Lauren Goode

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Nest Labs, Amid Lawsuit, Turns Up the Heat on Its Thermostat

Nest, the Palo Alto-based start-up that made the thermostat cool with its Nest Learning Thermostat, is making its first significant update to the device since its launch last fall.

The thermostat, which works with an app on the iPhone, Android phone or desktop PC, now comes with an updated 10-day view of users’ energy consumption, called Energy History. On the thermostat itself, Nest users get a quick glimpse of their energy usage, but Energy History on mobile and the Web shows the exact times at which an HVAC system turned on and off, and how that compares to usage from previous weeks.

Nest also says it could save users money on air-conditioning bills this summer with something called Airwave, which shuts off a home’s air-conditioning system before the house hits its target temperature, then uses the remaining cool air in the system to finish cooling down the place. Nest says this will conserve up to 30 percent of air-conditioning energy.

The company shared some how-great-is-Nest stats: Nest thermostats are now installed in all 50 U.S. states; 99 percent of Nest users are running the thermostat on a setback schedule; and 75 percent of Nest buyers say they installed their thermostats themselves, in less than 30 minutes — pretty much all of those say they would do it themselves again.

Nest has also made minor adjustments to the backplate of the thermostat, after some customers complained the wall anchors weren’t working well. The connectors on the plate have been redesigned, and in the interest of even easier installation, the company has manufactured its own screws, which will be shipped with the thermostat.

Maxime Veron, Nest’s head of product marketing, said neither the hardware nor the software updates are related to a recent patent-infringement lawsuit filed against the start-up.

Nest, of course, is currently the target of a lawsuit filed by Honeywell, maker of aerospace systems, consumer products and technology solutions — and the creator of the now-iconic round thermostat. Honeywell has alleged that Nest’s digital thermostat, which came to market last fall for $249 (for a full review of how it works, check out my colleague Katie Boehret’s review here), infringes on seven patents Honeywell holds in home-thermostat technology.

Nest issued a quick statement to the suit a few days after the complaint was originally filed back in February, but got an extension to file a more detailed response, which is now due April 13.

All this over a thermostat? While some of Honeywell’s suit is focused on the design of the Nest thermostat, other parts of the complaint target the “smart” thermostat’s functionality. Part of Nest’s appeal is its promise to save users up to 30 percent off their utility bills, and many other Internet-connected, data-delivering home appliances are making similar claims.

For example, Honeywell’s complaint says that controlling a thermostat remotely through the Internet is not a Nest Labs innovation. The Nest thermometer comes with a patented “question system” — “What are the lowest and highest temperatures you’d like when you are away?” — but Honeywell says its Prestige thermostat, introduced in late 2008, also incorporates an “interview-based interface.” However, General Electric also markets a home-energy management system that includes the ability to remotely control a GE “smart” thermostat from a smartphone or home computer.

As more consumers warm to the idea of the connected home, it’s hard to imagine claims being made about the ability to control an appliance through the smartphone as a patented, innovative technology. But for now, we’ll have to wait until next week to see what Nest has to say about that.

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