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Temperature Sensor Vendors: Innovation Or Stagnation?

Jun 14, 2013

Temperature Sensor Vendors: Innovation or Stagnation?

The sensor market has been discussed in a variety of innovation circles, mostly focused around the future of measurement and big data. The global environmental sensor and monitoring market was valued at $11.1 billion in 2010. This market is expected to reach $11.3 billion in 2011 and $15.3 billion in 2016, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.5% between 2011 and 2016. 

Many people are asking the same question, "what can I measure (with new sensor technology), and how can I benefit from it?". Whether the benefit is financial (driving down energy costs to save money, for example), or simply informational (measurement of processes and efficiency), the sensor market now boasts a variety of sensor types and options for buyers.

And yet, the news of innovation often seems to come from the hardware side. Temperature sensor vendors, in particular, are highlighting their innovations from this angle. As an example, Monnit, a large player in the wireless sensor market, has unveiled two new hardware products to add alongside their comprehensive product lineup. And while these product innovations are significant, there's still something missing, something to be desired.

What's missing? Let's back up a bit. In the environmental sensor market, cloud-based online dashboards are invaluable to remote viewers (or those offsite that wish to see the device status). These dashboards can consolidate the information from the sensor hardware into a digestible and user-friendly interface. The software can also spin graphs, charts, and reports for demonstrating compliance. Still, the software seems to dwell in stagnation behind the hardware announcements for many sensor vendors. In general, software upgrades seem to be low on the priority list, and product flexibility can run stale. After all, you can't have smart hardware coupled with dumb software, imagine an iPhone 5 running iPhone OS 1.0 as its base operating system. On the flip side, imagine if iOS 7 was not compatible with existing iPhone 4S models. Both sound silly, right? The question is, can hardware innovation be released without supplemental software upgrades or updates? 

The answer is, plainly, no. New sensor and device hardware is a newsworthy announcement, but software upgrades can be equally as important. Apple seems to understand this; hardware updates (usually in the Fall) are often followed by software upgrades soon after. The understanding is that new hardware is best optimized for use by supplemental, upgraded software (that isn't years old). 

Temperature sensor vendors (as a whole) rely upon these software updates and upgrades to keep new devices up to speed with legacy systems and programs, but also for development of enhanced capabilities. A vendor cannot simply introduce a new product with the same smorgasbord of offerings and features in the software. New software features, such as escalation alerts (establishing an alert hierarchy) and corrective action notation (for compliance purposes), are two particular software updates that can really expand the flexibility of new (and legacy) hardware. Current customers may feel alienated or "locked in" if the new software isn't compatible with an older device. New features are great, but if they're only for new purchasers, they're virtually meaningless (and perhaps insulting) to established customers.

Ultimately, an innovative sensor vendor will couple new hardware with a software package that integrates new features and capabilities for the new device, but also allows integration with existing products and services. Software changes should be focused on the entire product lineup and not solely for the product-of-the-week. It's easy to be distracted by the press releases and the general enthusiasm behind the product launches, but upgrades and expanded device capabilities (software based) are the real drivers of innovation in the sensor market. 

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