Central heating where you can’t control the temperature?!

man standing next to radiator looking coldI’ve recently bought a new boiler.  But the method of controlling the central heating is so poor as to be barely usable.

It’s a system called Owl Intuition.  It’s wi-fi controlled and promises the ability to control your heating via a website and apps, get graphs of heating use, and monitor electricity consumption.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  But here’s what you get.

1.  No way to alter the temperature up or down

Owl Intuition wall controlsYou’d think this was the absolute minimum requirement of any central heating system.  But this system has no way of adjusting the temperature up and down.  You have to pre-program a ‘comfort’ temperature for a particular time period via a website.  After that you get 2 options:

  • On (‘comfort’) / off (‘standby’)
  • Boost temperature by 1° for 1 hour.

That’s it.  You can’t turn the temperature down by any amount, only off.  You can’t turn it up more than the pre-set boost amount.  (The actual boost amount is programmable via the website but within limits.)

So if you get visitors and want to make them comfortable by turning the heating up or down, tough.  The only way to adjust the ‘comfort’ temperature is to log onto the website and change the programmed comfort temperature for that time period.  But then of course you have to remember to change it back again otherwise the following week you could be in for a surprise.

2 Flaky website

You should be able to access the website via any device.  But I’ve found the website has not performed correctly on some devices.  You can’t log in on 2 devices at the same time and despite asking the system to remember my log in details, it rarely does.

I currently can’t log in on Safari on my iPad mini – it tells me I’m using the wrong log-in or password, which is not true.  When I could log in it was flaky – after changing something I’d get blank information boxes that I couldn’t get rid of.

All a bit worrying when your central heating depends on this system.

Heating graph screenshot3.  ‘Historical’ graphs of one week only

Yes, the promised graphs of historical heating use are for one week only.  Not particularly historical.  So you don’t have the ability to compare eg this year with last.

You can download a copy of the graph or a CSV file of the data (which gives you a huge dataset of 8 temperature readings a minute).  To get any kind of long-term analysis you’d have to remember to download the week’s data at exactly the same time each week.

4.  Apps with no added functionality

Owl Intuition app screenshotAll you get from the phone or iPad app is:

  • A readout of the current temperature, the required temperature and what the current ‘status’ is (whether it’s on or off, at ‘comfort’ or ‘warming up’)
  • the same controls that are up the wall. The ability to turn on/off or boost for a limited time. For some odd reason the app boost is set to 2° and cannot be changed.

The supposed advantage of the app is that if you’re coming home early you can switch the heating on in advance.  But if that’s the only advantage I’m disappointed.  And the Android app on my phone hasn’t worked for days…

The fact that you can’t control the temperature by the manual controls on the wall mean you’re desperate for more functionality on the apps (and website).  You should be able to click the temperature and set it to what you want it to be.  Or have up/down buttons to change the required temperature.

5.  Monitor electricity consumption

Now that sounds useful.  But guess what! It’s an optional extra so I don’t have it.

Conclusion

The program timer allows you to set the ‘comfort’ temperature to a tenth of a degree.  Why then can you not adjust the temperature to that level of accuracy by any other means?

I’ve been living with this system for 3 weeks and I have yet to find this elusive ‘comfort’ temperature.  It assumes you have the same routine every day, every week.  There’s no way to override it depending on how you’re feeling or what you’re doing (heavy housework vs sitting watching TV for example).  So I’m continuously logging onto the website and adjusting the program timer. And if you have visitors or someone is house sitting?  You’d have to give them all your passwords to get into the system.

Overall I think this is a big UX design fail.  Did they test this on actual users?  Did those users really prefer not to have control over the temperature in their own home?  In what situation would that be desirable at all?

I’m all for making user interfaces simple and easy to use, but not to the point where required functionality is lost.

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