Nest rival: Smartmobes will decide who survives the Internet of Stuff war
Ecobee CEO on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, thermostats and more
What are the advantages, if any?
And that leads back to what the Ecobee3 has over its more famous competitor, the Nest: multiple sensors.
The company has developed (and trademarked) the cheeky tagline: "For homes with more than one room." It's a reference to the fact that other thermostats typically have a single temperature measurement point – which can prove to be an ineffective way of getting the right temperature in various parts of your house. The bigger the house, the bigger the problem.
Ecobee has a sensor approach hardwired into its product and one additional sensor, complete with motion detector, comes with the thermostat when you buy it. A set of another two sensors costs $79 – as opposed to the $249 cost of a new thermostat, and the additional wiring and installation hassles that involves.
The sensors are small, easy to use, and use a proprietary standard to communicate over the 900MHz band with the main thermostat. Written into the hardware are a range of options for dealing with that sensor data. You can have it average the temperature across all sensors; you can exclude sensors (like outdoor ones, for example); you can make it rely on the motion detectors; or, in the latest software update you can make the thermostat use different sensors at different times of day – for example, to configure a room as a home office during the day and a bedroom at night.
This is possible with third-party systems and other thermostats. For example, the Wally water-and-temperature sensors work with the Nest thermostat in the same way. But the Ecobee does it well and does it seamlessly.
By gathering data from all over the house and combining it with other data (such as the temperature outside on a given day), the Ecobee is also theoretically able to tell you all sorts of things about your house: how well insulated it is; how fast it heats up or cools down; and so on.
Lombard says that from this data, Ecobee may be able to advise you on things like whether to get a new air conditioning unit. The idea is that smart products will start to offer more than simply moving the control screen from a wall to your phone.
Don't say the C-word
As to the other improvement that Ecobee feels it has over the Nest and other competitors, it's insisting on the dreaded C-wire.
If you've never installed a thermostat, you probably have no idea what a C-wire is, but it is increasingly important as thermostats get smarter and especially when they use Wi-Fi. The C-wire provides low-voltage power to a thermostat, but it often doesn't exist in older homes.
That wasn't a problem until recently: thermostats use little power and so a couple of AA batteries would last you a couple of years. But Wi-Fi is so power hungry that some smart thermostats have developed a clever workaround where power is "sipped" from the existing connections.
The problem is that with so many hugely varied installations, this approach often fails – as Nest's support boards can testify. Without a C-wire, the power-sipping can accidentally turn your heating on, or worse, run down the battery until the whole system turns off. It happens in an estimated 2–8 per cent of cases, but when it does, customers get very unhappy.
And so, along with its extra sensor, Ecobee provides a power extender kit that connects up at the equipment end and provides an extra wire to be used for power at the thermostat end. It's easy to install (Lombard tells us it takes the average DIYer 30-45 minutes to install this and the thermostat, and that it's a 50-50 split between people that do it themselves and those that get a professional to do it for them). And it means that the Ecobee is less constrained than the Nest in what it can do, because it doesn't have to worry as much about power usage.
And if there's one thing that everyone in the internet of things market can agree on, it's that power usage is everything. ®