everything, and do a mediocre job across the board, it should perform its designated function in a novel manner, easily, and without complexity.

In the face of this, the iPad is thus far undefeated. Android simply does not offer the simplistic, no-brainer interface that has come to define iOS. Whether Windows 8 will prove to be a worthy contender has yet to be seen. Regardless of your perspective, it is clear consumers have chosen iOS by a truly overwhelming margin up to this point.

My point? The Nest Thermostat marks a shift in the world of consumer products previously reserved only for products central to our lives (i.e., communications and media). Manufacturers are beginning to hold their designs to the same standards as Steve Jobs once mandated for Apple. In place of complex, ugly, beige products, beautifully simplistic products may soon find their way onto store shelves.

While this has begun with a former Apple employee, the phenomena is by no means limited to people aligned with Jobs' vision. It is open to anyone that appreciates the importance of the user interface.

At the end of the day, the upending of products, and the reimagination of formerly dull ideas is beginning to take precedence in the consumer industry, and it truly bodes well for all of us. The mere fact that it has begun with a thermostat serves to underline the potential for ingenuity where we least expect it.

I, for one, am excited by that.