Published Date 10/11/18 7:00 AM
Today it seems perfectly normal to get out our smartphone and with a simple touch of an icon, check our email, check the weather forecast, find a good restaurant for dinner tonight and invite our friends in a chat group. Our daily tasks are constantly facilitated by what those simple coloured icons let us do. Yet the technology behind them is relatively young: indeed, most of us will remember that the revolution began with the first smartphone presented by Steve Jobs just 10 years ago, together with his famous speech. We realised then that our mobile phones were not just for making phone calls or sending messages, but that we could use them to manage all of our tasks. Since then, marketplaces around the world have been filled with new proposals, and it is estimated that at the end of 2017 more than 4 million applications were available. Some apps are reserved for small groups, others are used more widely, yet whatever the case, data confirm their global spread: in Q2 2018, the number of downloads exceeded 25 billion.
So many different apps, yet with at least one common key feature: usability. Intrinsically linked to the use of a mobile device, users expect to interact with the app in a simple and immediate way. To achieve this goal, apps are highly specialised: an individual app manages a specific user profile and has a specific purpose. Consequently, there are apps designed for different age groups, for different degrees of expertise, for different habits of people who live in different places. There are also different apps devoted to different tasks. All of this can be confirmed by the statistics regarding the publications by one single company. In order to reach its target market, companies in most cases propose multiple apps.
In the HVAC/R market too, this revolution has led to the identification of specific target profiles and purposes. The first target profile, identified in the most widespread marketing campaigns by the main companies, is the end user, often the buyer of the goods or services offered. Owners of units or appliances, especially in the home market, can use these new applications to replace their old remote control with a simple touch on their smartphone, and control their system whether at home or away. The connected thermostat is thus part of the home automation trend, and indeed was one of the first remote-controlled devices. The development of these apps is mainly focused on the graphics, so as to make interaction with the unit or appliance engaging. Functionally they are relatively simple, because the sole need is remote configuration of the main system parameters.
Another target profile involves very influential players in the unit sales chain: system installers and maintenance technicians. Many proposals are available to them to simplify system design and maintenance. These applications have different purposes:
- During design, identify the correct characteristics of the various system components based on required cooling capacity, type of refrigerant, application...
- For purchasing, select the correct part numbers and purchase the products needed for installation
- During installation, provide simple access to technical information, such as installation manuals and set-up guides
- During maintenance, identify the activities needed to guarantee correct system operation
Often these apps simply make it easy to access information, technical and commercial features that are already included in the documentation available to installers. However without such tools, the information would take a long time to find and in some cases require a whole series of questions to different people, some of whom are not always easy to reach. The advantage is therefore evident, with a reduction in costs for maintenance technicians and improved quality for the end user.
Thanks to today’s increasingly widespread connectivity between HVAC/R systems, new apps are also emerging that can provide information online by interacting directly with the unit. What for end users was previously a simple remote control, is now a control unit in the hands of the service technician. The new apps can thus precisely select the information of interest to maintenance technicians for the specific installation, making their work in the field even more effective. Sharing of information across a wide network of remote experts from the equipment manufacturer’s technical service and using shared repositories that are up-to-date at all times, makes teamwork simple and immediate.
These apps are not yet widespread, however they certainly represent the new frontier in the future of HVAC/R. The challenge will be to identify the most appropriate business model for the sector, so as to transform this new technological platform into a source of income.