iPod fathers unveil their next project, the Nest Learning Thermostat (hands-on)

Over the summer, we got word that a couple of unnamed ex-Apple engineers were getting ready to unveil an unnamed product, under the guise of an unnamed startup. As it turns out, that startup was Nest Labs, and those Apple alums were none other than Tony Fadell, longtime SVP of Apple's iPod division, and lead engineer Matt Rogers. And yes, the product they had to share makes fine use of a click wheel.

But if you thought they'd be cooking up a next-gen music player, you'd be wrong. Instead, the pair have been designing a thermostat, of all things, dubbed the Nest. In addition to being the most stylish model ever to grace a dining room wall, it promises the kind of intelligence we've come to expect in other household appliances -- just not thermostats, per se. It'll go on sale next month for $249 in places like Best Buy, but we managed to snag an early sneak peek. Find some photos below and when you're done, join us past the break where we'll explain how it works.
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According to Nest, the thermostat takes about a week to start picking up on your routine, at which point it adjusts the temperature accordingly. It knows, for instance, that the whole family's out of the house by 9am, and that people start trickling back in around four in the afternoon. That's all thanks to a collection of six sensors, which keep tabs on metrics like temperature, ambient light, humidity and motion -- whether it's fingers about to touch the display or people passing in and out of the room.

Because of those far-field sensors, in particular, the Nest knows that you're not at home if it hasn't detected movement in ages. So, it lowers the temperature anyway, even if that's a time when you'd typically be around. And let's say you have a few of these installed throughout the house. Although they each learn independently, they also talk to each other, so if you walk through the foyer, the thermostat upstairs will know you're home.

So about that click wheel. The Nest has an outer ring that you can rotate to either lower or boost the temperature. As you can see in that lead shot up there, the screen intuitively shows the temperature in red when it's heating up, and turns blue when it's cooling. The hardware itself is fashioned out of metal that's designed to absorb surrounding colors, making it more likely to blend in. What can we say? It's a gorgeous, fool-proof design that should go very nicely with your designer fridge.

And what would a connected appliance be without some remote control functionality? As befits a twenty-first century home, it has WiFi, allowing you to adjust the Nest's settings online or via an iOS device (an Android app is just around the bend, the company says). While we're on the topic of settings, you can set a maximum and minimum temperature, along with a four-digit password -- you know, so that the kiddies don't have too much fun using that click wheel to crank up the heat.

As for installation, you could, if you had the guts, install this yourself -- a process the company says should take about 20 minutes. Or, you know, you could have a professional come and set it up. Or, you could just build a new house and slap in one of these from the start. Regardless, the Nest is looking like a promising way to conserve energy without giving up the luxury of having things exactly the way you like them, no tinkering required.