Pretty isn't a term that I have had to use much in my time as a technology analyst. But pretty is in many ways the battleground for Lyric and Nest thermostats.
Despite a long and storied history, when it comes to environmental monitoring and control, what Honeywell has been forced to concede is that home temperature control is not what has driven Nest adoption. Nest (a start-up that launched its first product in 2011 and earlier this year was acquired by Google for US$3.2 billion) has built its success around visual design, connectivity, and simplicity. The Nest thermostat is a consumer electronics device as much as a functional piece of heating control. Like a consumer device, it represents an off-the-shelf purchase at an attractive price point. It features a design aesthetic that people want to see on a wall in their homes. Its simplicity means that it can be self-installed, and its learning feature means minimal interaction as it operates. The promise of lower heating/cooling costs is an additional financial or environmentally conscious bonus.
In contrast, the home thermostat industry has long been about functionality, degrees of complexity, and professional installation. What the Lyric addresses is this key shift in the reach and appeal of home thermostats if they are designed for consumers to purchase and install as they wish rather than the contractors who have traditionally sold and installed them as part of a larger heating/cooling system contract.
Honeywell clearly understands the shift. Not only has it designed an appealing, connected, and simple smart thermostat with Lyric, it has put a wealth of marketing behind it to ensure that news of its release matches that of a popular consumer device. The Lyric team at Honeywell has been involved in pre-briefing the press and analysts for months (me included), not just in the trade press but in mainstream titles. The Lyric is also supported by a separate, dedicated website that beautifully presents the device and a wealth of related information.
It is a product and a launch that loudly proclaims that the thermostat market has changed and that Honeywell is onboard. It also provides a template for more and more home devices that will have to compete not just on functionality but on design, connectivity, and simplicity. Further out, standalone devices such as the Nest or the Lyric will also have to offer integration with additional systems and devices.
With its depth of engineering and technical knowledge as well as established distribution network, there is every reason to expect wide adoption of the Lyric among consumers. Even so, there remains a nod to the company's traditional partners, with professional heating and cooling contractors getting to sell the devices ahead of August retail availability. If Honeywell can entice both contractors and consumers, then Nest has serious competition. But it is competition across new battle lines where pretty matters more and more.