Honeywell killed off its learning thermostat 20 years ago

Honeywell's thermostat with Opower software

Honeywell (s HON), one of the world’s largest thermostat makers, tells me that twenty years ago it tested out thermostats that can learn the home owner’s behavior and adapt the heating and cooling accordingly, but ultimately decided that consumers didn’t take to them, and would rather control their thermostat themselves.

I asked Honeywell’s President of its Environmental and Combustion Controls division, Beth Wozniak, in an interview if Honeywell was interested in making learning thermostats, because there’s been so much discussion about the startup Nest, which has created what it calls the world’s first learning thermostat.

“We found that consumers prefer to control the thermostat, rather than being controlled by the thermostat,” said Wozniak. Instead of learning thermostats, Honeywell is focused on adding intelligence to digital and connected thermostats through simple UI, mobile apps, and partnerships like its one with Opower.

Opower will be providing the analytics and data to help Honeywell use home and building thermostats for demand response programs, where utilities can ask home owners to turn down their heating and cooling slightly during peak times of day. The Opower thermostats are being piloted with utilities right now, including at PG&E. The Opower software will also be used to create new ways for the home owner to save money on their energy bill, and Wozniak says by the end of the year the partnership will launch other products too.

For Honeywell, connected thermostats are still a small part of the company’s overall thermostat sales. While Wozniak declined to say what percent or what volume of Honeywell’s thermostat sales are connected thermostats, she said it’s the very early days of the connected thermostat market. Honeywell sells a whole host of other connected home products such as humidifiers and security systems, and a “total connected home system.”

Who knows if Nest and its learning thermostat will one day make a dent in the thermostat market, but Wozniak acknowledges that the startup has brought some much-needed attention to consumer thermostats in general. “Cell phones and tablets have set a whole new bar for how things can be connected.”