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How Eddie Custovic Is Building His Legacy

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For most of the 10 years that I idly thought about thermostats, I had no intention of building one. It was the early 2000s, and I was at Apple making the first iPhone. I got married, had kids. I was busy.

But then again, I was also really cold. Bone-chillingly cold.

Every time my wife and I drove up to our Lake Tahoe ski cabin on Friday nights after work, we’d have to keep our snow jackets on until the next day. The house took all night to heat up.

Walking into that frigid house drove me nuts. It was mind-boggling that there wasn’t a way to warm it up before we got there. I spent dozens of hours and thousands of dollars trying to hack security and computer equipment tied to an analog phone so I could fire up the thermostat remotely. Half my vacations were spent elbow-deep in wiring, electronics littering the floor. But nothing worked. So the first night of every trip was always the same: We’d huddle on the ice block of a bed, under the freezing sheets, watching our breath turn into fog until the house finally warmed up by morning.

Then on Monday I’d go back to Apple and work on the first iPhone. Eventually I realized I was making a perfect remote control for a thermostat. If I could just connect the HVAC system to my iPhone, I could control it from anywhere. But the technology that I needed to make it happen—reliable low-cost communications, cheap screens and processors—didn’t exist yet.

How did these ugly, piece-of-crap thermostats cost almost as much as Apple’s most cutting-edge technology?

A year later we decided to build a new, superefficient house in Tahoe. During the day I’d work on the iPhone, then I’d come home and pore over specs for our house, choosing finishes and materials and solar panels and, eventually, tackling the HVAC system. And once again, the thermostat came to haunt me. All the top-of-the-line thermostats were hideous beige boxes with bizarrely confusing user interfaces. None of them saved energy. None could be controlled remotely. And they cost around US $400. The iPhone, meanwhile, was selling for $499.

How did these ugly, piece-of-crap thermostats cost almost as much as Apple’s most cutting-edge technology?

The architects and engineers on the Tahoe project heard me complaining over and over about how insane it was. I told them, “One day, I’m going to fix this—mark my words!” They all rolled their eyes—there goes Tony complaining again!

At first they were just idle words born of frustration. But then things started to change. The success of the iPhone drove down costs for the sophisticated components I couldn’t get my hands on earlier. Suddenly high-quality connectors and screens and processors were being manufactured by the millions, cheaply, and could be repurposed for other technology.

My life was changing, too. I quit Apple and began traveling the world with my family. A startup was not the plan. The plan was a break. A long one.

We traveled all over the globe and worked hard not to think about work. But no matter where we went, we could not escape one thing: the goddamn thermostat. The infuriating, inaccurate, energy-hogging, thoughtlessly stupid, impossible-to-program, always-too-hot-or-too-cold-in-some-part-of-the-house thermostat.

Someone needed to fix it. And eventually I realized that someone was going to be me.

This 2010 prototype of the Nest thermostat wasn’t pretty. But making the thermometer beautiful would be the easy part. The circuit board diagrams point to the next step—making it round.Tom Crabtree

The big companies weren’t going to do it. Honeywell and the other white-box competitors hadn’t truly innovated in 30 years. It was a dead, unloved market with less than $1 billion in total annual sales in the United States.

The only thing missing was the will to take the plunge. I wasn’t ready to carry another startup on my back. Not then. Not alone.

Then, magically, Matt Rogers, who’d been one of the first interns on the iPod project, reached out to me. He was a real partner who could share the load. So I let the idea catch me. I came back to Silicon Valley and got to work. I researched the technology, then the opportunity, the business, the competition, the people, the financing, the history.

Making it beautiful wasn’t going to be hard. Gorgeous hardware, an intuitive interface—that we could do. We’d honed those skills at Apple. But to make this product successful—and meaningful—we needed to solve two big problems:

It needed to save energy.

And we needed to sell it.

In North America and Europe, thermostats control half a home’s energy bill—something like $2,500 a year. Every previous attempt to reduce that number—by thermostat manufacturers, by energy companies, by government bodies—had failed miserably for a host of different reasons. We had to do it for real, while keeping it dead simple for customers.

Then we needed to sell it. Almost all thermostats at that point were sold and installed by professional HVAC technicians. We were never going to break into that old boys’ club. We had to find a way into people’s minds first, then their homes. And we had to make our thermostat so easy to install that literally anyone could do it themselves.

It took around 9 to 12 months of making prototypes and interactive models, building bits of software, talking to users and experts, and testing it with friends before Matt and I decided to pitch investors.

“Real People” Test the Nest

Once we had prototypes of the thermostat, we sent it out to real people to test.

