Revolv, Iris, Insignia, Staples Connect, Wink, and now Insteon and iHome: the graveyard of dead or dying smart home ecosystems that promised so much but didn’t deliver is getting fuller and busier. According to unconfirmed reports, smart home company Insteon has apparently shut down its cloud servers for good by Stacey on IoTand device manufacturers iHome has also shut down its serversto confirm The edge that its iHome cloud services were discontinued on April 2nd.
This feels like a good time to reflect on the state of the smart home. It’s all over? Or is this cloud carnage simply necessary to pave the way for a brave new world where the smart home is no longer a curiosity, but something that actually matters?
What the above companies have in common is their reliance on a proprietary cloud server to provide at least some of the experience customers have signed up for. When the company’s business model changed and the cost of running this cloud was deemed unnecessary, consumers were left in the lurch.
That Revolv Smart Home Hub was purchased and then shut down by Google, iris and badge Clouds were shut down by Lowes and Best Buy, respectively, Staples unplugged its Connect hub and Wink has panned from a free to a paid service. One fact that many manufacturers seem to overlook when jumping on the smart home bandwagon is that maintaining a cloud-based smart home service costs money — a lot of it, and for a long time.
While most of these examples are ancient history, the cloud carnage has begun again in recent weeks. On April 2nd, device maker iHome was shutting down its iHome app and iHome cloud service, quietly announcing it with just an in-app notification. The promotion ends support for several of its iHome branded smart plugs, smart monitor, motion sensor, leak sensor and door window sensor.
Beyond that, while the smart plugs and smart monitor will continue to work with the Apple Home app thanks to their HomeKit compatibility, these devices are essentially junk. Amazing, Many are still being sold but since they require the iHome app, which is no longer available, they simply won’t work.
Then, late last week, users of Insteon, a smart home ecosystem built on a proprietary communications protocol, began reporting that the hubs that control their Insteon smart light switches, sockets, sensors, thermostats and other devices were offline. The company, which has been in business since 2005 and was one of the early smart home pioneers, has gone completely obscure.
That The Insteon support forum is disabledand its phone lines are down, but its system status is still happily announcing it All services are online. There has been no official word from the company and certainly no advance warning or updates to users – which is inexcusable. While the physical devices remain operational — you can still turn a light switch on and off — the cloud-based automations and schedules seem broken.
Interestingly, since Insteon was originally developed as a locally controlled system, owners can migrate their existing devices and hubs to an open-source system, e.g home assistant or hubitat. While this is a significant inconvenience, unlike non-Apple iHome users, they aren’t completely out of luck.
The weak link here is the proprietary cloud. A cloud-connected device has a variety of benefits — most notably remote control, over-the-air updates, and easier setup and programming. But its instability, especially if you’re going for a bootstrap startup, is a major downside. The end user has no control over whether the company that owns it decides to stop operating the servers. This is a major reason why many people are skeptical about the smart home in its current form. Why spend money on something that could one day become a very expensive paperweight? This Revolv hub was $300. Many Insteon customers spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on their systems.
The solution, as attractive as it may be at the moment, is not to abandon the smart home. Most connected devices offer a significant upgrade over their non-smart counterparts. A smart door lock can tell you exactly who unlocked your door and when; A connected sprinkler control will not water your yard when it is going to rain; smart lightbulbs can mimic the natural cycle of sunlight to make you feel more energized or relaxed; Smart thermostats know when you’re gone and can stop wasting energy heating an empty house. And these are just a few examples.
The solution is to make smart home devices the norm, not the exception. To do this, they need a unified system that connects them, one that is not dependent on the fate of individual companies.
Here’s the promise of matter come inside. When it arrives, the new smart home interoperability protocol, supported by most of the big (and small) names in the industry (but notably not Insteon or iHome), should allow devices to work locally in your home without themselves relying on a single cloud to operate service.
Instead, they are expected to work with or without a cloud service, communicate locally with devices from different manufacturers and, if you want to take advantage of cloud control, work with your chosen compatible platform. If a service or ecosystem goes away, you should be able to simply choose another way to control your devices.
“In such cases where manufacturer support ends, it is expected that devices supporting Matter will continue to work locally with others in the home and be discoverable and controllable from other smart home systems and apps,” confirms Michelle Mindala-Freeman of the Alliance for connectivity standards, the organization that oversees matter. “This is another benefit of Matter’s multi-admin capability.” Multi-admin allows devices to use multiple platforms simultaneously, so your lightbulb can be controlled by HomeKit and Alexa, for example.
However, The matter was repeatedly delayed, and we still don’t know exactly how it will work in practice because nobody has actually used it yet (note Mindala-Freeman’s use of the word “expected”). When it arrives (currently slated for fall 2022) it will be too late to help iHome and Insteon customers. But it’s clear that the smart home is at a major turning point.
Which company will shut down their servers next? The parent company of intelligent lighting manufacturer LIFX has gone into receivershipand despite the Company protests on Reddit that everything is fine, it’s hard not to worry. In reality, any small business that relies on a cloud server, doesn’t charge a monthly subscription fee, and doesn’t have deep pockets is potentially at risk.
The safest way to build your smart home today is to stick with the bigger names with good track records and solid companies. Or sit under silent lightbulbs for a while, patiently waiting for Matter.
https://www.theverge.com/23032451/smart-home-troubles-insteon-ihome-shutdown-matter Insteon and iHome shut down their cloud servers this month