Here is the thing. Those who are passionate on these types of forums will always defend complexity over generalization. I fully expect to be disagreed with.
Yet… Companies that reduce complexities wins the long game and gets loyal customers. the IPhone, the Next and a whole slew of consumer tech like netflix etc spends disproportionate amount of time to reduce complexities for the end-user in exchange for a real pleasant out of the box experience.
Rachio falls pretty short in that regard. I had a rachio in my old house since rachio was pretty new into the market. I had two zones, i setup a monthly schedule, driven largely by time with a bit of weathershift. My tiny little strip of plants around my house did okay. I never bothered with how many inches of water came out of the nozzles, once i had the minutes right i left it to do its thing and it worked well. It still took me a month or more to get right, but it worked. I hooked up a weather sensor and it stopped watering when it rained.
Fast forward to 2020, i have moved into a house with 4 lawns, multizone veggie garden, citrus garden, several rose trees, hedges -its 1 acre of glorious back and front yard. 27 zones in total. It had 3 different timers on it, all but one was seriously old. I got my water bill and being in the SF bay area it was enormous (at least to what i was used to), think like a thousand bucks.
I hired a water auditor/irrigation specialist and he recommended new sprinkler heads, get rid of a bunch of heads for hedges and go drip line instead and we should get the efficiency up. He also recommended a smart controller, and given my experience with rachio i jumped on it and bought two of the rachio 3 16 zone controllers with dedicated rain sensors.
But dang this has been hard to program.
I use daily flexible and my lawn was not happy, yellowing and drying out. I used got a soil tester (basically a probe that cores out a long narrow sample out of the soil) and it showed that the soil was way too dry. The irrigation guy setup the iniital programming and efficiencies, soil types, crop co-efficiencies, efficiences etc and i have no doubt that he knows what he is doing. But he still couldn’t get it right on the first try. And he told me that he finds that it takes a number of weeks to get the rachios fully tuned to a garden. That seems crazy to me, we’re talking about a pretty fundamental math problem with very few variables and from what looks to me an error prone input mechanism with non-obvious effects of the incoming variables.
Is it really supposed to be this hard? Even super simple stuff like entering in nozzle inches per hour could be simplified. I had the model number of the nozzle but the app force me to go an find the data sheet and enter the nozzle inches from there. And those sheets have square and triangular number that differ but if you’re not in the industry which one do you use? From what i gathered home depot and lowes sell something like 90% of the nozzles to consumers in america. Why can’t i just tell rachio the model number and rachio figures what that means in terms of nozzle inches? or if it is variable say “typically this, but you can adjust”? Why force the user to hunt for data, and even more so why do it in such a way that it is error prone -as far as i can tell there is zero sanity checks if the user typed in something wildly wrong. Why not let me select a drip line, and ask in plain english, do you have this type of line or that type of line?
Then lets talk about crop co-efficiencies. I have to assume that 90% of homeowners just don’t want to be bother by that. Even the language is wonky. I’m sure its the scientifically correct language but you’d be pretty pissed if the nest insisted that you give the calirometric data of the air handlers temperature drop over the calculated bends? I mean seriously?
All i really want do do is to enter in “i live in northern california, i have a grass lawn.” The app can say “this is typical for your area, do you want to keep this or overrride?”
I nstead i have to go and try to reverse engineer summer vs. winter grass root depths etc. Seems like this could be so much simplified for the average person who just wants to get things started with sensible defaults.
Here is a couple of fundamental plain english questions i think the app programmer could have asked to populate the initial setting with something that gets it mostly right:
“What do you have? A lawn, roses, hedge, fruit trees, vegetable garden, draught tolerant garden or something else?”. Depending on the type of garden “What types of vegetables do you grow, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, peppers, strawberries etc”. Then depending how that is answered then ask “full sun, partial sun or shade”. And then start getting the settings right with a schedule that makes sense for the most commonly planted gardens.
on the main UI over the next two to three weeks every few days the app can popup a question. “Go to this area of the garden, take a soil sample at this depth. Does the sample look and feel look like this? (show a picture)” If more wet, then adjust the water down. If more dry then adjust the water up. Some plus and minus signs in the UI would go a long way.
This would make the system so much more pragmatic and self adjusting with a human feedback loop. Right now its decoupling the garden from the schedule using abstract algorithmics. I am 100% certain the the algorithmic is correct -but is it user friendly? Does it help make gardeners more successful? Does it save water? Do you even ask what the goal is of the garden and program the settings for that?
The current approach makes no sense at all to me now that i have a larger garden and where the rachio really should be in my corner and make it easier for me. I suggest that you try to transform the abstract experience with co-efficiencies and efficiencies into an experiential engagement where you instruct the gardener how to take samples and with that assess in a natural language guided way to determine if you’re under of over watering assuming no knowledge of water and plant science and instead infer that from natural language and ongoing observations. That’s what nest did for HVAC. you could do the same.
Finally, There are no “what-if” scenarios in rachio’s model. Why not have that? Why not let the feedback to the user be natural language so they give input and rachio responds with “This input means that for this zone rachio should increase the watering frequency or the watering time this way. Do you approve this change?”
Instead of forcing the user type in the changes on co-efficiencies or efficiencies and root depth, head out of the UI, run over to schedules and hit a day to see the new schedule while trying to remember what actually changed. That seems just so non-intuitive and really a somewhat weird experiment of pushing button to try to figure out what may happen.
In my dream scenario Rachio’s app direct me to take series of pictures of the zone and use AI to determine what type of crop it is and determine the initial water schedule that way. Not too dissimilar to how ring lets the user define zones and AI detection of known faces -but for a different purpose.
I’m not saying you should abandon your current system by the way. I think that is great for experts. But for a regular working stiff the current system is much more complicated than it needs to be. You need to design it so that a 9 year old can program it. Once you’ve done that then you’ve won the simplicity game, and to be honest the best designs take exceptionally hard science and make them so simple that a kid can interact with it and be successful is always a disruptor in their industry. Rachio is pretty far away from that but it is within reach. Until you get it to that level you won’t really get most of the marketshare the way truly transformative companies disrupted their industries.
my few cents. And yes, i’m silicon valley type who builds software (and hardware) for a living. I’m a bit biased but i for sure believe in simplicity. Leaders win the simplicity game without become simplistic.