How A Little Competition Made Thermostats Sexy

Guest author Alex Salkever is head of product marketing and business development at An earlier version of this piece first appeared on his Tumblr.

Until the Nest, the thermostat had no sex appeal. Then Tony Fadell and his team built something beautiful and functional that also happened to save money and make a house more livable. It was so sexy that Google bought it for $3 billion. The pull of the Nest was such that a significant chunk of buyers came from design-conscious European countries—well before Nest sold or marketed in the EU.

See also: Honeywell And Vivint’s New Thermostat Systems: Openness Is Overrated

Now we have the Lyric from Honeywell, and it looks pretty good. What’s most interesting about the Lyric isn’t its Wi-Fi connectivity and remote control via smartphone, but geo-fencing. While the Nest “learns” user behavior, the Lyric will change your home’s temperature as you approach, based on your smartphone’s location. This is smart, because while people’s behavior may be generally consistent, it isn’t always so.

Boring Got Cool—And Fast

The most important thing about all this to me is the impact of competition and innovation. For the most part, the innovation around the Nest and the Lyric is industrial design, user interface and smartphone integration. These devices don’t boast breakthrough new materials or hyper-fast chips.

But they both use existing technology to tackle boring markets previously deemed unaddressable. (Sexy thermostat? Pass the oatmeal, please). What’s more, Nest drove Honeywell to answer with a comparable product.

I don’t doubt Honeywell has had Nest-like devices in testing labs or even on store shelves for ages. But they obviously couldn’t have been that Nest-like because, well, we never heard of them. So with Apple-like marketing genius and gorgeous design, Nest cracked the code on how to get people excited about thermostats. Seeing this success, Honeywell had to respond and has now done so forcefully.

The company also aspires to great things in the Internet of Things. And unlike Nest, Honeywell has decades of experience putting thermostats and other home-management devices into the hands of contractors, construction firms, and home improvement retails who will ultimately drive the nascent Sexy Thermostat Market.

I love this story because it has a huge upstart winner (Nest), a challenged incumbent with some fight in it (Honeywell), a happy customer (you and me) and a great societal benefit (more efficient energy usage). In fact, one guy—Tony Fadell—could end up single-handedly instigating a massive shift in an enormous but previously stagnant multi-billion-dollar industry.

The other key lesson I take from this, and something I see everywhere? The solutions to most great social challenges lie well within reach.

Maybe it’s rockstar marketing of the Nest. Maybe it’s better distribution of water treatment technologies. Maybe its special financing to help alternative energy technologies with long payback cycles get over the hump. Maybe it’s ways of leveraging lightweight distribution technologies like Uber or social sharing apps like Relay Rides to better utilize existing transportation capacity.

And just maybe it’s something so boring that we can’t imagine it will be sexy. Like the thermostat. Which no one will ever look at the same way again.

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