It was fatter than we wanted. The screen wasn’t quite what I imagined. Kind of like the first iPod, actually. But it worked. It connected to your phone. It learned what temperatures you liked. It turned itself down when nobody was home. It saved energy. We knew self-installation was potentially a huge stumbling block, so everyone waited with bated breath to see how it went. Did people shock themselves? Start a fire? Abandon the project halfway through because it was too complicated? Soon our testers reported in: Installation went fine. People loved it. But it took about an hour to install. Crap. An hour was way too long. This needed to be an easy DIY project, a quick upgrade.

So we dug into the reports—what was taking so long? What were we missing?

Our testers…spent the first 30 minutes looking for tools.

Turns out we weren’t missing anything—but our testers were. They spent the first 30 minutes looking for tools—the wire stripper, the flathead screwdriver; no, wait, we need a Phillips. Where did I put that?

Once they gathered everything they needed, the rest of the installation flew by. Twenty, 30 minutes tops.

I suspect most companies would have sighed with relief. The actual installation took 20 minutes, so that’s what they’d tell customers. Great. Problem solved.

But this was going to be the first moment people interacted with our device. Their first experience of Nest. They were buying a $249 thermostat—they were expecting a different kind of experience. And we needed to exceed their expectations. Every minute from opening the box to reading the instructions to getting it on their wall to turning on the heat for the first time had to be incredibly smooth. A buttery, warm, joyful experience.

And we knew Beth. Beth was one of two potential customers we defined. The other customer was into technology, loved his iPhone, was always looking for cool new gadgets. Beth was the decider—she dictated what made it into the house and what got returned. She loved beautiful things, too, but was skeptical of supernew, untested technology. Searching for a screwdriver in the kitchen drawer and then the toolbox in the garage would not make her feel warm and buttery. She would be rolling her eyes. She would be frustrated and annoyed.

A white handheld device with 4 screwdriver heads, one on the bottom, and three at the top.Shipping the Nest thermostat with a screwdriver “turned a moment of frustration into a moment of delight”Dwight Eschliman

So we changed the prototype. Not the thermostat prototype—the installation prototype. We added one new element: a little screwdriver. It had four different head options, and it fit in the palm of your hand. It was sleek and cute. Most importantly, it was unbelievably handy.

So now, instead of rummaging through toolboxes and cupboards, trying to find the right tool to pry their old thermostat off the wall, customers simply reached into the Nest box and took out exactly what they needed. It turned a moment of frustration into a moment of delight.

Honeywell Laughs

Sony laughed at the iPod. Nokia laughed at the iPhone. Honeywell laughed at the Nest Learning Thermostat.

At first.

In the stages of grief, this is what we call Denial.

But soon, as your disruptive product, process, or business model begins to gain steam with customers, your competitors will start to get worried. And when they realize you might steal their market share, they’ll get pissed. Really pissed. When people hit the Anger stage of grief, they lash out, they undercut your pricing, try to embarrass you with advertising, use negative press to undermine you, put in new agreements with sales channels to lock you out of the market.

And they might sue you.

The good news is that a lawsuit means you’ve officially arrived. We had a party the day Honeywell sued Nest. We were thrilled. That ridiculous lawsuit meant we were a real threat and they knew it. So we brought out the champagne. That’s right, f—ers. We’re coming for your lunch.

Nest Gets Googled

With every generation, the product became sleeker, slimmer, and less expensive to build. In 2014, Google bought Nest for $3.2 billion. In 2016 Google decided to sell Nest, so I left the company. Months after I left, Google changed its mind. Today, Google Nest is alive and well, and they’re still making new products, creating new experiences, delivering on their version of our vision. I deeply, genuinely, wish them well.

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Obi-Wan is coming to Fortnite next week

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Now that Obi-Wan has his own show, there’s only one logical next step: an appearance in Fortnite.

Epic announced that Mr. Kenobi will be the latest Star Wars character in the battle royale when he hits the game’s item shop on May 26th. That’s the day before the new show Obi-Wan Kenobi debuts on Disney Plus. In addition to the Jedi Knight himself, players can also snap up a bundle that includes a Jedi Interceptor glider and a pickaxe blade that is sadly not a lightsaber.

Of course, this is far from the crossover between Fortnite and Star Wars. Just this month, Epic temporarily added lightsabers back into the game, and prior to that, characters like the Mandalorian have been notable additions to new Fortnite seasons. In 2019, J.J. Abrams stopped by the virtual world to show off a clip from The Rise of Skywalker.

