Ecobee may be at the forefront of the home automation market, but it faces a daunting competitor: in trying to establish its smart Wi-Fi thermostat in the marketplace, it competes directly with Google(NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL).
That makes ecobee a clear underdog, and it is a challenge for any business to face off against a much larger rival with nearly limitless marketing power and resources. The only way to compete is to offer a better product, and ecobee thinks it has bested not just Nest, but the entire smart thermostat industry.
In a press release, co-CEO Stuart Lombard made the case for ecobee:
The industry has seen the introduction of new thermostats that seem modern but have the same flaw that thermostats did fifty years ago -- they only measure the temperature in one location, often the hallway. The Ecobee3 thermostat and remote sensors resolve this fundamental design flaw and deliver comfort to the rooms that really matter.
You can practically picture him dropping the mic after delivering a line like that, which effectively writes off every other competitor in the smart thermostat space. The message is bold and aggressive, which is probably the only tactic you can afford to take as the upstart player.
What is ecobee?
At the moment, ecobee offers only one product, the ecoboee3 Wi-Fi smart thermostat, which comes with a wireless remote and can be operated via mobile devices, including Apple iPhones and Watches. The company describes the $249.95 device as follows:
Designed for homes with more than one room, the wi-fi connected ecobee3 thermostat and remote sensors measure temperature and occupancy in multiple locations, resulting in increased comfort when you're home and energy savings when you're away. In addition, customers can monitor and control their ecobee3 thermostat anytime and from anywhere, using their smartphone or tablet.
That sounds a lot like every other smart thermostat, but the company makes an effort to distinguish its product as the press release continues.
The beautiful and incredibly smart ecobee3 touchscreen thermostat with innovative remote sensors address varying temperatures in your home, and unlike "learning thermostats", the ecobee3 won't need weeks of constant adjustment to make your home comfortable. Rather, the ecobee3 will improve your comfort and deliver energy savings right out of the box. In fact, ecobee customers save an average of 23% on their heating and cooling costs.
All press releases throw around words like "innovative" and "beautiful," but ecobee3 is actually a slick looking device that attempts to apply common sense to its "smart" operation. The thermostat uses remote sensors to measure temperatures in multiple locations to address hot and cold spots in the home and "deliver comfort in the rooms that matter most."
The sensors also allow the unit to know which rooms actually have people in them, so temperatures will adjust automatically. Users can also manually program the device, but the sensors will work as an override for times you expect to be home but are not, and vice versa.
"The more sensors you add, the smarter your ecobee3 becomes at delivering comfort where it matters and savings where it counts," the company wrote.
How does this compare?
The ecobee3 and the Nest Second Generation Learning Thermostat are effectively the same price. Both have four-star user ratings on Amazon, though the Nest has thousands of reviews while its smaller rival has hundreds. WifiThermostatReviews.com approves of both platforms but gives the edge to the ecobee3:
"There's no question, the ecobee3 is going on my wall. It looks stunning and simply just works as compared to the Nest which has to be taught and the [Honeywell] Lyric which hates learning. The remote sensors also save money over an actual zoned system which can be pricy."
Those sentiments were repeated in a number of reviews on Amazon, where users often cited the ecobee3 as having an advantage over Nest due to it not being dependent upon the location of the thermostat.
"My thermostat is not 'centrally located' and it's likely that Nest's\Lyric's single proximity sensor would frequently fail to detect when folks are home, thereby incorrectly entering 'away' mode," wrote Jason E. Smith in his four-star review. "This seems to be the single most common complaint from Nest users."
A tough hill to climb
Though ecobee has delivered a well-regarded product, it needs to do much more than that to take on rivals like Google and even Honeywell. Still, ecobee3 appears to take a very sensible approach to thermostat automation that creates a responsive environment.
It is great that ecobee3 and its rival can be controlled via smartphone, but it may be even more ideal when users do not have to worry about the settings at all. With its sensor package, ecobee3 seems to do a fine job on its own.
That may not be enough to knock off its larger rivals, but it should win ecobee a dedicated consumer base to help spread the word.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple. He has a regular thermostat. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.