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Nest rival: Smartmobes will decide who survives the Internet of Stuff war

Ecobee CEO on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, thermostats and more

Dealing with the mess that is Internet of Stuff standards

The critical element that everyone is trying to figure out in the IoT market is what standards you should incorporate into your products and which ecosystems you should decide to work with.

At the moment, it's a mess. There are the IoT-specific standards ZigBee and Z-Wave. There are the more general but applicable standards, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. And then there are the assorted proprietary and non-proprietary overlays: Google's new Thread, Insteon, HomeKit, Smart Things, and also Ecobee.

Lombard is confident of one thing: the smartphone is the key to much of it. "The technology in phones will have a significant impact on the decisions we make on connected devices," he stated. "You have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in billions of smartphones, so if you include that in your product you have a step up."

He sees IoT devices breaking down into two basic groups: those that run on AC power and those that run on batteries. "If the device is powered, the answer is Wi-Fi. The user experience is just great. And hubs [needed to work with other standards] are a real challenge; trying to persuade people to spend an extra $50."

As for battery-powered objects, "the jury is out", he says, agreeing with pretty much everyone else in the market. "Is it Z-Wave or ZigBee or Bluetooth? I don't know. But that's why we have included an expansion slot in the Ecobee."

The company is focused on integrating its products with the ecosystems that are already out there: Apple's HomeKit, Samsung's Smart Things, and start-up Wink ("the key is the eco-system"). But Lombard isn't sure the approach that some in the market are taking is the right one.

Scenario setting

Assuming you have multiple smart devices from multiple manufacturers that manage to talk to one another. The big question becomes: how does the consumer manage all of this without being overwhelmed? How do you change the lighting, music, and heating to what you want without having to go into three different apps and select three different settings?

The answer, many feel, is the creation of "scenarios." For example, Insteon walked us around its show home in San Francisco a few weeks ago and demoed its system's interactivity with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek "Romance" button that affected 26 elements in the home to create a soothing environment. Similar scenario setups are used by other manufacturers, whether for "movie night," "bedtime," or whatever typical human experience you want to program.

"The early adopter crowd is very keen on the idea of scenarios," Lombard says. "But it's not clear where the value is in the next wave of products. A lighting system adds complexity; it sounds cool but I don't know if people would actually use it."

Lombard argues for a slightly different approach of "curated experiences," where companies try to help consumers figure out what they want to accomplish and then give them the tools to achieve it. It's less prescriptive and accounts for the fact that at the moment, most of the devices in your home simply will not speak to one another.

And to make that approach work, Ecobee is doing two things. First, it is putting out an open API so that developers and other companies can work with its products (as most other IoT vendors do). Second, it is trying to make a personal connection with its customers so that it can act as a kind of IoT advisor going forward.

Lombard tells us he would like to see Ecobee become a source of information for related products. "One of the opportunities we have is in collecting the data. We have energy monitoring technology and we have a Home IQ system that provides insights on your energy use. So, say you have a 2,000 square foot house made in 1960. We should be able to tell you the right sort of upgrades for you – and how long they would take to pay for themselves."

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