Fortnite has been a busy place as of late, particularly on mobile, as the game has become accessible through both Xbox Cloud Gaming and GeForce Now.

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The Best Speakers of 2022

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JBL

What to Look for in a Speaker in 2022

As speakers have changed and evolved, even the word itself has grown to include many types of products. To understand what we’re looking at in terms of a “speaker”, Bluetooth speakers, soundbars, smart speakers, and traditional bookshelf speakers are all represented in our roundup below.

The first thing you should keep in mind when thinking about a speaker purchase is the use case and form factor. If you’re thinking about indoor use, are you looking for a single smart speaker or a pair of bookshelf speakers? Will a soundbar cover your music needs?

You’ll also need to consider whether you need a powered speaker or speakers. Soundbars, smart speakers, and Bluetooth speakers are all self-powered, meaning you don’t need an external amplifier. That said, bookshelf speakers often require an amplifier or A/V receiver to power them.

Also, just because a speaker is wireless and has a battery built-in, that doesn’t mean it’s ready for use outdoors. One thing to check is the IP rating, a two-number rating for dust and water resistance that we include when it’s relevant. Outdoor sound modes and long battery life are also important for a speaker you’ll be taking everywhere.

When it comes to wired speakers, you’ll also need to keep connectivity in mind. Bookshelf speakers use traditional speaker wire, but if you’re looking at more audiophile-oriented speakers, you may find that you’ll need more specialized cables like XLR or 1/4-inch TRS cable.

When a speaker we’re recommending requires any sort of unusual cable, we’ll be sure to point it out. If speakers require an amplifier to work, we’ll mention that as well.

Finally, the vast majority of speakers we’re looking at here use some sort of wireless connectivity. Bluetooth is the most common form of wireless connectivity, but a few of our recommendations include alternative wireless connections like Wi-Fi.

This is a lot to keep in mind, but when you’ve figured out what you need, one of our recommendations will serve that function perfectly.

Sonos Beam Gen 2 under TV
Sonos

Pros

  • Trueplay does a great job tuning the speaker to the room
  • Dolby Atmos makes for convincing 3D sound
  • Better sound for music than most soundbars

Cons

  • You’ll need extra speakers to make the most out of the Beam

The Sonos Beam is a soundbar, but it’s far from just any other soundbar. While most soundbars work fine for watching TV and not much else, the Sonos Beam sounds great for music, podcasts, or any other form of audio entertainment you can think of.

Even without a subwoofer, the Sonos Beam manages a well-balanced sound signature, with powerful lows and clear highs. This works equally well for music, movies, and TV shows, with support for Dolby Atmos and Dolby Atmos Music built-in.

Setting up the Sonos Beam is a breeze. You only need two cables—one for power, and one for the HDMI connection. Using the Trueplay feature of the Sonos iPhone app (Trueplay is not currently supported on Android devices), the speaker can use your iPhone as a microphone to examine your room and tune the Beam to sound its best.

When using the Sonos Beam as a soundbar, it works much as you’d expect any other soundbar to work. Turn off the TV, however, and it becomes a Wi-Fi streaming smart speaker, similar to other Sonos speakers. It will also work with other speakers from Sonos for whole-home audio when you’re listening to music.

The Sonos Beam can also function as the core of multi-speaker home theater systems. You can add a Sonos Sub as a subwoofer and other speakers as satellites to complete your system.

Tribit stormbox on bike handle
Tribit

Pros

  • Bigger sounding than the size suggests
  • Built-in straps for mounting to bike or backpack
  • Pair two for stereo sound

Cons

  • Straps can be cumbersome for everyday use

Whether you prefer not to spend too much on a speaker or you’re looking for a spare, there are more quality budget models available now than ever. That said, the Tribit StormBox Micro has a few tricks up its sleeve that we think gives it the edge over its budget-minded competition.

Buying a budget speaker used to mean that it wasn’t going to be very tough. Fortunately, that is no longer the case, as the Tribit StormBox Micro is IP67-rated water and dust resistant. That’s handy, as it’s clear that this is a speaker meant for people on the move.

On the company’s Amazon listing, the Tribit StormBox Micro is listed as a bike speaker, and indeed it has built-in silicone straps to attach it to bicycle handlebars. If you’re not a cyclist, you can use those same straps to attach the speaker to your backpack and take it with you anywhere.

While the Tribit StormBox Micro is on the smaller side, as the name implies, it doesn’t sound as small as it is. On the Amazon page, Tribit credits this to its XBass tuning digital signal processing (DSP), which makes for much more bass than you’d expect from a speaker this small.

