Your SmartHome device may be running smoothly now, but at any time, a forced update or manufacturer change could potentially break the device, either temporarily or permanently. And there is nothing you can do about it.
Most of the major SmartHome devices on the market rely on cloud connectivity, which means they must be connected to the Internet and communicate with the manufacturer’s servers in order to receive updates and support. It’s both a blessing and a curse, but mostly a curse.
It starts with a random server crash
You go to set up your smart thermostat from your phone and get shown a nice little «server unavailable» message instead of all the controls you normally see. This gives you a little taste in what I’m saying.
You tell yourself that you are connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the smart thermostat, so you should be able to communicate locally using the thermostat from your phone. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works, and it’s a great example of why cloud-based SmartHome products can be frustrating.
Even if you could communicate locally with the device and have the hardware and software there for it, you still need to have an external connection to the manufacturer’s servers. And if that connection is down for whatever reason, wave your hand at remote access.
Updates and Patches Could Brick Your Devices
While some devices allow you to download updates at your own time, other devices do this automatically whether you’re okay with it or not. And it’s not uncommon for forced updates to cause unexpected problems, either for a select few or for every user of the service.
This happened recently with Logitech’s Harmony Hub, where Logitech automatically updated the firmware from the hubs to fix the security vulnerability. Unfortunately, this stranded API access, which meant all kinds of integrations that people had created with the hub, no longer worked.
Logitech made sense to come up with a way for users to re-enable API access on the local end but ended up being a huge headache for Harmony Hub users.
This can happen with any SmartHome cloud device you own. And what makes it worse is when it happens on a device that you heavily depend on, like a video doorbell or smart lights.
Companies can shut down and provide their products
When you buy and set up a SmartHome product that relies on the cloud and needs to be connected to the manufacturer’s servers, you are basically at the mercy of this company.
In other words, a company may decide that keeping one of their products is not viable for their business strategy. They decide to Stop and no longer support the product, screwing up the customer, leaving them with a papier instead of a product they paid good money for.
This happened to the lighthouse and their security cameras, as well as a socket owned by Revolv hub. Most recently, Lowe has officially closed its Iris SmartHome platform for good, most likely due to waning interest and low sales. This means that users with an Iris system at home were pretty much screwed and left with hubs that no longer worked (although appliances and sensors may still work with other hubs). Luckily, Lowe offers returns for Iris customers, but not all companies that close down products are harmonious.
So what should I do?
While there is nothing you can do to prevent any of this from happening, there are things you can do to at least reduce the chances of this happening.
For starters, stick with manufacturers and brands that have been around for a while, at least somewhat popular, and have a solid reputation. It’s not 100% secure, of course, but most companies that shut down SmartHome devices or services do so because they’re not popular with the public, thus not generating enough revenue to keep it viable.
SmartHome brands like Jack, Ring, Ecobee, Philips Hue, Arel and WEMO are all really popular brands with huge user bases. These brands have a reputation for upholding, and having any of them closed anytime soon would be highly unlikely.
RELATED:You don’t need a smart thermostat
Of course, there is a saying that every dynasty eventually falls, so it is possible for any of the above shutter brands to be somewhere along the way. It’s up to you, or not to risk it.
Second, what most die-hard SmartHome enthusiasts recommend doing is simply not buying or using any SmartHome product that relies on the cloud. The downside is that most of these types of products aren’t that easy to install, and pretty much anyone new to the category probably won’t be bothered.
However, several companies (like HomeSeer and Hubitat) are trying their best to make it easier for end users to set up a locally based smart home. Unfortunately, it’s still more tempting to buy and install products like a thermostat socket, a doorbell ring, some Hue lights and a Wi-Fi cam.