Does the World Need a Cisco Energy Dashboard?

Want to see what the future of home energy management looks like? Cisco’s newly-revealed Home Energy Controller (HEC) isn’t it. The device isn’t bad-looking, and seems functional enough, but there are plenty of other energy dashboards already hitting the market or waiting in the wings. Instead of creating new hardware, Cisco ought to concentrate on wooing owners of web-enabled smartphones. Here’s why.

Thanks, but I Already Have an iPad

Well, not me personally (yet), but according to the sales figures, lots of others do. Apple has sold over three million iPads in less than three months. Give it a couple of years and some hardware revisions, and it’s not a stretch to think the iPad could reach iPhone-like levels of adoption (over 51 million to date, not including iPhone 4’s recent gangbusters launch). That’s a problem for Cisco’s touchscreen home energy device, which is only now gearing up for a small trial of 100 homes serviced by Duke Energy.

Some Cisco competitors, instead of drowning consumers in an avalanche of new screens, are pursuing a different route: cloud computing and web services that target devices like the iPad, smartphones and PCs. Google’s PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm, for instance, rely mainly on a web browser for access to their dashboards. Northampton, UK-based startup Intamac Systems recently raised nearly $6 million to, among other things, help boost its cloud computing platform for crunching home energy data. And Verizon is betting on cloud computing to open its upcoming home energy service to multiple screens. (Cisco’s HEM-linked hosted management software component does have cloud-like attributes, but it’s squarely aimed at utilities.)

To be fair, Intamac is also building a device ecosystem. However, I’m betting that in time, it will lean closer to strengthening its cloud services for the simple reason that many households have already settled on — and paid for —their energy management device of choice, even if they don’t know as much yet. What device is that? You guessed it: a web-enabled iPad, smartphone or PC.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel, Write an App for It

Check out HEC’s interface in Katie’s article at Earth2Tech or Cisco’s own product page. There’s nothing there the iPad and Droid hardware can’t handle. Cisco could forgo all the work and expense in bringing new hardware to market by simply creating a well-coded app and letting other connected devices shoulder the computational and graphical display burden. Interest in home energy apps may have been relatively meager since Clint Wheelock surveyed the market last year, but both Apple and Android handset makers have moved a lot of units and won a lot of new customers since then.

Another benefit of an app strategy: push notifications. Alerts from the local utility won’t do much good if you’re at the office and your energy dashboard is on your kitchen counter. With an app, consumers can take immediate action when their iPhones buzz in their pockets. It’s genuinely useful capabilities like these that Cisco and other IT firms seeking a foothold in the home energy management space should aim for. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather make room on my iPhone’s home screen for an app than park yet another device on my (tiny) kitchen counter.

Question of the week

Does Cisco have a shot with home energy dashboards, or should it stick with what it does best?