If you’re looking for even more volume and a wider soundstage, you can even add another StormBox Micro to make a stereo pair.

Best Budget Speaker

Tribit StormBox Micro

If you’re looking for an affordable speaker to bring everywhere, the Tribit StormBox Micro is a tough but easygoing companion.

JBL Charge 5 in the rain
JBL

Pros

  • Great volume, even with one speaker
  • Built-in power bank functionality is useful
  • Pair one or more speakers for stereo or more volume

Cons

  • Buying another speaker for PartyBoost isn’t cheap

If you’re looking for a speaker that works well anywhere you’re looking for music, the JBL Charge 5 is ready to handle it. Whether you’re inside or outside, listening alone or providing the soundtrack for a party, the Charge 5 has the volume and the sound quality for the job.

The JBL Charge 5 uses a separate tweeter and dual bass radiators to provide a big-sounding speaker without making it weigh a ton. The enclosure is tough too, with a solid build and IP67 rating meaning it’s dust and water-resistant, so long as you don’t drop it at the bottom of a pool.

While the JBL Charge 5 is loud on its own, it gets even louder when you pair two of them together. Even better, thanks to JBL’s PartyBoost feature, you don’t have to stop at two. This is great if you’re looking for wide-ranging sound without springing for a permanent whole-home audio setup.

Due to the heftier size of the JBL Charge 5, it’s able to fit a sizable battery. This gives the speaker a maximum playback time of up to 20 hours, though as always, this will depend on the playback volume.

If you don’t need all that playback time but want to take advantage of the size of the battery, the JBL Charge 5 also doubles as a power bank. Simply plug a USB cable into the port, and you can use the speaker to recharge your devices.

Best Bluetooth Speaker

JBL Charge 5

The JBL Charge 5 is loud and versatile, but adding in the ability to charge your other devices makes this a speaker you’ll want to keep with you at all times.

Wonderboom 2 on pink background
Ultimate Ears

Pros

  • Water-resistant and it even floats
  • 360-degree sound means big sound from just one speaker
  • Ability to pair another for stereo is useful
  • Outdoor sound mode makes outdoor listening more enjoyable

Cons

  • Battery life isn’t great at highest volumes

If you’re looking for a speaker to bring everywhere with you, it doesn’t get better than the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 2. The speaker is light enough to carry anywhere, and it’s packed with the volume and features to play your music as loud as you want.

Like the other portable Bluetooth speakers we’re looking at in this article, the WONDERBOOM 2 has an IP67 rating. That said, the rating is far from the only reason we’re suggesting this as an outdoor speaker. The build quality is solid, and it even floats in case you happen to drop it in the pool or on a canoeing trip.

The WONDERBOOM 2 features a 360-degree design, meaning you’ll hear the same audio, regardless of which side of the speaker you’re standing on. It also features an outdoor boost button that tweaks the sound specifically for outdoor use.

If one speaker isn’t enough, you can always add another. When you connect two WONDERBOOM 2 models together, you can use them for louder mono playback or in paired stereo mode.

While the battery life isn’t quite as impressive as the JBL Charge 5, the WONDERBOOM 2 still boasts up to 13 hours of battery life, depending on playback volume.

Best Outdoor Speaker

Best Smart Speaker: Sonos One

Sonos One on bathroom countertop
Sonos

Pros

  • Modular nature means you can expand your setup one speaker at a time
  • Voice control is great for smart homes
  • Stereo pairing makes setup easy

Cons

  • No Bluetooth connectivity

If music is a constant part of your day, you’ve probably already considered whole-home audio. That said, if you’re thinking of dipping a toe in the water, one or two Sonos One speakers are a great way to start.

If you’re just using one, the Sonos One is like an upgraded, Wi-Fi-powered version of a Bluetooth speaker. Pair two together, and you’ve got a wireless stereo set up. Add more and the sky is the limit, though it’s perfectly fine to stop at one if that’s all you need.

The Sonos One features Amazon Alexa built-in. This makes playing your music with just your voice as easy as thinking about it, but it also makes for great integration with any smart devices you may have. If you can’t bear the sound of an Amazon Echo but want that functionality in a better speaker, this is a fantastic option.

One thing to keep in mind with Sonos devices is that only the company’s portable speakers like the Sonos Move feature Bluetooth. For more home-focused speakers like the Sonos One, you’re using Wi-Fi for playback. This makes for better sound quality, but can be less convenient at times.

That said, if you’re an Apple fan, you’re in luck, as the Sonos One and many other Sonos speakers feature full AirPlay 2 support.

