Smart t-stats… & Tributary vs. Distributary patterns for interface and service

Recommended tech-laden bleck-factor buzzword framework

On the theme of thermostats, I was telling a friend about today’s news that Amazon’s Alexa Fund invested in smart home thermostat Ecobee. As Stephen Lacey reports, “The voice-activated tech wars are upon us — and thermostats may be a battleground.” [Shout out to his weekly podcast, The Energy Gang.]

This of course flowed into the nerdy conversation: Which is better, a Centralized Interface or Decentralized Service? And what does the counter effect look like?

Which is better: Be the Interface or be the Service? Sounds like a motivational quote

From the end user’s perspective, today’s manifestations of this framework follow a distributary pattern:

[A] Centralized Interface = AI assistants| Decentralized Services = Each new skill

Example: Amazon Alexa, Google Home

[B] Centralized Interface = Your smartphone| Decentralized Services = Each app

Example: Apple iPhone

[C] Centralized Interface = A specific app| Decentralized Services = Each feature of said app

Example: WeChat


On the flipside — from the operator’s perspective, the tributary effect takes hold

[A] Decentralized Interface = Cloud-based services or sensor inputs| Centralized Service = Hosting platform

Example: AWS, Azure

[B] Decentralized Interface = Smartphone or AI assistant vendors| Centralized Service = Manufacturing factory

Example: Foxconn

[C] Decentralized Interface = Sensor-based data inputs | Centralized Service = ML platform

Example: IBM Watson


As the pendulum of tech adoption swings back and forth, which patterns seem most applicable?

Back to the voice-activated thermostat. Why does *type* of control get to dominate the conversation these days, rather than *impact* of control? We now celebrate the fact that the thermostat can be voice controlled. But what about remembering what a thermostat actually does: feedback control, measuring temperature to then control heating and cooling to match a desired setpoint. Let’s not forget about the impact of the services in our excitement of the interface.

^Case in point… my excitement for the thermostat overshadows the impact of its services, heating and cooling…

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