A thing the Internet of Things doesn't need

Gibbs is massively disappointed in the Universal Internet Thermostat manufactured by the Hunter Fan Company

The concept of the Internet of Things is a powerful one. You take a device that can be monitored and or controlled in the physical world and connect it to the 'Net such that it has a virtual doppelganger online. This not only allows for things in the real world to be controlled by computers, it also allows for optimization of how, where, and when they are used.

While this sounds great, whether it's great in practice depends on how the whatever-it-is is virtualized. Case in point, the Universal Internet Thermostat produced by the Hunter Fan Company.

The Hunter Fan Company's Universal Internet Thermostat Model 44917FUTURE TECH: 10 technologies that will change the world in the next 10 years

The architecture of Hunter's Universal Internet Thermostat system has the physical thermostat connect to your network via a private 900MHz wireless link to an included "dongle" which you plug into your switch or router via Ethernet.

Here's where I first became disappointed: Wi-Fi support? Nope. Z-Wave support? Nope. Any way to connect to and control the thermostat via the local network? Nope. Any way to integrate the thermostat with home automation systems? Yet again, nope.

Anyway, once you've set up an account on the Web service, if all goes well and the dongle has managed to connect to the 'Net, you can configure the thermostat.

And here's a problem: If the thermostat can't connect to the my.hunterfan.com service you can only use it as a regular thermostat; you can't define schedules, you can't even set the time on the thermostat! In fact, as of this writing, you can't even set the time using anything but the iOS app; bizarrely the Web interface doesn't yet provide this facility!

Installation is fairly simple, although the claim it can be done in five minutes is not realistic. By the time you've figured out the wiring (the number of ways a furnace can be connected to a thermostat is ridiculous), then registered on the my.hunter.com site, then figured out the online user interface, 20 to 30 minutes will have passed.

Another issue is that when you access your thermostat via either the Web interface or the iOS app there's a long delay while the service connects to your thermostat, interrogates it, and then reports back to you. When you're out of the house, that's not that big an issue, but when you're 10 feet from the thermostat it's just lame.

The device's physical design is also lame (seven segment displays are so last century), but with their Web service interface Hunter has made a bigger mistake ... and it is one that many vendors make: They have mixed up operational control with configuration and the result is a clunky interface. The iOS interface is somewhat cleaner but I just noticed that my iOS app is showing alert conditions that aren't shown on the Web interface and aren't real!

The Hunter Fan Company's Universal Internet Thermostat iOS user interface

The Hunter Fan Company's Universal Internet Thermostat iOS user interface

I could go on at length about the terrible user management and the fact that Hunter wants to charge you $10 per year to use my.hunterfan.com, and if you don't pay there will be no way to configure your thermostat schedule, but I'm running out of space.

The sad thing is that, even with its leaden physical design and poor communications architecture, the Universal Internet Thermostat could have been a fairly good product, but here we have a product that was apparently developed by blinkered engineers who don't grok the 'Net.

So, priced at $99.99 the Hunter Fan Universal Internet Thermostat isn't really part of the Internet of Things and gets a Gearhead rating of 1 out of 5.

Gibbs is disappointed in Ventura, Calif. Your emotional turmoil to gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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