A tale of two thermostats: What Nest and Ecobee teach us about connected thermostats

Ecobee smart thermostat

Ecobee┬áhas sold a little less than 500,000 connected thermostats since its founding in 2007 according to its CEO Stuart Lombard. The Canadian company’s thermostats are connected, use algorithms that can help you save on your monthly utility bills and have open APIs. The company itself has a vision of the future that involves more sensors and smarter computers in the cloud, not necessarily on the wall. You probably haven’t heard of it.

On the other hand is Nest, a newer maker of connected thermostats and a company that everyone aspires to be like when it comes to the connected home. While there are no definite numbers available, the company, which was purchased by Google in February for $3.2 billion, has sold an estimated 1 million thermostats. They are beautiful blue half circles easily noticed on the walls of people’s homes. They are connected via multiple radios, learn about your habits and adjust your temperature accordingly. You probably know it exists, even if you don’t care at all about the internet of things.

nest-thermostat-featured

In pondering these two devices you can learn a lot about the internet of things and how consumers will gravitate to connected products and services. The Nest has three attributes that the average thermostat doesn’t: it’s connected, it learns and it’s beautiful. And the combination of added functionality and the cool factor are what has helped it become the standard of success for the internet of things. The learning is important to delivering a good experience, but it’s not something most consumers care about.

What has surprised me though is that most consumers don’t care about openness. I purchased an Ecobee last summer over the Nest because I’m obsessed with open APIs and the ability to tie my gadgets together. In fact, all the way back in 2012 when thinking about the criteria I have for whether or not to shell out money for a connected device the size of the ecosystem was one of my three criteria. What I didn’t count on or think about what that openness does not always equate to the size or quality of a devices’ ecosystem.

Nest

So while not open, the Nest is supported by an array of connected device platforms in an ad hoc manner, while those same companies (and others) wait for the official API. Meanwhile, the Ecobee open API and support languishes. I’ve literally been waiting months for SmartThings to deliver on the Ecobee support (it first said it would support Ecobee back in July). Meanwhile, Lombard explains that Ecobee would love to integrate with If This Then That, but that the platform is focused on more popular products that have a large number of users.

That makes sense. Integrating an API isn’t as simple as dropping some code into an app when it comes to controlling connected devices. And with more and more connected devices launching every day figuring out where to focus integration efforts is a challenge for companies that are trying to build bridges across different devices and home automation products. So I’m stuck clutching my one of 500,000 Ecobees hoping that in its next iteration, or after the Nest acquisition, that it gains enough mind share with consumers and developers to make it worth supporting.

And in the meantime I’m reminded that alone, my connected thermostat is cool and adds more convenience to my life, but that it’s going to take the existence of other products to elevate it from connected to awesome.

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