Former Apple engineer Tony Fadell, referred to as the “father of iPod”, yesterday announced a 100-person startup called Nest which is funded by the likes of Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Shasta Ventures, Intertrust, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Generationthat. Their first project? Re-inventing the plain old thermostat appliance. CNET has the story:

With its Learning Thermostat, Nest is going all in and telling the world that a ubiquitous but hard-to-master device that hasn’t had a major redesign in decades is due for a shot of iPod and iPhone design magic. Fadell and his team think they’ve come up with an alternative that’s easy to use and that learns from what we do. Along the way, the company thinks it could cut 20 percent to 30 percent off the average household’s $1,000 or so in annual energy bills.

As you can see in the above illustration, Fadell and Matt Rogers, his engineering sidekick from the Apple days, have taken some design clues from the iPod. Their thermostat uses a click wheel of sorts and has a display to make selections. And of course there will be an app for that, allowing both iOS and Android device owners to remotely control their home heating or cooling systems. You can also control it from afar using your computer or tablet. The beautiful user interface is the brainchild of user interface designer Mike Matas, another former Apple guy and co-founder of Push Pop Press.

That’s not all: The Learning Thermostat, as the name suggests, learns about your energy consumption behavior. It combines this data with weather forecast and current weather conditions, thereby maximizing energy efficiency. After a week of regular use, it picks up your usage habits.

“Nest never stops learning, even as your life and the seasons change”, says a blurb for the official promo clip on YouTube. And anyone can install one of those themselves. In fact, Fadell and his team plan on marketing the device directly to the consumer market. The $249 gadget goes on sale in November at Best Buy stores and is compatible with up to 85 percent of American household HVAC systems. More info and two additional clips after the break.

Fadell stepped down as senior vice president of the iPod division Apple in 2008, but stayed on as a special consultant to Steve Jobs. In March of 2010 he severed final ties with Apple. A recent Business Week profile of Apple’s iOS chief Scott Forstall asserted that Fadell actually left Apple after clashing repeatedly with Forstall. However, Fadell denied allegations and the article was appended with his statement:

I inherited the competitive iPhone OS project from Jon Rubenstein and Steve Sakoman when they left Apple. I quickly shuttered the project after assessing that a modified Mac OS was the right platform to build the iPhone upon. It was clear that to create the best smartphone product possible, we needed to leverage the decades of technology, tools and resources invested in Mac OS while avoiding the unnecessary competition of dueling projects.

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