The smart thermostat market is a crowded, complex mess of competing designs, features, and ideas. Some designers are integrating popular assistant tools like Alexa. Some are integrating with smart home standards like Z-wave to expand their ecosystem. There’s some out there that are just trying to enter the market before it becomes too crowded, regardless of how ready they are to do it.
Last spring, Johnson Controls released a new smart thermostat of their own: Glas. They created a cool, futuristic design. There’s a transparent screen, support for multiple assistants, and a rare sensor in these thermostats: an air quality sensor. On paper, this sounds like a winner in the smart thermostat market, but there’s a catch: the software’s not quite perfect yet.
Johnson has managed to put out the hardware of a really cool device, but it’s real promise is in the future, the features yet to come. Right now, reviewers and customers alike have come across some short comings we all hope Johnson will address in software updates in the months to come. Users have complained about the lack of support for remote sensors, the lack of custom events, and other shortcomings in just how much of their smart thermostat they can control.
We’ve already seen over the past few months some improvements. Customers’ complaints have gone from the thermostat having bugs or being slow, to a desire for new features instead. The good news is, these are all growing pains. Smart thermostats aren’t limited to the features they ship with. New software means new features and capabilities.
This is an advantage and an achilles heel of the smart thermostat market. New companies will break in with what they’ll bill as amazing products, but they’re not ready for prime time the day they ship. Or they’re selling them on features they don’t yet have. This has been a problem in other industries. The video games industry for example, has become infamous for the “Day One Patch.” A product ships and then takes a whole day to download updates on launch day to make it actually work.
These patches allow manufacturers to enter the markets quickly, if potentially too early. As more companies get into the smart thermostat market, it’s going to become harder and harder to stand out, to get attention from consumers. A product will begin actual manufacturing months before it ships. This is necessary to build up stock. Without stock, the product will sell out or fail to penetrate the market.
That brings us to the upside: longterm improvement. Your car will essentially ship with one set of features, and nothing shy of a mechanic or an engineer is going to add anything else to your car. If it didn’t ship with GPS, someone’s going to have to take it apart and add the feature. Your thermostat however, can receive new features on demand.
As new standards are introduced for smart homes or new ideas come to light, like new customization features are thought up, they can be seamlessly added to the product with simple updates.
The Promise of the Future
This leaves us with the Glas half empty. Johnson’s Glas is a serviceable thermostat, but it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have all the features we’d like, doesn’t do everything we want. It looks gorgeous though, and it promises to be more in the future. The hardware is there, a device built not necessarily for today but for the anticipation of tomorrow, of new code and new features. In the meantime, it’ll look amazing and already do most of the work of a smart thermostat, while we dream up ways to make it better at its job.