Microsoft follows Google’s lead, cancels Hohm energy service

On Thursday, Microsoft announced that it was shutting down its home energy monitoring service, Hohm. The move comes just days after Google announced that it was discontinuing its equivalent service, PowerMeter. Google’s cancellation was coupled with the termination of its medical software, Google Health; so far, there’s no indication that Microsoft intends to cancel its equivalent offering, Health Vault.

Both Google and Microsoft entered the energy field several years ago at a time when it appeared that it had significant growth potential. Many utilities were beginning to offer smart meters and other services that could give home users finer-grained information on and control of their energy use. Rising energy prices also seemed likely to motivate consumers to exert greater control over how they used their power.

But the services suffered from the fact that, initially at least, there were very few smart meters on the market, and both companies had trouble lining up partners within the utilities, which ultimately control access to customer data. Incompatible data formats and a profusion of different smart metering hardware made providing a single, consistent interface on energy usage a significant challenge. 

 For most consumers, Microsoft’s Hohm service offered little more than generic advice on energy saving techniques; Google didn’t even offer that. (Read our review of Hohm.) Both services allowed users to enter information on energy use manually; it’s not clear how easy it will be for these consumers to do anything with the information they have entered.

There are other services out there that could provide migration routes for data in Hohm and PowerMeter. Google and Microsoft, in abandoning the field, have turned it back over to some smaller companies like Tendril, which has been exclusively devoted to energy monitoring software and has done a better job of forging functional partnerships with utilities and hardware makers. If the market ever does take off, Microsoft (and/or Google) could simply purchase one of these companies and end up with a far more functional service than they have developed to this point.

The timing of the announcement suggests that Microsoft only developed Hohm for strategic reasons. Given that Google killed its health service at the same time, this would seem to raise the possibility that Microsoft’s Health Vault might not be long for this world. But the medical records market is quite different; many hospitals have already embraced electronic medical records, and Health Vault has already achieved some significant wins, such as its use by New York-Presbyterian Hospital, which includes Columbia and Cornell’s medical schools. So it seems unlikely that Health Vault will follow Hohm to the mortuary.

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