Best Smart Speaker

Sonos One

The Sonos One takes the best aspects of smart speakers and brings them into the Sonos ecosystem, making this a great way to enhance your smart home’s sound.

ELAC Debut on blue background
ELAC

Pros

  • Speakers work great in hi-fi or home theater setups
  • Front-firing ports make the speakers easy to place in your room
  • Detailed, accurate sound reproduction

Cons

  • Center channel speaker is sold separately

If you’re looking for a set of classic-style bookshelf speakers, the ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 needs to be on your shortlist. These speakers will work wonderfully with your turntable setup or hi-fi stereo system, but they’re just as comfortable in a home theater surround-sound setting.

The ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 features an aramid fiber woofer for the bass and midrange, while a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter ranges up as high as 35,000 Hz. The speakers use front-firing ports, which means you don’t need to be as careful with where you’re placing them in your room.

These are standard bookshelf speakers, so they’ll need an amplifier to work. The speakers handle up to 120 watts of power at 6 ohms. These speakers will work with most A/V receivers, including 5.1 channel and up-home theater receivers.

The speakers are internally braced to dampen vibrations, meaning you won’t encounter any degradation of sound quality as the volume increases. If you’re looking for speakers that present an accurate representation of what you’re playing through them, but don’t want to go quite as far as studio monitors, this is a great middle ground.

If you’re buying these as part of building a home theater system, don’t forget to check out the matching ELAC Debut 2.0 C6.2 center channel speaker.

Best Bookshelf Speaker

ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2

The ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 can handle playing back your vinyl collection or serve as the centerpiece of your home theater system. It’s all up to you and how you want to use them.

Kali LP-6 on dark background
Kali

Pros

  • Boundary EQ makes these work in spaces other speakers won’t
  • Plenty of connectivity options
  • Improved low-end quality compared to the original

Cons

  • You’ll need an audio interface to make the most of these

If you take your music listening seriously, or you’re an audio or video professional, standard speakers aren’t going to be ideal. Instead, you’ll want a pair of monitor speakers meant for critical listening like the Kali Audio LP-6 V2.

The LP-6 uses a 6.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter for clear highs that aren’t overly strident and a low end that carries surprising weight. In the V2 version of this speaker, the woofer is lower mass than the original, making for improved low-end clarity.

Also improved in this latest iteration of the Kali Audio LP-6 are the Boundary EQ settings. These are a series of switches on the back of each speaker letting you set whether the speakers are close to a wall or sitting on a desktop and shape the sound accordingly to better fit your setup.

The Kali Audio LP-6 V2 offers a few different connectivity options, but since these are powered monitors, they may not be what you expect. For balanced connections, you get 1/4-inch TRS and XLR connectors, while for unbalanced connections you get RCA connectors.

To make the most of these speakers, you’ll need an audio interface. If all you’re doing is listening to music on the speakers, a simple interface like the Focusrite Scarlett Solo will work perfectly with the RCA inputs on the speakers.

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Apple’s Next Trick: Letting You Borrow Cables From Android Friends

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A photo of a USB-C cable

Photo: Sam Rutherford / Gizmodo

It might not seem like the needle-moving announcement that Apple would make. But thanks to a news bit from a trusted analyst, there’s hope on the horizon that someday soon, Apple iPhones and Android smartphones will stop being separated—by charging cables, at least. (Don’t expect any parity on messaging any time soon!)

This week on Gadgettes, we dive into the most recent Apple leaks. With WWDC 2022 fast approaching, we figured it’d be an appropriate time to round up some of what we’ve heard in the rumor mill.

In addition to the USB-C tidbit, there’s chatter about everything from what the Apple Watch Series 8 will be capable of to whether iOS 16 will see much of a significant bump. We’ll also get into some of the patents revealed over the past few weeks, including a Surface Pro-like keyboard for the iPad and a foldable iPhone with a color E Ink display.

Then, Sony does it again, grooving into our hearts with its new WH-1000XM5 headphones. The model name doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but you won’t care once you realize these are some of the best headphones money can buy. We’ll talk about why these headphones are worth their $400 price point. We’ll also get into the caveats of headphones like these and why the WH-1000XM5’s new folding mechanism might make you go for the last-generation model.

Finally, we’ll defend printers. We’ll explain why you might consider springing for an all-in-one printer for your at-home print shop. The compact HP Deskjet 6700 is an all-in-one that comes in a few colors and pairs rather nicely with the Amazon Basics laminator if you need to make reusable worksheets! HP also offers Instant Ink, which ships you ink cartridges so that you don’t have to worry about securing more when they run out.

Listen to this week’s episode of Gadgettes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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